Billy Mackenzie Tribute
Still a highly respected cult icon ten years after his suicide, Billy Mackenzie would have celebrated his 50th birthday last week, so friends and acolytes of the Dundee-born singer assembled on Wednesday for a tribute concert in aid of the charity Sound Seekers. Videos of Mackenzie, spanning his early 1980s chart peak with the Associates and the erratic solo career that followed, played between performances.
The bill was mostly composed of Mackenzie’s musical contemporaries from the arty fringes of 1980s pop. Of course, nobody present could match the self-destructive singer’s freakish facility for octave-vaulting melodrama and sexually ambivalent glamour.
Nevertheless, the Subterraneans and Paul Haig transported us back to the postpunk vogue for angular guitar rock, while the Electric Soft Parade finished their likeable set with the bittersweet torch song Blue It Is from Mackenzie’s posthumous solo album, Beyond the Sun.
The German-born chanteuse Claudia Brucken, formerly of Propaganda, provided many of the evening’s highlights. In conjunction with the pianist Andrew Poppy, she elegantly deconstructed Kate Bush’s Running up That Hill and reworked Mackenzie’s sullen, mournful ballad Breakfast in a Brechtian cabaret style. Then, with her current musical partner Paul Humphreys, she shifted gear into the knowingly retro synth-pop that the duo record under the name Onetwo. Thus Club Country, one of Mackenzie’s biggest Associates hits, became a deluxe disco anthem.
The evening’s main draw was the first live performance by the British Electric Foundation. Essentially the studio-based production arm of the 1980s pop veterans Heaven 17, BEF were backed by a clutch of musicians and guest vocalists. Sportingly, the singer Glenn Gregory strained vainly for the hysterical heights that Mackenzie reached effortlessly on the best known Associates hit, Party Fears Two.
Ending with a rowdy performance by the techno-rock trio Apollo 440, this event was well-meaning but uneven. Then again, given the chaos of Mackenzie’s own life, it caught a little of his mercurial spirit.