Monday, 25 May 2009

My Pod - Music and Stuff: 10cc Live 2009

Back in 1975, when the Universe was less than half its present size, I discovered proper pop music. Not, I must point out, the rather disposable, bubblegum 7 inch variety I’d previously been preoccupied with. No, in 1975 - or thereabouts – I started to discover and investigate the medium of the long-player. Crazy modern youngsters are already contemptuous of the physical CD and would rather download albums (or, more likely, cherry-pick tracks which take their fancy) and store them of their I-Pods or I-Phones or I-Don’t-Know- What- The –Hell- It- Is. But back in 1975 the long-player was Undiscovered Country to me and I was taking gentle steps into the format with the likes of ‘Band On The Run’ by Wings. And then came 10cc.

I’d been aware of 10cc from the string of hits singles they’d enjoyed from 1972 onwards. Their first single, 1972’s superb 1950s pastiche ‘Donna’ is still a piece of pop perfection and ‘Rubber Bullets’, their first no. 1 (from 1973) remains a masterpiece of pop production. So it was that, in 1975, the hairs on the back of my young neck were standing on end thanks to exposure to their second number one, the still-sublime (and still hair-standing-up-on-the-back-of-the-neck) ‘I’m Not In Love’and I decided to dig a little deeper into their oeuvre and purchased myself a copy of their third album ‘The Original Soundtrack’. And so was cemented a musical loyalty which, with a few bumps and bruises along the way, has endured ever since, thirty four years in old money. I’m pleased to say that I’m still around –a little greyer and a bit more corpulent – and so, in a very different form, are 10cc. Only one member of the original group – guitarist/songwriter Graham Gouldman – remains and they’ve long since ceased to be a recording unit; 10cc operate the nostalgia circuit these days, touring the UK (and, in fact, the world) with Gouldman and a crack team of musicians, some of whom have been involved with the band since its earliest days. The songs remain the same – a slew of witty, musically-brilliant songs which capture a very special time – five years in the 1970s when 10cc were the dog’s bits’n’pieces – and which, more importantly, are still fresh, vibrant and exciting today. That’s the mark of truly great pop music and it’s a mark that Simon Cowell and his fathead karaoke singers could only dream of if they were interested in anything other than making loads of money from gullible TV viewers as quickly as possible. But don’t set me off...

I wouldn’t say I’d ‘forgotten’ 10cc as the nineties rolled in the noughties; they and their songs were sitting quietly in the back of my subconscious, waiting for the call to arms. It came about two years ago when I discovered that 10cc - or ‘10cc featuring Graham Gouldman and Friends’ as they were billed at the time – were on the road again. The memories and the melodies came flooding back as I joined a group of friends and a theatre-full of ageing children of the 70s at Cardiff’s St David’s Hall and relived my musical youth (no, not that Musical Youth, pay attention) and I don’t think my spine stopped shivering for the whole ninety minutes or so of music. 10cc 2006 were a revelation; Gouldman flying the flag for the original line-up with old faces Rick Fenn (guitar) and Paul Burgess (drums) augmented by Mick Wilson on keyboards and vocals and doing a sterling job of filling in for Eric Stewart and a pretty astonishing job of apeing Lol Creme’s fa;lsette vocals on ‘Donna’. Fortunately it was at that very Cardiff show that original drummer Kevin Godley made one of his two guest appearances on the tour, singing the ‘Sheet Music’ album track ‘Old Wild Men’ as well as a bizarre more recent composition called ‘beautifuloserdotcom’ and finally joining the band for a massive jam session on ‘Rubber Bullets’ during the encore. It was a Hell of a night out, possibly one of the best concerts I’ve ever been too – if only because of the historical personal significance which came with seeing that band live again performing those songs. Resisting the imploring of one particularly-voerenthusiastic friend who wanted to chase the band all over the country I considered myself fortunate to have had one more chance (not last – never last!) to reacquaint myself with songs of such a significant personal importance.

But hey and ho! Now they’re back on the road again – billed this time as just 10cc. Their latest tour kicked off in Cardiff a couple of weeks ago and the same group of friends trotted along to get another fix of the smart-ass art school 1970s pop. Wouldn’t you know it, this time it wasn’t quite the same. Maybe it was because it was the first gig of the tour, maybe the band are a bit knackered after a tour of Japan or, more likely, it’s just a simple case that last time round I hadn’t heard these songs or given them much thoughts for years. Seeing them played live – and powerfully – on stage was a hugely emotional experience. Seeing them performed again, less than two years later, couldn’t hope to have the same sort of impact. The balance of the show seemed a bit off too; last time out Kiki Dee provided an entertaining that’s-long-enough-thanks-where’s-Amoreuse-ah-there-it-is acoustic set. This time there’s no support turn, just Graham Gouldman on stage alone for the most part playing acoustic versions of the songs he wrote for bands like The Yardbirds and Herman’s Hermits and which made his name in the 1960s. But the set doesn’t really work; there’s no energy, Gouldman trots out familiar anecdotes about the songs and there’s a real sense of ‘flatness’ in the audience as they shuffle off to the Bar for an ice cream and a rethink after half-an-hour of Gouldman strumming away.

10cc themselves, of course, are as good as ever. No, check that – they’re good but they don’t, to these ears, seem as tight and as up for it as they did in 2006. There’s almost a sense that they’re going through the motions and the show, for some reason, never really takes flight the way it did back in 2006. The set list has changed slightly – album tracks like ‘The Second Sitting For The Last Supper’ and ‘From Rochdale to Ocho Rios’ have sneaked in but to the detrement of the classic ‘Life Is A Minestrone’ which has gone. The concert proper ends, as ever, with ‘Dreadlock Holiday’ and creaking joints and bones drag ancient carcases (I’m exaggerating) to the front of the stages for a bit of mildly-embarrassing dancing (I was in the Gods so wasn’t tempted to join in). The concert’s igniting now, ready to boil over in the inevitable encore. The band trail back in and kill the night stone dead with ‘Ready To Go Home’, the last song ever recorded under the name of 10cc. It’s a pleasant enough ballad but we really need ‘Rubber Bullets’ to keep the buzz going. We get it but the moment’s gone and the enthusiasm of ‘Dreadlock Holiday’ can’t be recaptured so quickly.

10cc are currently slogging round the UK. If you’re a fan or if you just remember one of their infernally-clever 1970s pop hits, you could do a lot worse than trot down to have a look. You’ll be surprised at how many memories these songs hold and how much they’ll remind you of a time when pop music still had a shred of integrity. As a fan – not in the fanatic sense – the 2006 show had the edge because it was something new and exciting pulled out of my past and brought to life in the twenty-first century. That’s a trick which is hard to pull off twice and any criticisms are, in reality, rooted in the fact that the band worked its magic again for me in 2006 and this latest show is really just a rerun with some bits shaved off. Despite all this, if they come my way again I’ll be there in the queue for tickets because ninety minutes in the company of a songbook as strong as this is never, ever time better spent doing anything else. Oh no...

Here's a taste of 10cc live in 2009, recorded in Europe earlier this year...

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