Paul Jackson Music

Paul Jackson Music

Sunday, 31 August 2014

#20: Tenement Symphony

I felt it was time to recount a particular concert I went to many years ago which was made memorable as much for the journey getting to it as the actual concert itself. Sometime in 1991 I woke up to a record being played on the radio that sounded epic coming through the tiny mono speaker. The record was "Jacky" by Marc Almond and featured a full orchestra and a bombastic electronic backing track. On buying the record I saw it was produced by Trevor Horn, who was already one of my favourite producers through his work with Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Pet Shop Boys and ABC, and it also set me off exploring Marc Almond's back catalogue of which I had very little knowledge.

Some months later, the accompanying 'Tenement Symphony' album was released which was half produced by Marc Almond, Billy McGee, Nigel Hine and Grid members, Dave Ball and Dave Norris. Dave Ball had been Marc's Soft Cell sidekick and this saw the pair reunite for a few tracks. The second half of the album was produced by Trevor Horn and formed a suite of songs titled 'Tenement Symphony"

I remember having a £10 Boots gift voucher which I guess must have been from Christmas 1991, and I headed into Huddersfield one Saturday to buy the album. Unlike other stores, Boots didn't stock vinyl albums so if I was to buy it from there, it had to be on either CD or cassette. I didn't own a CD player so I purchased the cassette. One benefit of this choice of format was that I happened to have my walkman with me which meant I could listen to the album straight away instead of waiting until after the bus ride home. So I popped in the cassette, turned up the volume, and wandered aimlessly around Huddersfield town centre taking in what the album had to offer. From that day to this, it remains one of my favourite albums. Full scale sequenced synth arrangements with huge dollops of orchestral bliss surrounding Marc's soaring vocals through some amazing songs such as Meet Me In My Dreams, Beautiful Brutal Thing, Vaudeville and Burlesque and ending with the sensational My Hand Over My Heart. A great album and a great way to experience it.

The singles from the album gave Marc some chart success peaking with the Top 5 cover hit "The Days Of Pearly Spencer" and he appeared a couple of times on TV backed by an orchestra.

Fast forward to the summer of 1992 and I had left school and was preparing to start university in Salford.

My first day of lectures was to be on Monday 28th September and I had moved into my Salford bedsit  a week beforehand.

While browsing through the music magazines as I often did, I came across an advert for a live show. Marc Almond was to perform two shows, Nottingham Royal Court Centre and then Royal Albert Hall in a career retrospective show called 12 Years Of Tears, which as well as featuring a full band, would also feature the Tenement Symphony Orchestra. The chance to hear tracks from the album, as well as other hits, performed by a band and full orchestra seemed too good to be true. By this time I had built up a catalogue of Marc Almond's discography and was now familiar with all the albums and singles and Marc had now become one of my favourite artists. As the Royal Albert Hall show was to be recorded for video and live album release as well as for TV broadcast, I guessed the Nottingham show was to be the warm up concert.

The only difficulty I could initially see in going was that the shows were taking place in the week beginning 28th September which was my first week at Salford University. What's more, the Nottingham show was on the Monday. I initially sacked off the idea as being logistically impossible, but it kept irking me for a week or so before I decided to review the possibilities. I rang the venue to get further details, as this was pre-worldwideweb, and was told the concert would start at 8pm and there would be no interval. I then found out that my last lecture on that first Monday of my uni course would finish around 4pm, and the first one on Tuesday morning would be at 9.30am. I also discovered that a 5pm train from Manchester Piccadilly would get me into Nottingham sometime after 7pm, and the first one in the morning would get me into Manchester around 9am, giving me time to make my first lecture on that day which was actually to be an improvisation group led by jazz saxophonist Jan Kopinski, of Pinski Zoo.

I found a B&B situated down the road from the Nottingham Royal Court Centre for a tenner, and on enquiring was told that I would have to check in by about 10pm as they would lock the doors. I figured I would have time to do that between stepping off the train in Nottingham and the concert starting at 8pm.

I decided to go for it.

