What: UB40 and Chris Difford (Squeeze)
Where: O2 Arena and The Railway, Winchester
When: 9th and 12th December 2009
Why am I writing two reviews in one you may ask. Well it’s not just my hectic week catching up with me, it is in fact the contrast drawn between them that struck me like a 10 ton truck.
I’ll start on Wednesday night at The Railway Inn in Winchester. The Railway is a lively pub offering music seven nights a week. To say it is intimate is somewhat like describing Jordan as buxom. In fact you can fit The railway’s stage and the space for the audience into one of the toilets in the O2 Arena! Although it’s small it’s not to say you can’t see great music there. Bands playing previously include Razorlight, Kasabian and The Feeling. Tonight was no exception to the big act in a small venue role for the pub. Chris Difford is one half of the great song writing partnership of Difford/Tilbrook the duo behind all the Squeeze hits.
Chris Difford is the one with the very low voice and doesn’t often do the main vocal in Squeeze. You would know his vocal from “Cool for Cats”. Tonight he was joined by a great vocalist in Dorie Jackson. Her voice compliments Chris’ perfectly and ensures that the Squeeze songs played don’t sound too far from what you are used to.
Tonight there was no big production, just two acoustic guitars and two vocalists and many of the songs benefited from that. Chris is known as a great lyricist and the stripped down acoustic show allows the words to be heard and listened to. Throughout the show a projector hummed away showing various pictures of either early Chris Difford or evocative pictures that helped the audience visualise the stories being told. Many were very comical and really helped to bring the audience into the gig. This was fairly essential as Chris expected the audience to be joining in on the songs they knew so breaking the ice with humour really helped. Whilst hearing the Squeeze songs stripped down was enjoyable I am looking forward to the full Squeeze experience at shows in 2010. Chris confirmed that they are doing The Isle of Wight and Glastonbury festivals next year.
So coming back to my contrasting the two gigs. Both acts were very big in the 1980s with big hit singles and large selling albums. So one playing a tiny pub and the other the vast O2 Arena struck me as somewhat of a juxtaposition.
The O2 experience (and to be honest that’s part of attending a gig there) is great. The venue is a wonderful conversion of the old millennium dome. They have done a really great job of the conversion and the experience begins as you approach the venue from the tube. With the O2 being based in Greenwich it’s no surprise that time plays a big part. On the walkway to the arena you are presented with various displays of the key moments in pop/rock music through the decades. Inside you can get even more of this with the British Music Experience as well as a myriad of eating venues surrounding the arena itself.
The other venue within the dome is the Indigo and this had a very obvious dig at tonight’s main act. Posters lined the outside of the venue announcing Ali Cambell’s gig there next May with the tag line “The true voice of UB40″!
Many I spoke to at the gig didn’t realise Ali was no longer in UB40 and wouldn’t be playing tonight. With Chris Difford not being Squeeze without Glenn Tilbrook, UB40 aren’t UB40 without Ali.
The gig started well with Eddy Grant in support. Eddy was great and really knew what the audience wanted and he certainly got them dancing.
Unfortunately UB40 couldn’t live up to the great start. With new singer (Ali’s older brother Duncan) taking on Ali’s vocal job it just didn’t sound like UB40. He can sing but he just didn’t interact with the audience. The rest of the band seemed to be going through the motions and it just felt flat. There seemed to be too much emphasis on their new material. The sound mix also didn’t help. The vocals were lost in the mix. Overall a big disappointment for me and I suspect that Ali’s gig at the Indigo may well have more feel to it and that a smaller venue would suit them both.
When I went out to the toilet about half way through the gig many were streaming out of the exit doors. I did ponder if i should be doing the same.