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!

Brighton up

I’ve held Brighton in high regard since my first visit, many moons ago for a gig with a friend. It was an unprecedented barmy few days at the beginning of September, 2011. There was sunbathing and ice cream. We’d been to see Amanda Palmer and The Grand Theft Orchestra at Concorde 2 (on purpose) and also landed up seeing Carl Barat at The Prince Albert (by mistake). Both were brilliant.

Brighton Pier circa 2011
Brighton Pier circa 2011

Of course, it could well be that I’ve been there so little, but enjoyed my short breaks there so much, that I’ve created a blinkered view of the place. It could be because the likes of Nick Cave and Natasha Khan (of Bats For Lashes fame) have made it their home. It’s just that on the whole the people don’t seem to be jerks, the pubs are old but paradoxically serve stuff I can actually eat and drink, they often play music that isn’t a repetitive drone and yes, according to society I am probably already past it.

Several years on, much has changed. My favourite club night has gone (Stay Beautiful), as has the venue (RIP Sticky Mike’s). I’m a lot less bothered about clubbing, which is sort of a blessing as we arrive on Sunday night and all of the club nights I have any interest in, aren’t on. We sack off Brighton Pavilion for its expensive entry and no idea of what’s actually inside. Even the weather is against us – for our only full day, it is torrential. The place, however, feels fresh and full of life. Besides, rain means an exhilarating trek across the Palace Pier with some well-earned chips in the Palm Court and then onto a succession of gloriously oldy-worldy pubs including The Black Dove (gothy antique-shop chic), and the cheekiest little seasoning of satanism in the form of The Hope and Ruin and The Quadrant.

Beelzeburger: 666% Vegan
Beelzeburger: 666% Vegan

The fact that the landscape has changed does not effect my enjoyment of the place. I realise we’re only a few days into February and we’ve just had the yearly resolutions and Veganuary, but as a recent convert to “guilt-free” eating (and for a man who’s not long since shunned everything plant-based unless heavily processed into something unrecognisable and full of sugar) Brighton feels like it’s a big part of that movement. Without being a preachy bitch, seeing a bus with a “see me as someone, not something” ad beside a gorgeous little lamb ( and pubs and restaurants that are 100% vegan (Purezza and Beelzeburger) now speak to me. There’s also the graffiti adorning most walls and alleys and artwork abound depicting the unloved Gallaghers of the skies (AKA seagulls). Are you considered vermin by anyone who won’t look past their unguarded potato-based snacks? Head to Brighton and have your likeness painted!

Brighton Palace Pier. Storm? Still technicolour.
Brighton Palace Pier. Storm? Still technicolour.

We don’t go to any gay clubs this time, but it’s great to see the rainbow flags everywhere, and for someone who’s always feels like a bit of a freak (and despite unfortunately not being gay myself – to quote Troy McClure; “Gay? I wish!”) Brighton feels safe and inclusive.

By the time it comes to our actual reason for being in Brighton – to see Tears for Fears supported by Alison Moyet (both are absolutely fantastic) – we’ve almost forgotten we aren’t just here to relax and soak up Brighton’s ambience.

Morris and Jacques breakfast
Hearty avocado breakfast at Morris and Jacques

I love you Brighton, and I wish I could live with you, but where would the hens go, and where would I get the money and the job? I fear I may not see you for a little while, but for all your energy and inspiration I thank you. Let’s not leave it so long next time.

Alison Moyet’s loveletter to Brighton and the LGBTQ community that has embraced her.