Reviews

SOULSEC IN NOTTINGHAM – BY A PROMOTER (of sorts!)

As has happened in the past, it all started with an email! Late January I arrived home and checked my emails only to spot one from Ruth Smith, who doesn’t need any introduction to some, but for others benefit – she’s Paul Robert’s Number 1 fan (possibly) and ex Faith Band site Webmaster! I was pleasantly surprised to read that I was being offered the chance to help in the setting up & promotion of one of Paul’s solo gigs once again. I was immediately interested and knew I had to see this through! Personally I found it irresistible – not everyday you receive the offer to get so involved with a member of your favourite pop group is it?

A bit of background info now for any of you who may be thinking, “Who the fuck is Barry Spooner? And how come he gets the chance to promote a PR gig?” – Well, to answer the first part of the question – I am basically just your average music fan who has a particular passion for The Stranglers. Just like others who became involved with ‘The People’s Acoustic Tour’ by The Faith Band in 2002. Basically, that ‘tour’ was an opportunity for fans of PR to organise their own gigs, where Paul (& Baz Warne) would showcase the PR solo material with a few Stranglers songs & ‘covers’ thrown in as well. In my case, I joined forces with (amongst others) Steve Greatorex – landlord of The Golden Fleece in Nottingham – the result being a hugely successful ‘free’ gig there. So successful, in fact, that The Faith Band returned 6 months later on their ‘Set In Stone’ Tour to another packed house, this time with a paying audience! The band (now with Richard Naiff on keyboards as well) brought the house down – they were truly awesome – one of the best gigs I’ve been to. If you want a taster, seek out a copy of ‘Listen?’…You’ll see what I mean. I digress……….

Before I could go any further with this I needed more info, knowing the first major task would be selling the idea to Steve Greatorex. At this point I hadn’t worked with Steve since October 2003 when we put on a Baz Warne solo gig. Would the interest, enthusiasm and ‘vibe’ still be there after all this time? Would the idea of another Paul Roberts solo gig at The Golden Fleece be a non-starter?

Anyway, Ruth puts me on to a certain Mr Phil Johnson who gives me an outline of the bands plans. He is the man who has been put in charge of setting up the latest PR solo ‘live’ outings! As we chat for the first time I soon discover that Phil is ‘the’ AWSOME P whose artwork all PR/Stranglers fans that access the net must be familiar with by now. Some amazing work by him – take a look! www.thepressureworks.com It is Phil who becomes our contact for the next month and he turns out to be as good as his word in terms of helping us to promote this gig, more of which later. Next stop, The Golden Fleece!

It took a few days to get hold of Steve but finally I was able to talk to him on the phone. It had been a while but I was pleased to hear that he hadn’t changed - the same (healthy!) initial sceptical response – “How much!” How would he get his money back etc? I must add here that Steve is the man who shells out for the band and in turn stands to make any profit from a successful gig, or a potential loss! I’m just a middle man really who tries to get the punters in by whatever means! Which is very rewarding when things turn out well! Anyway, all said & done these things aren’t really about money – they’re about having a good time for all those involved!

I arrange to meet Steve on the following Saturday to discuss this potential gig. I’m armed with info from Awesome P in case I need to give it the ‘hard sell’! Not necessary! Virtually the first thing Steve says as I enter ‘the Fleece’ is….

“O.K…I’ve thought about it but I’m paying no more than £XXX”

It’s good to see him again and I believe that the feeling is mutual. During the next hour or so it’s like the ‘old days’! The spark is indeed there still and we discuss, with increasing enthusiasm, the possibilities of this gig. (I try not to confuse him by saying that the band is now SOULSEC) I telephone Awesome P during our meeting and the gig is confirmed. Here we go again! Paul Roberts is back in town! (Or, at least he will be!) . I, for one am very chuffed, as everyone else concerned was at that point. I couldn’t wait to break the news on the web!

“ Big thing coming!…and it’s coming real soon!” Only 4 weeks in fact to get ”organasized!”

