McAlmont & Butler – Birmingham O2 Institute, 5th November 2015
McAlmont & Butler don’t do things by halves. The recent deluxe reissue of their 1995 debut The Sound Of McAlmont & Butler (Edsel Records), is an impressively lavish release, offering the listener a choice between a 2CD+DVD version, or a super-deluxe five disc version, including two vinyl albums, two CDs and a DVD beautifully packaged in a 12″ hardback book cover.
As well as the original 11-track album, the package contains some really interesting unreleased rarities, such as two demos of signature M&B tune ‘Yes’, one an instrumental 4-track sketch, the other an almost fully-formed version. Perhaps the most radically different track is the instrumental ‘Oompah Demo’ of ‘Tonight’, which has changed form considerably by the time is was included on the album. A sublimely understated Simon Mayo radio session version of ‘You Do’ is well worth a listen, while the ten minute+ ‘Bernard Butler and Nigel Godrich 1995 Remix’ of ‘Yes’ loses the swagger of the original in favour of an of-its-time mix which is a good halfway through before McAlmont’s vocals appear.
The TV appearances on the DVD include the rapturous 1995 Later With Jools Holland performances as well as some welcome Top Of The Pops slots, amongst other curios.
McAlmont & Butler carry this luxurious treatment into their live show, taking the stage with a line up of twelve people, including a string quintet and three members of The Magic Numbers, who had earlier provided a drummer-less (“He’s at home, chilling out” according to Romeo Stodart) support slot of their own material. This prompted a mass audience sing-a-long for their hits ‘Forever Lost’ and ‘Love Me Like You’ and they even brought out the main act for their closing song, before returning ten minutes later as part of the McAlmont & Butler band for the night.
David McAlmont and Bernard Butler are both such captivating performers that it is difficult to know who to watch; McAlmont effortlessly suave in all white, while Butler is like a man possessed, all in black. The overwhelming feeling for the whole show, though, is the absolute joy on display from all on the stage. The Magic Numbers, (Romeo Stodart on bass and occasional guitar; Michelle Stodart and Angela Gannon mainly on backing vocal duties), smile from ear to ear throughout, at the sheer happiness at being on stage with artists that they obviously hold in such high regard. McAlmont & Butler look like they are loving it too, exchanging contented glances and, at on one occasion, Butler stops playing and just points at McAlmont like a proud parent who can’t quite believe how talented his offspring is and wants to let everyone know just in case they happen to miss the fact.
Although the concert is ostensibly to support the reissue of the 1995 debut, two tracks from 2002’s Bring It Back ease the audience into proceedings, Butler beginning to play a snatch of his support (and supporting) band’s recently-aired ‘Forever Lost’ before ‘What’s The Excuse This Time?’ is the first taste of the Sound Of… record.
The two main men are positively on fire throughout, McAlmont prowling the stage and perfectly creating his three-octave-spanning vocals, while Butler engages in his trademark guitar-playing style. Both look pretty much untouched by the twenty years between their original appearance and today; time has been kind to the music too as there is nothing really to link it to the 1990s, such is its classic and timeless feel.
Most of the band exit to leave M&B with a sole cello player for a touching run through Bring It Back’s ‘should-have-been-a-single’ ‘Blue’, before the stage is once more filled for a version of the perhaps underappreciated, slow-burning 2006 single ‘Speed’, from the (as yet) unreleased third album.
The crowd are already vociferous and M&B are saving the big-hitters for the last part of the show; a sublime ‘Bring It Back’ is followed by an unexpected cover in Fat Larry’s Band‘s ‘Zoom’, which instantly sounds like one of their own and fits in very nicely. A mighty ‘Falling’ is the final song for now, but the audience are fairly confident that there are a couple of songs in particular that probably couldn’t realistically be left out of any self-respecting McAlmont & Butler set.
The first of these, the wonderfully subtle Top 20 hit ‘You Do’ follows its fellow The Sound Of… track ‘You’ll Lose a Good Thing’ before the band disappear again. When they return for a second time, ‘Goodbye’ happily isn’t the final song, despite its title. A lone twang rings out of Butler’s guitar before the familiar drum intro to ‘Yes’ takes its shape; even the usually (relatively) undemonstrative, fantastic long-standing drummer Mako Sakamoto can’t hide a sly grin as he beats the beginning of the song that has everyone present positively beaming at the ecstatic delivery of the well-loved hit. It is a truly special moment.
McAlmont & Butler wisely realise that there is really no way to follow that and exit for a final time to deafening cheers after performing theatrical bows with their ten cohorts.
It is a show that everyone present will remember for a long time. Hopefully this kind of reception may spark a more permanent reunion and they may yet add some more classics to their brief but enduring catalogue.
God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.