Tuesday, 5 June 2012

19th May 2012- Paul Menel Band and Dec Burke: The Peel, Kingston

Another Saturday night and there's another evening of quality music at The Peel, or "Peel 1939" as they would now have us call it, making it sound slightly like a vintage champagne (presumably their aim) or an ancient massacre site (the actual result).

I decide to walk from Surbiton to settle an argument with Karin about how long it takes - an argument which I win in temporal terms but it's a bit of a hollow victory by virtue of the fact that when I arrive, Dec Buke and his band are already on stage.

I've seen the ex-Darwin's Radio and Frost* frontman with his solo band a couple of times and enjoyed them on both occasions, but sadly tonight is not to be Dec's night, vocally at least. Struggling with a sore throat from the outset, Dec looks in pain as he manfully battles on through the set, only seeming at ease when the dual guitar attack of Hywel Bennett and his own axe mastery give his vocal chords a much needed rest. 

Still, there's a true Spinal Tap moment when halfway through one of the last songs, a smoke machine at the back of the venue suddenly belches out a roomful of dry ice at the back of the audience's heads, causing half the attendees to start flapping their arms about as if batting away a swarm of imaginary wasps. 

Photos once again by "The Amazing Bo" (TM) from www.bandshoot.co.uk

It's still good fun but I look forward to seeing the band on top form again at Celebr8 in July- the songs are great and all the musicians including prog-drummer-of-choice Tim Churchman (playing both sets tonight) are on fire. Maybe they'll even have found a bass player in the next few weeks and will give keys man Patrick Darlington a break from filling in on the laptop. As I say to Dec afterwards, I would quite happily just listen to him play guitar all night, however he seems less than convinced and is rather downhearted about the whole thing. 

In the break there's a chance for me to catch up with some friends and Peel regulars, but there's disappointingly little time to wind up Bob about remasters, Macs or 80's Floyd before Paul Menel takes to the stage.

What follows is perhaps the least prog couple of hours I've ever spent at the Peel. And it's ruddy marvellous for it. My only experience of Paul Menel up to this point is having heard the two IQ albums on which he sang (frankly two of the more interesting ones), so I'm keen to hear some material from these but am a bit apprehensive lest his reappearance on the prog scene after 15 or so years in the wilderness has convinced him that he ought to be writing 'Supper's Ready' wannabes in an effort to find a place in the notoriously closed minded fraternity.

I needn't have worried. From the second he appears, all Paisley shirt and cocky swagger, the venue comes alive with attitude and (whisper it) fun. Launching tonight his first solo album 'Into Insignificance I Will Pale', these songs make up the majority of the setlist, and on first listen they seem like a worthy continuation of the more straightforward rock direction taken by the shorter songs on his two IQ albums.

I think he's borrowed this shirt from Bob.

Within two tracks, he has the whole crowd singing along to 'Twenty-One', a song nobody has heard before tonight, and surely the most jaunty song ever to feature an old man falling to his death on a wet pavement within the first stanza. There's also 'The Nurse', a song whose reputation precedes it, having me expecting saucy tales of hospital-based bawdiness in suspenders, but which turns out to be a rather touching love song about a nurturing loved one. The crowd is into it from the start, I even spot a couple of people dancing (naming no names, Sarah) and a few songs in, an unnamed gig buddy leans over and whispers incredulously, "Why on earth did IQ get rid of him?!". A good question indeed - although I quite like having both IQ and Paul's own band around.

There's also a blues-ish sounding track with an awesome guitar solo played by a very entertaining chap on stage right whose name I sadly miss, and a bouncy pop song driven along by a riff which finds the perfect balance between Black Lace's 'Superman' and Belle & Sebastian's 'White Collar Boy' (yes, that's a good thing.). The bass riff is expertly handled by a very young chap who seems to be having a blast up on stage, much like the rest of the band, and I assume him to be Menel junior but honestly have no clue.

The entertaining chap on stage right.

And then there are the IQ tracks, the closest we come to prog this evening. For these numbers we are treated to special guests- firstly ex-IQ bassist John Jowitt for the majority of the numbers including the bonkers 'Human Nature' and the haunting WWII anthem 'Common Ground', and then Lucius Malfoy comes up to play on 'Nonzamo', prompting a huge crowd singalong. (Or it might be Clive Nolan, I'm not sure...)

The evening ends with new song 'This is the Thanks I Get', the name perhaps a subtle ruse to encourage more applause, but it's certainly the prompt for more massed singing. For this song he is joined by his actual son on guitar so I have no idea who the other chap on bass is.

The Chelsea win is celebrated from the stage before the evening comes to a close... Or does it? No, there's time for an encore and our host obliges in typically insane fashion by coming back out in stockings and suspenders and belting out probably the only rendition of 'Sweet Transvestite' ever to grace the new shop window stage of the Peel. His son must be so proud.

It's fun with a capital F and sums up the whole gig. Exuberant, confident, cocky and utterly brilliant. Go and buy the CD now, it's ace...

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