It’s time for the real work to begin. Steve begins to work on his regular punters. I try to rope in the people who have supported our gigs before and get the word out to fans of The Stranglers who may be interested in a PR solo show etc. Awesome P provides us with tickets, posters & flyers, which are mucho appreciated! And he supplies them in abundance and saves me no inconsiderable amount of time trying to knock up my own flyers (‘O’ level Art standard!) as well as personal expense. Nice one, Phil!

As I expected though, there comes the inevitable uncertainty about the event. Few people are forthcoming in committing themselves to attending the gig. So, 2 or 3 weeks after the gig is confirmed & with only approx 10 days to go there are hardly any ticket sales. Which, I expected. Still, I get the worried phone call from Steve but try to re-assure him that everything will be all right! Fingers crossed! As long as the promotion is done well, I know we’ll get an audience. Problem is that you just never know what to expect because these types of gigs are basically pay at the door jobs – people just don’t buy tickets for them in advance as a rule. I’m confident though that the hardcore of people who have supported us in the past will do so again. In fact they were all immediately up for the gig. So, I knew it would be a good night anyway with these people on board. You all know who you are! Respect. A special mention here for Keith Walton (Leskei). He was the first person ever to contact me about the first Faith Band gig we held at The Golden Fleece. We’ve met up a few times since during recent years at Stranglers & related events. For this, most recent PR show, he not only flogged tickets for us, he also supplied a support band – the excellent ‘Karma’ – which featured his son on drums! Top man!

The weekend before the gig we blitz the local media (ahem! Sort of!) i.e. I stick ads in the local newspapers. Steve uses his contacts in other pubs/venues to get posters displayed but the real icing on the cake is Awesome P’s success at establishing an interview & live performance by Soulsec on local radio immediately before the gig! Superb news! With our combined efforts, how can we go wrong? There has been a real ‘buzz’ surrounding this gig from the start but as we reach 24th Feb it gathers momentum! There will be a video recording of the show as well, which is rather exciting!

Thursday 24th Feb 2005 – It’s dawn as I drive home from Derby after my nightshift. I’m in a great mood as I pass through the snow-covered countryside, listening to a PR compilation CD, thinking about the night ahead. A couple of hours later I drop my son off at school. I tune into Radio Nottingham on the way & they are plugging the interview even at this hour, which obviously they will be doing all day! Fucking excellent! So, I sleep soundly that day knowing that all this is going on while I kip!

I wake up at approx 4.00PM - just as well as me old mate Paul Bibby has arrived all the way from Banbury. We are once again re-united for another Stranglers-related experience. I tune into Radio Nottingham whilst Paul gets spruced up for the gig. The presenter mentions that the band ‘should’ be in the studio during the second hour of the show but are experiencing problems due to the weather! Bollocks! The worst-case scenario passes through my mind for a few seconds.
Anyway, I have to make a move and can’t listen to the second half of the show anyhow. I must be at The Fleece to see how arrangements are going.

I arrive at the venue at 6.30pm by which time the Radio session has finished. Yeah! They did eventually make it but couldn’t do the ‘live’, acoustic bit. Instead the DJ played ‘Grateful’ from the second PR album apparently. However, I’m kept up to date with the bands progress by phone. 2 calls tell me that they are heading for ‘Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem,’ which is the oldest alehouse in England. Allegedly. Anyway, time to take a look at how things are going. Keith Walton is in da house aiding the support bands with the sound check, Steve Greatorex tells me about how everyone has let him down & “talks about money!” then Mark Mulkeen enters the building. So, I have a chat with him as I see it’s my job to meet & greet the punters. I must admit that I tried to keep a low profile early on. There were 3 support acts – 2 of which were full on ‘electric’ bands, 1 an
Acoustic duo. All had to prepare etc and wanted to proceed with the show. However, Soulsec hadn’t arrived yet and obviously they would need to check over the equipment. Therefore, I could foresee a bit of organised chaos on the horizon! Time to lay low!

