Suede – The Blue Hour tour at o2 Academy Bristol

The bank holiday Easter weekend probably broke some sort of British record for being almost exclusively made up of sun and not an iota of near-biblical torrential rain.

Fan video from “StringBeanJen”

Between putting our house on the market and making it to the beach I’d completely forgotten that one of my favourite bands we’d bought tickets for – months ago, you know how it is – were playing and to be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to it. Not that I don’t love the band (I do) and not even that I don’t love their latest album ‘The Blue Hour’ (it’s ruddy fantastic). It was simply such a sunny day and evening and the idea of cramming into a dark room to listen to a shoe-gazing band play an album that would be more befitting of a bitter, rainy February didn’t sit quite right. This coming from a man who has previously had the likes of ‘Dog Man Star’, ‘Absolution’ and ‘Antichrist Superstar’ on rotation while holidaying in Greece. And then the other thing (and perhaps more importantly) – it felt anxiety inducing. After all, I’d already been around people all day on a busy beach (had I consumed alcohol this would be an even more lethal cocktail). The last time we were at the o2 we saw Metric and some absolute off-her-tits-on-bad-attitude tosser repeatedly shoved my girlfriend out of the way just before the band appeared when we’d been at the front forever (Metric decided not to make an appearance for three hours after the doors opened). It escalated from there and even worse, the lead singer acknowledged the bint who was going mad as if she was a superfan. We eventually accepted defeat, gravitated towards a less antagonistic section of the audience and I’ve not really felt the inclination to listen to the band since. Going to this gig bore all the hallmarks of a bad idea and I anticipated wishing I’d stayed at home.

I check in on Suede every few months to see if ther’s new material on the cards (online, I dont have Brett on speed dial unfortunately). I wasn’t even aware of a new album – by the time I discovered ‘The Blue Hour’ was even a thing it was already three months old – but my girlfriend informed me she’d got an email newsletter from *insert faceless ticketing company name here* and that they were playing on our doorstep in Bristol.

‘As One’ opens the album (and the gig) and hooks immediately with its haunted chanting crescendo, representing the sinister side of Suede at their very best. Hoping the album would not be a one-trick pony nor a rehash of previous efforts I couldn’t believe the wonderfully disquieting and at times magical rural nightmare concept album that was to come. Every track works alone and as a series to form a dark narrative that’s open to interpretation (in the track-by-track interviews Brett won’t let on how it all fits together). For me, it’s their best and most cohesive work since ‘Dog Man Star’, although the two are so very different its hard to compare. It’s remarkable the band can still create such incendiary music after thirty years; especially since the middle albums received at best, a lacklustre response and you’d have been forgiven for thinking they had lost their spark back when.

The album makes sense to me. In my life and in my writing. The lyrics, the singing, the sweeping orchestrial sections of ‘The Invisibles’ and ‘All The Wild Places’, the unsettling interlude of ‘Dead Bird’ and the ongoing vox pops; the poppier but punchy ‘Cold Hands’ (it’s hard to actually think of any of this collection as pop songs, but there are slightly less-dark moments). It’s classic Suede and yet it’s uncharted territory all the same, taking us through forgotten, neglected and unloved places and people. It’s one of the few albums I’ve really wanted to hear in its entirety live, and though that didn’t happen on gig night, we were certainly in for a treat.

Back to the gig (and the dark room) and we got chatting to a mum who’d been seventeen when she last saw them on the Dog Man Star tour, fainted twice and cried at least once. She was with her daughter who’d presumably been brought up on Suede and told me how Bernard Butler (lauded guitarist on Suede’s first two albums) was now involved in teaching kids guitar. The atmosphere was stellar, and the fans had all assembled.

Like a zealot rebel preacher Brett pushed all the right buttons and roused into fervor early on with ‘As One’, followed quickly by hits including ‘So Young’, ‘Metal Micky’, ‘Killing of a Flashboy’ and ‘We Are The Pigs’ which had everyone inevitably bellowing: “We all watch them burn”. With the ensuing mix of old and new tracks it suddenly made sense that a pocket of society should be crammed into a dark room on a sunny evening – and for me as someone who has spent much of his life feeling isolated. Their music speaks to us all.

