Hare & Hounds
I feel awkward! I abandoned The Blue Aeroplanes over 20 years ago and I’m feeling a little guilty about the way I left. I’d followed them obsessively for years and then, somewhere in the mid- 90’s, like some fair-weather fan, I just stopped loving them! Tonight I’m going to be in a room with a few hundred people who weren’t as fickle as me, true fans who weren’t seduced away by the shiny stars of Britpop! ‘Forgive me, for I have sinned…’
My return to the fold began a few years ago when I heard a glorious jangling noise on a BBC session. The sound was familiar, but punchier and punkier than I recalled. Yes, it was The Blue Aeroplanes, but it had a new vitality. The noise was spilling out of the guitar of Bec Jevons – an exhilarating new cast member in the ever evolving line up of the band (at least 48 members since 1981) and an essential part of the wonderful album ‘Welcome Stranger’, that released earlier this month.
Tonight, the seven Blue Aeroplanes are squeezed onto the stage at the Hare and Hounds, it’s a tight fit, especially when one of the band is the uniquely agile and rubbery dancer Wojtec. The dancer has been with the band throughout all of their regenerations and provides a contrast to singer/poet Gerard Langley who delivers droll asides and clutches a folder of recent lyrics as if he were getting ready to deliver a college lecture.
The show opens with John Langley's pounding drums that introduces beguiling new song 'Dead Tree, Dead Tree'. Brother Gerard weaves his observations : ‘It isn’t a symbol of anything, it’s just a dead tree’,whilst Jevons channels the sound of early REM (there was a mutual appreciation between the two bands). It’s a sparkling start.
After an enthusiastic rendition of the classic ‘Yr Own World’, Gerard informs the crowd that tonight is not about nostalgia, and thus they deliver all of the ‘Welcome Stranger’ with only a smattering of songs from their early 90s pomp. It’s a testament to the audience that the new material is greeted with the same joy as the old songs.
Two of the best received moments from ‘Welcome Stranger’ tonight are the satirical ‘Elvis Festival’ which mixes crunchy guitars, cowbells and poignant humour (‘you sing…badly, but no one cares, because you are…Elvis’) and the cryptic ‘Poetland’ (‘…it’s a bit like Poundland, only weirder’) that visits the world of quintessential Blue Aeroplanes with three guitars building a dramatic wall of sound.
Of the classics, Bec Jevons breathes new vigour into a thrilling rendition of ‘…And Stones’ and bassist Chris Sharpe takes the lead vocals for Rodney Allen’s ‘Fun’ , a glorious kiss-off of a song that is as acerbic and essential as ‘The Byrds ‘I’ll feel a whole lot better (when you’re gone).
Tonight’s show ends likes a magnificent party (as ever), with a delirious version of ‘Breaking in My Heart’. As the rest of the band move around the stage, Sharpe and Jevons find it safer to move into the audience. It’s the most elevating encore I’ve ever seen them perform.
As the band depart, Wojtek’s ‘Keep Corbyn’ T shirt is completely soaking wet, the walls of the venue are sweating and the audience is left feeling that, after 36 years of numerous highs and frequent cast changes The Blue Aeroplanes are still one of the great live bands. Personally, I hope that I have atoned for my sins and am going home to fill the gaps in my collection.
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Jason Lewis is a Birmingham based music, movie and arts obsessive. Jason's encyclopedic knowledge of 80s/90s Arts films is a debt to his embedded status in the Triangle Arts Centre trenches back then.