A short time later, whilst talking to Mr Mulkeen & Mr Bibby, I notice a familiar face at the bar. Looking very hippy-ish & trippy-ish! It’s the one & only Richard Naiff, keyboard genius & if Dave Greenfield was ever to retire…oh! Forget it! SOULSEC ARE IN DA HOUSE! Time to seek out Mr Roberts then! I find him underneath a hooded winter jacket! I’m a little in awe of him, I must admit, even though I’ve met him before. Er, I hope everything’s all right etc. Also meet Phil Johnson & Andy Ellis for the first time at this point. Paul talks about parking and sound checking. I can’t help him with either! He views the support band suspiciously, especially the drum kit, as they are making a lot of noise whilst sound checking! They are very young & loud in stark contrast to Soulsec!

“These young people are so fucking loud” Paul comments!

However, the young guns are put in their place as Soulsec do a quickie sound check. This includes Richard plugging in his keyboard & playing the opening strains of ‘Lady Grinning Soul’ – the ‘Bowie’ cover. It’s very impressive. “Who’s the fackin’ ‘Daddy’?” Then they all disappear for something to eat! As usual!

In between it’s time for the support bands to get underway and for me to welcome the punters and sell some tickets! This is a great time for me because I get to chat with all the old faces that turn up. The people I only see at occasions like this. I always seem to mention in my Internet posts these days that Stranglers & related events are great social occasions, opportunities to chew the old fat over a few beers etc with like-minded folk. Well, this gig was no exception and one of the main factors that I was so up for being involved with it. It really is a pleasure to see the likes of ‘our friends in the north’ - Phil C (Homer) & Stevie – as well as folks like Mark & Christine Tacey, Ruth & Paul, not forgetting Steve’Woodeye’ Wood again. Your continued support of events at The Fleece is appreciated. This also applies to my own friends and family who always turn out.

Of course there are also plenty of people I don’t know and it’s just as interesting to see all these different punters who have responded to the promotion. The gig has attracted a wide range of people, young & older! Even better is the fact that there are plenty of them. All willing to shell out £8 for Soulsec. No one seems to be expecting a Stranglers gig either, which is encouraging. The fact that PR is the lead singer of The Stranglers is obviously the main selling point in terms of promotion; although all advertising makes it quite clear that Soulsec are a completely different band. However, you never know if the message is going to get through or not do you? Still, I think we succeeded on this level. The gig was also a success in terms of numbers. The Golden Fleece holds a total capacity of 190 people. We were hoping to get a crowd of around 100, which I reckon we did get on the night. Easily into 3 figures I’m sure.

In the past, I have to admit that the support acts that have been chosen to warm up for PR have left a lot to be desired. In fact some were appalling! Tonight it’s a different story, thankfully. The first two acts were entertaining enough I’m reliably informed, but the real gems were ‘Karma’. A bunch of teenagers with a great taste in music as they storm through their, albeit shortened set, which included ‘Teenage Kicks’ & ‘All Day & All Of The Night’. Something tells me that these boys have been listening to their parent’s record collections! Refreshing to see the youth of today acknowledging the classics.

So, it’s time for the main event. Soulsec casually take the stage, do another quickie sound check and Paul Roberts announces who they are, mentions the name change etc and they play the first song – ‘Face’. I haven’t heard this one ‘live’ for a while. It’s a more laid back and slower version than we are all used to. Then comes one of the key moments for me, the first song ends and we get the chance to gauge the crowd’s response. Once again, Paul is greeted with rapturous applause and I can tell by the grin on his face he’s glad to be back at The Golden Fleece. Business as usual!

