A Tribute To Billy MacKenzie: BEF (British Electric Foundation)/
Few bands wait 27 years after forming before playng live but BEF (aka British Electric Foundation) did. So, there we two main reasons for attending tonight: one was to bear witness to the live debut of BEF, and secondly to pay tribute to the unique talent of Billy MacKenzie of The Associates fame. The fact that some of the ticket money was going to a good cause under the auspices of Sound Seekers, a charity helping the deaf in the developing world, only cemented the heart warming inner feeling. The line-up was an eclectic selection of those that were in some manner connected to the late Billy MacKenzie who sadly committed suicide 10 years ago this January.
Pianist Howard Hughes (see photo right), who wasn’t in the original line-up but did play on several records and toured as part of The Associates, was first to take to the stage. It was just him and a grand piano, and the music he created was glorious. His emotive instrumental performance (referencing a few Associates tracks along the way) was an inspired way to begin the proceedings and to set a high standard for the evening to come.
The lads Mower were next up. Can’t say what the connection there was but they did their youthful guitar thing well enough if without setting the pulse racing.
Given their name by Billy MacKenzie, Subterraneans very much came across as a bunch of old friends who hadn’t played together for some years. You know the sort of thing: drummer noticeably not tight, vocalist on the rough side, guitar a bit too loose. Worthy perhaps but for those of us not already familiar them (in all honesty) not that entertaining, until that is that they were joined by female vocalist Christine Beveridge who smartly gave the band another dimension by performing Kites—
Claudia Brücken and Andrew Poppy
Despite having both been on Trevor Horn’s ZTT label in the 80s this was a first live paring in the UK of the former Propaganda/Act vocalist Brücken and pianist Poppy.
In between each act, the DJ played exclusively Associates tracks. These were accompanied by some fascinating visuals that must have taken many hours to compile. A never-ending montage of video clips, home movie footage, old black and white photographs, record sleeves, covers of music press featuring the band, etc, etc.
A brief costume change later and Ms Brücken was back treading the boards this time as part of her latest collaboration—
Electric Soft Parade
Even though they were not my regular sort of thing and they had the longest set, Brighton’s Electric Soft Parade unquestionably proved they do what they do with conviction and some measure of success. What they do being that tricky thing of managing 60s guitar pop influences with a contemporary vision. But this they achieve with some aplomb. Never entirely my kind of thing, ESP nevertheless demonstrated that not only do they perform with verve and variety but that the 60s derivative likes of Oasis are not worthy to lick their boots. Again, the MacKenzie connection was unclear (Blue It Is was their cover), but their set was varied enough that attention never waned.
BEF (British Electric Foundation)
The headline slot (or so I thought) however could only ever be taken by a band for whom the word cult might have been created. BEF were formed by former Human League members Martyn Ware and Ian Caig Marsh. When lead vocalist Gelnn Gregory joined they morphed into key 80s alternative electro pop/soul act Heaven 17, but were a genuine (if little known) groundbreaking act in their own right; with three albums to their credit (including an original cassette-only release in 1980).
It was somewhat inevitable then that a track or two from their latter incarnation would crop up. This was entirely appropriate though as Billy MacKenzie sang on a handful of Heaven 17 and BEF tracks, and one of Billy’s favourite tracks was Let Me Go from the second Heaven 17 album The Luxury Gap. So BEF duly paid tribute with a cracking performance. Having never seen Heaven 17, I have to say this was a genuine thrill. It also made you reflect on just how good their songwriting is. This was way above almost all the dreck that manages to chart these days and will surely stand the test of time like few others.
This could only be topped by (an almost compulsory) performance of Heaven 17’s Temptation. Before beginning, Gelnn Gregory related a story of how his mum recently unearthed a very early Heaven 17 demo tape containing the first recorded version of this memorable hit. To do something a little different and special, the version played tonight was based upon that original demo arrangement. Continue »
“It sounds like The Human League!” said a seemingly surprised Gregory a few bars into the bass heavy synth intro. And it did—
A cover of Bowie’s Drive-In Saturday (again apparently a song much-loved by MacKenzie) effectively under their belts, and a clearly emotional Gelnn Gregory announced what everyone must have been hoping—
Despite his remarkable vocal talents, Billy MacKenzie never sought the limelight nor coveted fame. Tonight’s event though would have seen him proud (if slightly embarrassed) of the attention. Congratulations to the Soul Seekers charity for putting on such an impressive evening and to all involved for offering their services free of reward, beyond paying tribute to a lost friend and an exceptional creative talent. 7/10 overall (but 9/10 for the BEF set)