|The Monochrome Set live at Dingwalls - Photo by Steve Worrall|
It felt a bit like returning to the scene of a crime, it was after all not even a year ago since I was at Dingwalls witnessing a Monochrome Set gig. At that time I'd only just started the Blog and the subsequent review was to teach me a swift lesson. If I was going to write and publish my thoughts then I'd better get my facts right, do my research and not forget that old maxim, "only write what you know about". The thing is, there are some bands you follow through thick and thin - you sign up to newsletters, collect records, join fan-clubs, know all the collaborations and off-shoots and even the side projects of the session guy who played the trombone on side two of the difficult third album. Unfortunately, I was never like that with The Monochrome Set, as with many bands I like, if I saw they were touring I'd go and see them and if they had a new album out I would buy it, but I didn't really keep up to date with their comings and goings. Anyway, I loved that show, which was full of old classics, but I did mention in the review that I would have liked to have heard more songs from their superb mid-period albums such as "Dante's Casino" and "Jack". I also bemoaned the fact that it was a shame that they hadn't played live for such a long time. I published the review and also posted a link in the band's Fan Forum as I thought it might be of interest.
|Photo by Steve Worrall|
I was somewhat surprised to receive a response from singer Bid himself, it was a charming message "You're quite right about the lack of "mid-period" songs. Most of the set had already been rehearsed as a 4-piece last Spring, before my stroke. Then, after I recovered, we decided to add keyboards (Jon), which would have given us the "width" to play this material - but I still wasn't up to rehearsing properly until the beginning of this year. With one thing and another, we had little time to properly rehearse any songs other than the ones we had chosen the previous Spring. But, we will be looking at these over this summer". A stroke...? Bloody hell, a stroke! That was when I learnt that little lesson, I felt a bit guilty about my minor gripes and vowed that if I was going to carry on with this Blog thing that I really needed to do a little bit more research. It turned out that in the summer of 2010 Bid suffered what is known as an "aneurysmal subarachnoid haemorrhage" and had to endure a 5 hour operation. One of the processes of the treatment was to shoot platinum coils into the affected area, hence the title of the brand new album.
|Andy Warren - by Steve Speight|
So, a year later and it's back to Dingwalls and The Monochrome Set and as we get our wrists stamped at the box office I see Bid standing in the doorway, maybe I was going to get my wrists slapped! But I've never met him before so I would be OK...however, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to introduce myself. I also wanted to say thank you for exclusive access to the new album as we were to play a track on the Retrosonic Podcast. In fact, I had to apologise about that as, due to some technical problems and what with the album release being brought forward, we were too late to claim an "exclusive". Ah, well I don't seem to have much luck when it comes to The Monochrome Set! Bid was charming, and the thing that struck me was that he looks so damn healthy, and after all he went through. It must take immense courage and determination, not to mention some fine work from the medical team, to be able to get to the stage when...well, when he can get up on a stage! The band appear to the familiar tribal drumming and drone guitar (with Lester using a rather novel implement in place of an E-Bow...) and it's into "The Monochrome Set (I Presume)". The band are on fire, now featuring be-Fez'd drummer Steve Brummell and violinist Helena Johansson - who also adds mandolin to great effect on some songs - alongside original members Bid, Andy Warren and Lester Square, they sound much more powerful and tight than I've ever seen before. The set list is a mix of early crowd favourites along with a good smattering of new tracks from the excellent "Platinum Coils". "Lighter Side of Dating" gives way to "Jet Set Junta" which is followed by one of my favourite tracks "Alphaville"...it's a superb sequence.
|Photo by Steve Worrall|
Then Bid announces they will play a few new songs, and with some bands that can lead to a mass exodus to the bar, not this time! For those in the crowd that had heard the new album would have been well aware that the new tracks are as strong as anything they have released it the past. The songs are also not so different in style to their faultless classic "Eligible Bachelors", a large chunk of which is played tonight, so there is a seamless and natural flow to the set, from old numbers to new. "Platinum Coils" in its entirety is already, to me feeling as strong an album as "Bachelors", it's one of those records that just works as a whole. From the overall sound and production, the superb songwriting with its host of catchy and memorable numbers right through to the fantastic packaging with the silver foil style, lyric poster and wonderful cover artwork from Lester.
|Photo by Steve Worrall|
The aforementioned cover art, which shows a myriad of unusual objects emerging from Bid's head, along with the title's reference to "Platinum Coils", shows that Bid is tackling his life-threatening experience head on, if you pardon the expression...The lyrics are the usual wry and humorous observations, for example on "I Can't Control My Feet", you can imagine Bid's impatience with being confined to a hospital bed as he could be hallucinating, "I went to the party with my three friends, a nurse and a porter and a guy with no hands, but if I hear that Oxy-pump I'd have to jump and leave my seat". Tonight, it's a joyous number and one of the real highlights of the set for me. On "Waiting For Alberto", again that sense of boredom seeps out as he hopes that his next visitor will bring some pears or apples or exotic fruits, except bananas as "they make him ill", it's a perfect example of the self-deprecating wit in Bid's lyrics. The set comes to a close with a superb run through of "Eine Symphonie Des Grauens" which features one of the best bass lines ever, and then it's over all too soon! The crowd demand more and they return for two well deserved encores which included "He's Frank" and "The Mating Game", then it's over and the venue shuts the bar and kicks everyone out rather unceremoniously into the night! A bit of a shame as I could have done with a beer to relax a bit and take it all in. But what a night, and what a performance - certainly the best I have seen the band play, and judging from the huge smiles and extremely happy crowd piling past me to the exits, I guess I wasn't the only one to think so. So, now I have learnt my lesson, The Monochrome Set deserve far more from me than a passing interest and the odd gig and record purchase...I am hooked and won't make the mistake of missing out on their future adventures again!
|Lester Square - Photo by Steve Speight|
You can hear a track from the new Monochrome Set album on Episode 2 of Retrosonic Podcast.
Thanks to Steve Speight for the photos of Lester & Andy, please check out more of Steve's excellent photos at his Flickr Site.