13 January 2017 0 Comments

This is not an exercise in nostalgia

So what’s a gig review doing on a personal triathlon blog? I’ll justify it by saying that Bristol’s finest rockers, and indeed, rollers have powered more training sessions of mine than I care to recall. If you are not familiar with the Blue Aeroplanes then you have been missing out on one of Britain’s best kept musical secrets.

Founded out of the Art Objects at the punk end of the 70’s, Bristol’s Blue Aeroplanes have been ploughing their own furrow of jangly guitar folk/pop/rock/roll ever since. They flirted with the big time at the end of the 80’s when high praise from REM’s Michael Stipe got them the support gig on the Green tour. The two “seminal” ‘Planes albums “Swagger” and “Beatsongs” hail from this period. The lineup of the band has ever changed but since those heady days the output has been intermittent. However, with the lyrical power of frontman, poet and driving force, Gerald Langley, always to the fore, every album since has always hinted in parts that the band was still capable of greatness.

In the release of new album “Welcome, Stranger” they have succeeded in achieving it. It’s extraordinarily rare for a band 25 years after the release of their greatest album to produce another record capable of standing right alongside their “classic” work. “Welcome, Stranger” is an album that deserves to be played LOUD and it fizzes with an energy that most bands can only aspire to. So it was hugely exciting to find out that the band were going to back up this release with a full 3 week UK tour.

The Ruby Lounge on a wintry Manchester night was the venue for the 2nd date on the tour. I’d not been to the place before, but it’s a typical rock club venue and most of the audience appeared to be long time ‘Planes fans. There was a decent smattering of younger faces, too. The gig kicked off with “Dead Tree, Dead Tree”, one of the standout tracks on the new album. It was clear from the outset that this was to be no nostalgia exercise and the new album in its entirety got a run out. With no “filler” tracks on the new record, and the band clearly enjoying playing the new material there was hardly a moment to pause for breath. And when they did resort to the back catalogue, they picked long standing high energy favourites such as “Yr Own World”, “Fun” and “Jacket Hangs” which segued classically into “And Stones”. Gerald threw his poses with evident pleasure – how many frontmen can carry off reading their poetry/lyrics from a book like he does. I’m convinced that the thumbing through the folio of scribblings to find the page for the next song as the band are already in full swing is part of the act – he never missed a cue. Alongside him the ageless effervescence that is Wojtech danced his mesmeric rhythms bathed in sweat. Wojtech’s dancing has been an integral part of the ‘Planes live since the early days, and to bring back the review to triathlon for a moment, after 3 weeks of performing with the energy that he does he’ll have the strongest core known to man! Despite his efforts, though, few in the audience seemed inclined to dance (me excepted), so when it came to the only traditional part of every Blue Aeroplanes gig (finishing with “Breaking in my Heart”) the band totally let rip and bounced all over the stage in a cacophonous whirlpool of guitars and drums while Gerald stood to the side sipping what I took to be a fine malt whisky, surveying his band and audience like a proud father.

As I walked out into the wet gaslit snow I thought back to previous ‘Planes gigs. I’d seen them on the big stage of the Manchester Apollo, the classic, and now defunct International Club, more recently at the Deaf Institute. My conclusion was that here was a band at the absolute peak of performance, no mean feat for 35 years of rock, and indeed, roll.

All pics by John Sutton

Blue Aeroplanes at the Ruby Lounge, Manchester

Blue Aeroplanes at the Ruby Lounge, Manchester

Blue Aeroplanes at the Ruby Lounge, Manchester

Blue Aeroplanes at the Ruby Lounge, Manchester

Blue Aeroplanes at the Ruby Lounge, Manchester

Blue Aeroplanes at the Ruby Lounge, Manchester

Blue Aeroplanes at the Ruby Lounge, Manchester

Blue Aeroplanes at the Ruby Lounge, Manchester

Blue Aeroplanes at the Ruby Lounge, Manchester

Blue Aeroplanes at the Ruby Lounge, Manchester

Blue Aeroplanes at the Ruby Lounge, Manchester

Blue Aeroplanes at the Ruby Lounge, Manchester

Blue Aeroplanes at the Ruby Lounge, Manchester

Blue Aeroplanes at the Ruby Lounge, Manchester

Blue Aeroplanes at the Ruby Lounge, Manchester


 

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