Next up is another Stranglers song – ‘In Heaven She Walks’ – and we are all invited to provide the backing vocals, the “Whoa-Woa-WooaH!” bit, which a few of us attempt, badly! Still, if we were meant to be singers we’d be on the stage instead. The gig continues with a selection of what I consider to be PR’s greatest moments from his solo material. In no particular order we are treated to ‘Chasing Rainbows’, ’Postcard’, ’New Mourning Town’, ‘Can’t Seem’, ‘Grateful’, ‘8 Days’, ‘Wrong Connection’, ‘Shame Of The Father’, ‘My Father’s Bride’, ‘Lady Grinning Soul’ and ‘Shy’. The only other Stranglers song I can remember is ‘Sinister’, in the encore. There may have been more songs in the set, which I’ve overlooked.

With the exception of one or two songs, Soulsec in this 3-piece form are pretty much the same as the acoustic Faith Band. Although I found Soulsec on this occasion to be more laid back all through the set than the Faith Band were. A different vibe, this time without Baz Warne in the line-up, which is to be expected. Still, the songs that originally turned me on to Paul’s acoustic work still sounded stunning today. ‘Postcard’ and ‘Can’t Seem’ are classics. ‘My Father’s Bride’ is one of the most moving songs you’re ever likely to hear, especially once you know about the subject matter of the song. ‘Grateful’ should have
been a single, great sing-a-long tune etc. Make no mistake; Paul Roberts has a collection of fantastic songs at his disposal.

However that doesn’t mean that they all work in an acoustic sense. The songs from ‘The Pressure Sensitive’ (apart from ‘Shy’) are rockers and don’t shine so well when played acoustically imho. Great on the album and by the electric band, yeah! But they needed a little more ‘Ooomph!’ to do them justice here. If I remember correctly, when The Faith Band played ‘8 Days’ acoustically, Baz plugged his guitar into a fuzz box (or something) and the version was superb. Still, these are minor criticisms as there was still plenty to enjoy and appreciate. Like the genius of Richard Naiff, especially during ‘Lady Grinning Soul’ and the excellent guitar work of Andy Ellis throughout the set.

The only real downside to the gig is probably one that all musicians who perform acoustic gigs experience at some point. Audience attention, or rather lack of it! The chattering from punters during the songs became a distraction for some of us who were trying to listen to the music. The unwanted noise wasn’t from everyone obviously, but just enough people to irritate. Even Paul lost his rag at one point and firmly, but politely asked some of the culprits to quieten down. It’s funny too how when you’re involved in organising the gig you take things personally and react differently than you probably would as a punter. It’s as if you are responsible for everyone, even though you can never be. But even I found myself telling one acquaintance to “Shut the fuck up!” during the set.

On this occasion then Soulsec had their work cut out at times. Probably not really surprising though due to the nature of the songs and the way they are played. Excellent songs as they are, they need the listeners full attention to be fully appreciated, particularly when delivered in an acoustic style. When you consider that the majority of the audience would be hearing this material for the first time then I suppose it’s understandable that not everyone shared the same level of enthusiasm for the music. However, the band weren’t deterred by any of this. They battled on like the professionals they are and eventually won through on the night receiving fantastic applause after they completed the main set and following the encore of ‘Sinister’. Goodnight Nottingham!

As on previous occasions, Paul and the rest of the band stick around to meet the fans and pose for photographs. This has been a highlight of the gigs in the past and it’s great to meet a musician who has so much time for his fans. This was one of the best parts of the night for my wife in particular, judging by the amount of time she spent with Paul chatting and all the photographs of him that I keep seeing around the house since then. Ahem!

SOULSEC HAVE LEFT THE BUILDING!

All too soon it’s time to say goodbye and another memorable night is over. Soulsec are gone leaving a few of us to finish our beers and to discuss the evening. Considering this gig was only put together during the past month there is a lot to be proud of by all concerned. An incredible amount of work and effort has been put in and the gig has been a success on all accounts. For me, as in the past it has been a labour of love, despite the frustrating bits that come along. It’s been a surreal experience in a way too. I saw The Stranglers 6 times at various venues around the country last year and read about their escapades around the globe on the ‘Norfolk Coast Tour’. The next minute, their lead singer is performing in a local venue and I have been involved with the organisation! Incredible!

Thank-you Paul Roberts for entertaining the idea!

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