Comus – Borderline 28th April 2012

A couple of years ago I hadn’t even heard of 70’s cult psychedelic folk band Comus but then for some reason their name kept cropping up on one of my e-mail groups so I decided to check them out. I fell in love with their first album First Utterance the first time I heard it and have been wanting to see them ever since. They only reformed in 2009 playing together for the first time in 37 years and have done a handful of gigs since. I was going to go and see them about this time last year but my car broke down a few days before the gig and I ended up spending all my money.

We did manage to get Roger Wootton and Glenn Goring to appear as a duo at the Summer of Love festival last year but although I enjoyed their set it didn’t have the weirdness that the Comus songs have on record – I don’t think the fact that it was pissing down with rain helped matters much either. So I decided that I needed to see the full band and was glad to see that they were playing at the Borderline in London on 28th April.

I’ve always loved the Borderline as a venue but it had been quite a while since I’d been and the first thing I noticed was that there had been some changes. I think they’d knocked the wall behind the sound booth down and made the gents smaller so that there was more room to stand and watch the band. Other than that and a new small bar near the “dancefloor” it was still pretty much as I’d remembered it.

I was at the bar when the first band came on. They were called Purson and from the very first song they had the audience entranced with their sixties flavored rock. They looked and sounded as if they were playing a speakeasy in 1969 with just the lack of oil lamps and a smokey haze giving things away. The lead singer, Rosalie Cunningham, who was wearing a long flowing hippy dress has a lovely voice and plays a mean guitar while the rest of the band kick ass behind her!

Next up were Fusion Orchestra 2 who turned out to be a reincarnation of a band that were around in the early 70’s  with one album that has achieved a cult status – bit like Comus then! However the new incarnation (with a 2 added on the end of the name probably to avoid lawsuits!)  only has one original member, Colin Dawson, in it. At first glance I thought that maybe it was the drummer but it turned out to be the guitarist. The band came on and were just about to start when a female singer suddenly appeared wearing a black dress with a flower in her hair. This sudden last minute appearance jarred me for a few minutes because she didn’t look as if she belonged with the rest of the group but once you got used to her looks her voice fitted in well. She did admit though that the album, Skeleton in Armour, had come out almost 20 years before she was even born.

After they had finished the stage was virtually stripped bare of equipment leaving only a small rack of drums before Comus took to the stage and opened with Song to Comus off the First Utterance album. Unfortunately due to a technical hitch Colin Pearson’s violin was not audible during the song and there was a long gap while it was sorted out before the set continued with a favourite of mine Diana. The sound seemed to improve as the night went on and by the end they sounded great. The set was comprised of all but one song from First Utterance and the three new songs from the new album (or mini album as they called it) Out of the Coma.

Set List

Song to Comus
Diana
Out of the coma
The Return
Drip Drip
The Herald
The Sacrifice
The Prisoner
Encore
The Bite

I enjoyed seeing them live and my only criticism would be the lack of material. Given that they only play stuff from their first album as the second album was generally regarded (even by the band) as crap they will find it hard to continue to pull in crowds if they play the same songs every time. The three news songs were good and Out of the Coma sounded much better than it did when I first heard it at SoL last year. They seem to be working closely with David Tibet of Current 93 who was supposed to be there but couldn’t make it due to illness so maybe that might produce some creative outpourings.

Danger Zone

I have no idea why this came to mind today but many many years ago when I was young and didn’t know any better I let my brother and his mates talk me into going to see Sammy Hagar at Newcastle City Hall. This was years before he joined Van Halen, who we had also seen at the City Hall a couple of years previously supporting Black Sabbath.

Anyway there was a thing at the Hagar gig, and this is probably my only recollection of the night, that if you wrote your name on something and popped it in a box then it would appear on a poster that would be given away free with the next album. We obviously did it.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen the poster and I don’t know if my name was actually on it but just to prove I didn’t imagine all this I had a bit of a Google today and sure enough the poster was given away with the 1981 album Danger Zone – see above. I still don’t know if my name was on it and I’m not about to purchase a vinyl copy from ebay just to find out but if anyone has a copy and would like to get the magnifying glass out and search for me – please get in touch!

Twistin’ and turnin’ in a thousand ways

Tonight we have my nephews and niece staying with us while their Dad goes to see Peter Gabriel at the O2. He bought the tickets with his mate ages ago and didn’t realise that his wife would be away this weekend. So during the week I got a text off him saying I could either a) have his ticket and go to the concert or b) look after the kids while he went. As we hadn’t actually seen Noah since he was born 10 months ago we decided to go with option b!

After all I’ve never been a big Gabriel fan, I think his first solo album is brilliant but haven’t really liked more than a few tracks since then. Biko obviously and Games without Frontiers from the third album and possibly Sledgehammer if I’m in the right mood. On the whole though it’s not the sort of thing I can sit and listen to.

I’ve seen him a number of times over the years, mostly in the early part of his solo career. The first time was at Knebworth in 1978. Genesis had headlined the first Knebworth that year in one of their first major gigs without him. The second festival, called Oh God not another boring old Knebworth, featured The Boomtown Rats, Franks Zappa, The Tubes and Peter Gabriel. My brother and I went with our next door neighbour Steve Bittlestone and his friend from university.

The thing I remember most about his set was that he got onto the stage via a ladder with a panda strapped to his back, he then sat down at the piano and sang ” Me and my Teddy bear, got no worries, got no hair!” a reference to the fact that he had shaved most of the long hair he had in his Genesis days off. He also wore a white suit with an orange hi-vis jacket over the top. He did take this off though, replacing it with a leather jacket,  for the final song which was the Genesis song The Lamb lies down on Broadway.

The next time I saw him was the following year at Reading festival where he appeared on the Sunday night with former Genesis band mate Phil Collins on drums. The show started with Collins beating out the rhythm for Biko on a huge drum while Gabriel sang the lyrics. I’m not sure if this was the first time he had performed the song live but we certainly hadn’t heard it and didn’t know what the fuck was going on!

Gabriel was this time wearing an orange jumpsuit and played a really great set. Another former Genesis member Steve Hackett had appeared the previous day and everyone was expecting him to join Gabriel on stage so the fact Phil Collins turned up was quite a surprise.  At the end of the show Gabriel and Collins donned the leather jackets and sang The Lamb lies down on Broadway again.

Then the following year I saw him again at the City Hall in Newcastle. We had quite good seats as I recall being a few rows back in the centre. The tour was entitled, for some reason probably known only to him, the 1984 Tour of China and the program was a small red book like the one Chairman Mao used to hand out! The lighting on the stage was quite basic, mostly white lights, and was meant to look futuristic but now looks very dated. This time he was wearing a black jump suit!

He was also using a radio microphone which was quite a new technology at the time and seemed to be having a number of problems with it as he kept hitting it. At one point during Games without Frontiers he jumped into the audience and made his way along the row next to us getting people to sing the jeux sans frontier bit into the microphone. Me and my mate Nick grabbed it as he went past and screamed into it, don’t know if it came out of the PA or not – hopefully not!

That was the last time I purposely went to see him, I did see him at Glastonbury with Youssou N’Dour when he came along to join in on the hit they had had together Shakin’ the tree. I also seem to recall that he played at Glastonbury one year but I’m not sure if I saw him – probably only in passing if I did.

The photographs on this page are the ones I took at Newcastle City Hall in 1980 and as you can see the stark white lights didn’t do the pictures any favours. The other images from Knebworth and Reading were taken by a photographer called Alan Perry and you can buy prints from these two shows and many other shows by a huge range of artistes from his site.