Saturday, 8 October 2011

Marc Almond at St Georges

The grim reaper was perched on the edge of the stage, although he relaxed his grip on his scythe just a little. It was a celebration after all.

During a 30+ year career, Marc Almond has embraced all that life wanted to throw at him, and emerged as a 50-something man with an enormous pair of lungs, the deepest voice and a colossal heart. What makes it so staggering is that when he skips around the room for a final celebratory lap, he’s actually really small.

From his childhood in Leeds, to his early ‘80s success with Soft Cell, followed by decades of hardcore drug abuse and a near-fatal accident in 2004, Almond has spent the past 25 years perfecting his role as torch singer extraordinaire. This evening, beneath the breath-taking beauty of the baroque altarpiece in the 1821 St George's church, Almond led the entire audience to the dark side, like the pied piper with a propensity for the temptation of his followers.

Almond’s repertoire of ‘sin songs’ is wide. From a ‘50s ballad called Lavender that celebrates homosexuality, to a jazzy cover of David Bowie’s John, I’m Only Dancing, Almond leaves no stone unturned. Jacques Brel, Scott Walker and Marc Bolan are all paid tribute to as only Almond can – with guts, balls and bravado.

Clear highlights were the heartbreaking clarity and depth of Lou Reed’s The Bed, and the absolute conviction with which Almond performed his hero Charles Aznavour’s triumphant I Have Lived.

The first half of the evening was mostly piano led, with Martin Watkins on the keys, and in the second half the rest of Almond’s band really came into their own: guitarist Neal Whitmore, bassist Carl Holt and harpist and accordion player Baby Dee.

But however triumphant the performance, however uplifting and celebratory the tones, the undercurrent remains – death is but a footstep away. The theme of aging, the calling of death in Brel’s J’Arrive, the tribute to his frail relatives… all performed beneath the magnificent altarpiece at St Georges, it was extremely poignant, touching and powerful.

Almond is a mesmerising performer. He was on stage for two and a half hours and it was impossible to look away. His voice has come a long way from the days of Tainted Love, and having lived through serious addictions and eyeballed death, it’s no wonder he’s got as much strength as he has. Ever the drama queen, it’s no surprise Almond is drawn to storytale songs or that he performs them with such theatrical gusto.

If only all concerts could be this good. It’s testament to Almond that he received two standing ovations, and a thunderous clapping and stamping of feet for his encore. Hopefully the grim reaper has no further business anywhere near here.

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