The Psychedelic Furs / The Wendy James Band - Birmingham O2 Institute, 05/10/2019

The Psychedelic Furs / The Wendy James Band – Birmingham O2 Institute, 05/10/2019

It’s just possible that Transvision Vamp had more hits than you think; they breached the Top 40 seven times and had a further three singles in that annoying 41-45 range (well, annoying in the late 80s, miraculous now for any band!).

Tonight, their erstwhile front woman leads The Wendy James Band through a set including some of these along with material from the more recent past. ‘Tell That Girl To Shut Up’ is familiar to these ears from its brush with the charts all the way back in 1988, sounding almost like a lost Blondie single, which is obviously no bad thing.

One of the new songs is a glam stomp in the same vein as Suede‘s ‘Filmstar’, while another is so good that it might well be worth checking out the new album when it arrives, even if one isn’t a former Vamp fan. Mega-hit ‘Baby I Don’t Care’ ends a well-received set that might not have happened at all, James informing the audience that she and the band arrived only 40 minutes before the start of the show due to a van malfunction.

Some bands manage to select names that just look so good on record sleeves and sound great in their own right. Tonight’s headliners, The Psychedelic Furs, are one such band, a band who have retained an air of mystery through their (gulp) forty year life span (notwithstanding the odd break in service). And at odds with their special guests, it’s staggering that the Furs actually only ended up with two UK Top 40 hits, such is their incredible record for producing classic singles.

One of the mainstays, bassist Tim Butler, bounds on to the stage to great applause, followed by the band who tear into early single ‘Dumb Waiters’, with the bassist’s brother, Furs front man Richard Butler, appearing behind his trademark shades and delivering a formidable vocal that immediately shows that his distinctive smoky voice is still perfectly intact after all these years. In fact, the band sounds absolutely huge, a seven piece touring line up punctuated by American saxophonist Mars Williams’ contributions, which are such an integral part of their songs’ make up.

Crowd favourite ‘Mr Jones’ is next, and like the opener, is taken from seminal 1981 album (their second) Talk Talk Talk. Perhaps the band’s most wonderful single, ‘Love My Way’ is thrown in surprisingly early as third song of the set, but it becomes apparent that The Psychedelic Furs have classics to spare (‘Heartbeat’ sadly doesn’t get a look-in). Its parent album Mirror Moves though does provide the bands poppiest moment, the sublime ‘Heaven’ and the lovely ‘The Ghost In You’ which sees the Furs at their most sentimental. It’s a beautiful song that Robyn Hitchcock found worthy of his covering five years back.

Richard Butler is not one for extended dialogues with the crowd, but he is clearly loving it up there, smiling broadly and turning in an energetic performance that an artist half (or maybe a third!) of his age might struggle to match. The secret jewel in the Furs’ crown, ‘All That Money Wants’ (the ‘new’ single to accompany the 1988 ‘Best of’ All Of This And Nothing) is happily given an airing – it still sounds like a massive hit all these years later.

There’s little doubt that, since the 1986 film that took its name, ‘Pretty In Pink’ is the band’s signature tune, and it arrives to great appreciation. It’s the sparkly 1986 film soundtrack version with saxophone, rather than the original, rougher cut from Talk Talk Talk that is preferred by some of the die hards, but no-one here is complaining. A punchy President Gas goes down a storm too and the set finishes with perhaps one of the (unfairly) less appreciated Psychedelic Furs songs, ‘Heartbreak Beat’ from 1986’s Midnight To Midnight.

The band return for a powerful take of their 1980 eponymous debut album’s opener, ‘India’ and the show is over. The Psychedelic Furs, 2019 style, are an absolute joy and it’s one of those nights where the audience disembark the venue smiling from ear to ear, safe in the knowledge that they have spent the evening with an iconic band on the top of their game.

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.