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LIVE: The Prisoners – Roundhouse, London, 24/05/2024

“That’s like Gillingham FC doing Wembley, you know?”

This is James Taylor speaking back in January about the upcoming gig by The Prisoners at the Roundhouse in May. It is certainly a big undertaking to be playing this huge cult venue – a Grade II listed former engine shed in Chalk Farm in north west London with an 1,800 capacity – but there again The Prisoners are a huge cult band.

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The Prisoners were formed in 1980 in Rochester, Kent by three school friends – Graham Day (Vocals and Guitar), Allan Crockford (Bass and Vocals ) and Johnny Symons (Drums). The trio were joined a couple of years later by James Taylor (Hammond organ and vocals) who, like the others, was in the same year at Rochester Mathematical School.

Inspired by the R&B, garage, psychedelic, soul, and Mod sounds of the late ‘60s, The Prisoners were quickly immersed in London’s underground Mod revival scene of the early 1980s, forging a strong reputation for themselves on the back of a series of incendiary live performances. They produced four studio albums between 1982-86, before splitting up due, in part, to a lack of any real commercial success.

10 years later The Prisoners did reform for a handful of live dates which saw them sign to Steve Lamacq’s Deceptive record label.  Whilst the single ‘Shine On Me’ was met with enthusiastic reviews, the band then broke up again soon after. 

The original line-up reunited once more two years ago for what was the 40th anniversary of the release of their seminal debut album, A Taste of Pink, an occasion that was celebrated by four sold-out shows in their home town. And now The Prisoners are back again, not only with their biggest headline gig to date but also having just released Morning Star, their first album of brand new material in almost four decades.

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Absolutely sterling support on the night comes from Inspiral Carpets, one of the many bands who down the years have owed a great debt of gratitude to the influence of The Prisoners. And serving as DJ and MC in the Roundhouse is their former label boss and BBC Radio 6 Music DJ, Steve Lamacq.

With two major finals taking place over the next 48 hours at the national football stadium a few miles away this show already has all the hallmarks of another momentous Wembley occasion. The packed Roundhouse is expectant. And The Prisoners do not disappoint. 

The set is 95 minutes long, with 28 songs in total. And each and every single one is a three minute groove-ridden jewel. The concert covers the entire length and breadth of The Prisoners’ recording career. There are old songs. ‘Coming Home’ from their debut album makes an early appearance, its title seeming to be entirely in keeping with all that follows. And hearing ‘Love Me Lies’ from their 1983 album, Thewisermiserdemelza again after all these years is strangely reassuring.

There are new songs. ‘Something Better’ from Morning Star enters the set seamlessly three songs in as if to give lie to the fact that it’s nearly 40 years since their previous album. Graham Day tells us that ‘If I Had Been Drinking’ merely confirms that he has been – his sly slug from a hip flask earlier having already told us as much – though the tightness and togetherness of the sound they create proves it is having no adverse impact whatsoever upon the performance.

And there are instrumentals. ‘Explosion on Uranus’ from their third album, 1985’s The Last Fourfathers is driven along by the incessant urgency of James Taylor’s Hammond organ. It is just like they have never been away. Sometimes there is just no need for any words.

Two richly deserved encores arrive as surely as night follows day, including a pulsating ‘Reaching My Head’ – where Booker T. Jones meets The Pretty Things – and a glorious reading of ‘Hush’ which owes more to the heavy psychedelic vibe of the Deep Purple cover than ever it does the original song written by Joe South and initially recorded by country soul singer Billy Joe Royal.  

It’s a triumphant performance. Four old friends back playing together, clearly enjoying each other’s company and bringing us all immense pleasure as they do so.

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.