September came and I moved to Salford ready to start the Popular Music and Recording course. After the last lecture on the Monday, I took off at speed to the train station to catch the train to Nottingham only to discover it was delayed... And delayed further...and delayed some more.  I was already restless and a little anxious and this didn't help. I kept watching the clock trying to work out what sort of timeframe I had. On the journey I got chatting to the woman sitting next to me after we were trying to work out the arrival time. She was interested to hear of the concert and worked out that the train would reach Nottingham around 8pm. Furthermore as she was going to be on the ITV programme 'The Time, The Place' the next day, the TV company had a taxi booked for her from the station and she said she could give me a lift to the Royal Court Centre. I reached the venue at exactly 8pm and raced in to pick up my ticket. There hadn't been time to post it. I raced up the stairs to get to the back of the circle as I could hear the audience cheering to the opening chords of Vaudeville and Burlesque. I had no idea what I was going to do about the B&B and I didn't have a back-up plan, but I got to my seat as the full synth band kicked in and Marc walked out onto the stage. It was quite a moment.

The opening songs were the synth heavy tracks from the Tenement Symphony album which sounded great. This set was then followed by a vocal and piano section with Marc now in a suit and I soon got the idea that the concert was structured more like a series of different sets with different arrangements and costume changes. Almost like a few shows rolled into one. A full band then accompanied Marc for some renditions of early singles including some Soft Cell tracks. One thing I did notice though was the lack of orchestra. There was only a band on stage. I felt a little disappointed despite the gig being such a good one, I then figured the Nottingham show must be perhaps part of a warm up for the Royal Albert Hall show in two day’s time, and the orchestra would just be for that one. I couldn't think of any other reason. Then after nearly 90 minutes, Marc said goodbye and left the stage to rapturous applause. It was around 9:30pm and it all seemed to come to an end. When I had booked the ticket, the box office had told me there would be no interval so I wasn't sure how long the show would run for. Also there were quite a few big records Marc hadn't performed. The audience were on their feet shouting for more with several rounds of slow hand claps, before an announcement came over the speaker 'Ladies and Gentlemen, this is now an interval, the show will start again in 20 minutes'. I couldn't believe it! So there was an interval, and I had time to run down to the B&B, drop off my overnight bag, grab the key and get back. I raced down the road using the directions I had been given and checked in. I got back to the Royal Court Centre and saw there on the stage, quite a number of new chairs laid out. The second half started with Marc performing a Jacques Brel song called 'If You Go Away' which I had never heard before, This was a vocal and piano arrangement and made for a melancholy opening to the second half. He then followed this by saying 'Well I guess that is one way of performing a Jacques Brel song... And this is another'. He then performed 'Jacky' with a full band and orchestra who were on stage for the rest of the evening. It sounded amazing as they belted through some classic Marc singles and album tracks with full orchestrations and arrangements making some songs sound more epic than the recorded versions. The show finished with 'Say Hello Wave Goodbye' with a full stage, a full sound, and a full auditorium of excited fans being showered with confetti. I left there feeling elated and blown away. One of the most exciting musical experiences I had encountered and nothing has really quite topped it.

I returned to the B&B and set my alarm for the early hours. To get my train back I was going to have to leave before the Breakfast part of the B&B arrangement, and a few hours later I was making my way through a dark, cold Nottingham following the signs to the railway station. The route took me through an eerie shopping centre which was just trying to wake up, and I managed to get my train on time. I was tired and quite hungry but still buzzing from the previous evening's experience. It was a gig that would inspire me in various ways in the years to come, but that will have to wait for another blog.

The finale to this story is almost like a punchline or something that might have been scripted for a sitcom. I arrived in Manchester sometime before 9am and I quickly made my way across the city up to Salford University to get to my first Improvisation class at 9.30. I got to the building in time where I met my fellow course colleagues and discovered that Improvisation had been moved to 11.30am.

And the reason?

Because it was going to take a while for the tutor to get to Manchester as he lived in.....

Wait for it...


Needless to say I was lost for words, but also quite amused. The 12 Years Of Tears show was still swirling around my head too much for me to be anything else. I headed up to the canteen and got some breakfast.