Heaven 17 Live in Larbert
Date: 15 December
Venue: Dobbie Hall, Larbert
Support: Simple Minded
If someone had said to me back in January that my live music highlight of 2017 would come at Larbert’s Dobbie Hall, well I would’ve laughed in their face and suggested they seek psychiatric help. That accolade would surely fall to a gig which would take place in one of the big music venues in Glasgow or Edinburgh. Or at one of the outdoor music festivals we’d cover during the summer. WRONG! Sure enough, it happened at a little venue 150 yards from my home when Heaven 17 and Simple Minded came calling on Friday night. More on that highlight later…
Firstly though, I’d like to tell you about Friday’s support band Simple Minded. As you can probably guess by their name, they’re a Simple Minds tribute band. I first photographed them in action around four years ago, a few months before I had the pleasure of photographing and reviewing Simple Minds themselves. So to have the opportunity to catch up with them again, having also seen Jim Kerr and company perform, was pretty cool.
It’s not being disrespectful to suggest that the 400 or so people who filled the venue were there first and foremost to see Heaven 17. And it was a fair bet that it would be the first time that the majority of the audience had seen Simple Minded perform. But as frontman George Porter and his band took to the stage and launched into I Travel, you could immediately sense the audience didn’t know what had hit them.
Make no mistake, while the guys in Simple Minded may have day jobs just like the rest of us and go gigging in their spare time, they are seriously, seriously good at what they do. Obviously the source material is legendary, but any band performing it has to do it justice. And this is where Simple Minded delivered in spades.
Simple Minds’ classic material is hugely dynamic, has tremendous energy and just sounds BIG. Take Love Song, Sanctify Yourself and Waterfront. Simple Minded took those songs, dialled everything up to 11 and – if you closed your eyes – you could’ve been in a massive stadium somewhere. They really captured that stadium rockin’ anthemic vibe which underpinned Simple Minds at their best.
I have to say that I was blown away by just how good Simple Minded performed on Friday. Compared to the gig I saw four years ago, they have raised the level of their performance to a completely different plane. So much so, that in places not even Simple Minds themselves could’ve done much better. Can’t give them any bigger praise than that!
Simple Minded Setlist
I Travel, Love Song, The American, New Gold Dream, Someone Somewhere in Summertime, Promised You a Miracle, Sanctify Yourself, Waterfront, Don’t You Forget About Me, Alive And Kicking
As I’m writing, it’s late Sunday afternoon and I still can’t get my head around the notion that Heaven 17 performed a gig in a venue at the bottom of my road! Pre-show, my other half was absolutely convinced that it was all a big wind-up and that another tribute band would appear after Simple Minded. But no! It really was Glenn Gregory, Martyn Ware and their band who took to the Larbert stage and kicked off their set with (We Don’t Need That) Fascist Groove Thang.
This was, to all intents and purposes a ‘Heaven 17 Greatest Hits’ performance. Although I’d seen the band once before in what was a pretty brief festival appearance, this was my first time at one of their headline shows. Unlike one super-dedicated fan I spoke to, who was attending his one hundred and seventy first!
For the majority of the audience though, Friday night was a brilliant opportunity to listen to many of their songs live for the first time, and in some cases get reacquainted with songs which you perhaps hadn’t heard in decades.
One of the things which has always stood out about Heaven 17 songs is Glenn Gregory’s vocals. And here they were as powerful, distinctive and as dynamic as I remember them being the first time I heard (We Don’t Need That) Fascist Groove Thang blast out of my radio as a kid. Utterly charismatic and likeable, Gregory had the audience in the palm of his hand from first to last. He really seemed to be up for it on Friday, and looked to be enjoying performing for the audience as much as they enjoyed watching him. He bantered with the crowd and also gave interesting background information to some of the songs which helped give a little bit of context to what you were about to hear.
For people like myself who go to lots of gigs which feature bands with drummers, bassists, guitarists, etc, it was a little weird standing in front of a stage which contained only synths. But with Martyn Ware and Berenice Scott behind them, the sound and sheer power they were able to generate was really quite extraordinary.
Now, if it wasn’t for the song which came after it (which I’ll come onto in a moment), Temptation would have been by far and away the highpoint of Heaven 17’s performance for me. Backing singers Rachel Mosley and Kelly Barnes shook the rafters with their amazing vocals during an extended intro. But the roof was comprehensively blown to bits when the synths of Martyn Ware and Berenice Scott kicked in during the first verse. It’s the epitome of everything that’s good about 80’s synth-driven pop music, but sounds like it could’ve been written yesterday. It’s not often I’ve seen a song get an entire audience dancing. But Temptation did!
And so to the live music highlight of my entire year. As you may know Heaven 17 have a pretty strong affinity with Scotland. Not only were they ‘born’ here, but both of their live albums were recorded at Scottish venues. Then there is their connection to the late Billy Mackenzie who, until his untimely death in 1997, was of course frontman of The Associates. In what was an absolutely spellbinding tribute, Glenn Gregory performed a stripped back, slowed down version of Party Fears Two. Accompanied only by Martyn Ware’s piano and with Mackenzie’s former bandmate Alan Rankine apparently in the audience, this was one of those moments in music that just knocks you for six. At the end of the song, a clearly emotional Gregory said ‘Let’s save that one for Scotland.’ Words fail at this point…
As Heaven 17 rounded out a brilliant performance with Being Boiled, it brought an end to an absolutely fantastic night of music. For people like myself who always look towards the big cities in search of gigs to attend, it served as ample illustration that sometimes, just sometimes, you can find the very best gigs quite literally on your doorstep.
Hats off to all involved in bringing this show to Larbert and hope that both bands return soon. And more importantly, we hope that off the back of what was clearly a very successful night, that more bands of this calibre put the Dobbie Hall on their touring schedules. What a cracking venue!
Heaven 17 Setlist
(We Don’t Need That) Fascist Groove Thang, Crushed By The Wheels of Industry, We Live So Fast, Geisha Boys and Temple Girls, Play to Win, Come Live With Me, Pray, A Crow and a Baby, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling, I’m Your money, Let Me Go, Penthouse and Pavement, Temptation, Party Fears Two, Being Boiled
Heaven 17 Gallery
Simple Minded Gallery