Mark Nevin (Faiground Attraction) Album Launch
It is twenty seven years since Mark Nevin was a member of Fairground Attraction along with Eddi Reader. However when they existed, Mark was the engine behind the band, writing most of the material. After the split, Mark went on to work on song writing with Morrissey and Kirsty MacColl. He has since recorded five solo albums. "Unfashionable Opinion" is number six. So it was that a large number of people accumulated outside St Pancras Old Church for the CD launch on 20th March. They remained outside rather longer than anticipated, because despite as clearly stated on the tickets "doors 1900hrs", the guy in charge decided that "doors" would only happen at 19.30. This had the effect of warming the crowd (some of whom had travelled some distance) substantially, not necessarily in the right way of course. However this was all forgotten when the music started.
Supported by a band containing up to nine other musicians, the sound was great. This was my first visit to St Pancras Old Church which is larger but no less intimate than The Chapel at Newbold. The ornate adornments on the walls are of another age and fashion in religious icons, but when lit properly they have the effect of adding to the atmosphere. As might be expected, much of the set included songs off the new CD and with such a big band the sound was magnificent. The hall was packed and with standing room only at the back, it proved to be a popular event. The opening number was "Unfashionable Opinion" and set the tone for the evening with brilliant solos from James Hallawell and Roger Beaujolais on Hammond Organ and Vibraphone respectively. The song is a reflection on today's society in which everything has to be instant and not necessarily thought through and the writer intends not to take on those with whom it might be too difficult to hold a sensible conversation. Despite the downbeat subject matter, it is rhythmic and toe tapping is inevitable. "Only Dreamers (Live the dream)" is somewhat more melodic, not to say romantic, seeing beauty in many things that might appear to be mundane. Things like an empty church in the afternoon, the smell of candles burning, even the slap of wipers beating across the windscreen.
The concert deviated from the featured album for "Old Wound" one of Mark's earlier compositions. This give the opportunity for KickHorns, a trio of guys who apply themselves to a collection of various saxophones and brass, to make a vivid contribution to back up Mark's beautiful guitar. We continued off piste with "100 Years of heartache" in which the brass section were brilliant and the whole band produced a stunning sound.
Back to the CD and at this point Mark seemed to settle and began to regale the audience with stories about the inspirations for the songs. The next one was a case in point. Thinking back to when the time came for him to leave school the careers officer seemed to think there was only one job option open to the young lad, working in the local chocolate factory. Song writing was not a serious consideration. Hence "Curly Wurly Boy" came into being. This also explained the sample of the confection concerned which audience members found on their seats on entering the hall. Autobiographical notes continued to feature in the songs. "Punching above my weight" always one of the smallest kids in school etc. Sometimes everything works out right when as in the title of the song, "Stars Align". At this point Louise Nevin joined the band on stage to play the lead on the err... Stylophone! This complemented Collette O'Leary's soulful accordion. A melancholy "Clown" preceded an altogether different "Forgotify" apparently there are over four million song on the popular music streaming service which never get a play, songs of joy, hope and bitter loss. The title of this song is actually the name of a website which will select one of those unheard song to play for you at random. I suggest this song will not feature on that site.
Simple memories of childhood hilltop kite flying prompted "Kite". The whole concert was full of optimistic songs none more so that "Sing Anyway". It is all about being cheerful in the face of adversity or disappointment, the music was typically up beat. Then a love song about his wife Louise entitled "The Girl on the Motorbike" which contained the line "now she drives a people carrier, but she'll always be a girl on a motorbike to me" Louise showed us that she can play the violin even better than the Stylophone.
Towards the end of the concert Mark told us the story of how "Perfect" came to be written for Fairground Attraction. It hinged around the way his parents met after his father caught the wrong bus in South Africa. The whole band remained on stage for the last few numbers including "The Right Place" which in parts had a bluegrass feel as well as a cameo appearance of "Sugar, Sugar" which first saw light of day when released by the Archies. The very last song of all was "Broken by a Breeze" which the packed house received with rapturous applause being well deserved. The whole set was superb and I was very glad to have been there.
In support and opening the show was a young lady new to me, one Michele Stodart. She writes her own songs, starting her set with "Tell Me (it's all over)" She is a passionate singer and her long flowing dark hair combines with precise fingering on the guitar to provide a striking performance. Unfortunately the lighting rig didn't do her any favours as she went though her whole set in the half light. We enjoyed songs from Michele all of them (with one exception) displaying sorrow in one form or another. Michele has a lovely cheerful personality yet writes songs of angst and bitterness. I have encountered this before in other singers, why is this the case? I know not, but this singer and bass guitar player from the band Magic Numbers certainly knows how to write effective songs that illustrate the darker side of life. "Once In A While" about a homeless person has a country feel about it, whilst conveying the message that everyone need2 saving once in a while. The salutary lesson in "Ain't No Woman" is that you can look if you like, but there's no other woman like yours. I have heard singers say they are going to try out new songs at gigs before, indeed only a couple of weeks ago I was at a gig in Cambridgeshire where the band didn't even have a name they were so new. But never before has a singer announced a song that didn't even have a title yet! It is an indicator that Michele was comfortable enough with the audience that she felt able to sing a new, new song about an imagined duet between her and her daughter. (This was the one exception by the way) a sort of lullaby prompted by a remark her daughter made "Mum I wish you had a different job".
The audience was attentive and this drew the remark from Michele how different from other gigs this was turning out to be. She should play the Chapel Newbold where there is always a listening audience. I do not have space here to review each song, but "Foolish Love" whilst full of bitterness included Michele bouncing up and down whilst playing spirited guitar, tells the lost lover to "leave me now don't turn around" contrasted greatly in sentiment with "Will You Wait?" This was more romantic and included the plea, "will you wait for me, my first true love?" Both the artist and the crowd loved being there that night and it showed. Whilst I don't get down to London very often, I will watch out for Michele Stodard in the future. There are solo Cd's out there from her and the Magic Numbers band.