Soft Cell, O2 Academy, Glasgow 10th November 2021
Words and Photography: Stephen Wilson
Eighties synth-pop duo Soft Cell are back on tour. Just over three years since their last farewell show, they say hello again, and have new material from a soon to be released album due for February 2022, and on this tour, they will also include a run-through of their smash hit debut album ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ for good measure.
There is no support on the opening night in a packed O2 Academy in the south side of Glasgow, just a DJ spinning the tunes from yesteryear, relevant to the times when Soft Cell ruled the UK chart, setting the tone for the evening ahead. It doesn’t take much to get a party going in Glasgow, and the old eighties tunes soon had the crowd moving. And bang on cue at quarter to eight, the lights went down as the band took to the stage.
Supported on this tour by a quartet of backing vocalists, and the musical prowess of session man Gary Barnacle on saxophone, Dave Ball and Marc Almond are welcomed to the O2 Academy in a euphoric roar, akin to the terraces of Hampden, and we’re underway with the opening bars of the 1982 track “Torch”. The bass is thumping, the stage is lit up in bright blues and purples with spotlights following Almond and the crowd is ecstatic. The set tonight is in two parts, with a half-hour break in between, the first act would showcase tracks from the forthcoming new release ‘Happiness Not Included’ as well as a choice selection of old singles and album tracks, with act two having the debut album played in its entirety for the first time.
The new tracks settle in well beside the older numbers, with Dave Ball’s techno-wizardry as honed as ever, a perfect foil for the vocals of Almond, which are as powerful as they ever have been. The band is sounding tremendous, and the atmosphere is electric as the new stuff is given its first public hearing. “Bruises on All My Illusions”, “Happy Happy Happy”, “Heart Like Chernobyl”, tunes with a great beat and sound like they could be from any of the band’s original releases, albeit coupled with a more topical lyric. “The Art of Falling Apart” and a storming version of “Martin” ended the first part of the show, as Ball and Almond, both well into their sixth decade, took a well-deserved break. We’re not as young as we once were, as most of the audience can vouch for.
Act two is what the bulk of the Glasgow crowd was here to see, the 1981 debut album ‘Non Stop Erotic Cabaret’, with tracks including “Sex Dwarf”, “Seedy Films” with a Soho backdrop on the video screens surrounding the stage, “Chips on My Shoulder”, “Secret Life” and top singles “Bedsitter” and the iconic number one “Tainted Love”, a cover of a 1965 single by Gloria Jones, the girlfriend of Marc Bolan.
The last track on the original album was the melancholic “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye”, with Almond crooning on a barstool and the screens displaying pink flamingos, the name of the club in the song.
The audience join in backing vocals on this classic, with Marc Almond introducing the band on its conclusion, and after thanking the audience and apologising for the wee mistakes he puts down to the crowd being so loud he can’t hear himself think, he introduces the last two tracks for the evening, another new number “Purple Zone” and 1981 debut single “Memorabilia”.
This is a much-anticipated comeback tour, and tonight’s first outing is only three years since the band previously claimed their live career was over, yet here they are, back with a bang, new music, and a new show to promote it.
It’s 40 years since the acclaimed debut album was in the UK stores, and what better reason to dust off the old Korgi synths for more live shows than to play the album in full for the first time. The music still sounds fantastic, Almond is in fine form, and the new material slots in perfectly between the classics. The years may be clocking up for the duo, but Almond and Ball still have a lot to say, they are performing as well as they ever have, and those fretting about whether they are still up to it have nothing to fear. Say hello again, but don’t wave goodbye for a wee while yet. Tremendous!
PHOTO CREDIT: STEPHEN WILSON –