Brett swung his mic theatrically in a wide arc – thankfully it didn’t connect with any audience member’s faces – and eventually the chord wrapped around him. He danced and undulated, on his back, on an amp, down the coridoor between us and him, and then came out and danced with us. His shirt literally came apart at the seams but he soldiered on oblivious. He’s clearly done this before. We touched his sweaty back as he danced past and rallied his army. They continued with the highs of ‘Animal Nitrate’ and the slows and crescendos and sheer tension of ‘Tides’. Then more stompy, shouty anthems like ‘Trash’ and ‘Saturday Night’. They’re the kind of band who have such a rich back catalogue they could play three different sets and still miss crucial tunes. Towards the end of the set we enjoyed ‘The Big Time’ and ‘The Wild Ones’ played acoustic and without a mic; which felt touching and intimate.

The lofty, dreamy ‘Still Life’ esque ‘I feel I’ll Float Away’ from 2012’s Bloodsports (not a song about Stephen King’s evil clown) has been a personal favourite for a while now so it was great to hear them play it live.

By a couple of songs in Brett and co didn’t have to win me over and twenty-two epics later I’m not sure anyone was left wanting. He let us know we were a good audience and he liked Bristol – as everyone always does, but he did play three more songs than he had on the last few dates and I like to think he meant it. We felt like a good crowd!

An encore gave us two more songs: ‘Beautiful Ones’ and ‘Life is Golden’. “I’m a fifty one year old man,” he noted. “I’m allowed to be sentimental.” Brett, you have nothing to apologise for. Twenty-four songs. That’s still one more than even Brighton!

Fan video from “Rob Croft”

And I felt it. The endorphins of a great gig when they’ve gone all out and you’ve gone all out when the dust settles on the battlefield and you’re giddy, knackered and a bit deaf. We exchanged exclaimations with the mum and her daughter (they’d gone bonkers for it too) and then we were ejected onto the street through the back entrance and into the evening; highly convenient for the car park. It’s certainly up there as a gig to remember, and perhaps because we were in the front line and nobody in our vicinity was a jerk, its been my favourite Suede gig to date. Or perhaps because they turned things up to an electric eleven.

I’m really looking forward to the third part of Suede’s concept album trilogy (I feel like Brett wants to do one if we’re to believe his comments in The Blue Hour album interviews, but the rest of the band perhaps aren’t so keen).

If you’re interested in the setlist, you can view it here. If not –tough, and I’ve no idea why you’re still reading!

The overcomplicated story

There’s a reason I’ve lost faith on what I’ve written in the past: I set out to achieve something and either I worry it’s too basic and it needs more stuff – more twists, more bad guys, more dynamics, etc etc or that characters need to be more real. Sometimes I get hung up on the old mantra of a single idea not begin a story (which is true) and so try to cram a load more in and overbake everything.

Being ruthless is a great thing so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone who isn’t already fictional, and if it doesnt work, you can put what you cut out back in or revert to an earlier draft (version control as the tech world calls it).

I felt like too much was happening in my story – especially given that I wanted to create a series, and although I wanted to throw the kitchen sink at establiahing my world and ideas; nothing felt flesh out enough and it began to feel like both myself and my characters were making zero decisions.

Some things, I realised, could be cut out entirely or explored in later entries. Suddenly, after a few more of these cuts I felt like the novel could breathe and had refreshed purpose. I could more easily define whaf it was about. In short, I felt at ease, and knew then that I was onto something.

Jack Knife update. Current wordcount: 36,327

Long have I toiled over my ideas and stories. Long have I made mistakes, procrastinated and ultimately, gone back to plan some more. As mentioned, last year was for the most part a writing gap year. I am writing again though, and I’m hoping to have “Jack Knife” in some sort of publishable state this year. Finally getting beyond the infamous one third hump!