Altered Images at The Engine Rooms, Southampton 24.3.2022 with Magnetic Skies supporting.
Gig feast and uncertainty
The first of a four-day run of gigs for me as 2022 warms up. I’ve got a few of these enthusiastic runs in the calendar which have come together largely as a result of Covid postponements. Not ideal but I’ve taken the view to just go with it and ride on the wave of opportunities with the ones I’ve sorted being paid for over the last two years. As we have already seen, cancellations and postponements continue due to sensitivity around high-risk big tours, lack of planning time, Covid illness and isolating artists and road crew, fear of disruption from the war in Ukraine and Americans still not relishing trips to Europe or being unable to insure a tour.
Keep your arrangements flexible: nothing is nailed on until you get there and the music starts
Add to that the usual casualties and the age of me and artists I have followed since my youth, then I think just get out and see it while you can. Only in the last week or so gigs were cancelled or postponed by Dexys due to Kevin Rowland recovering too slowly from a motorbike accident; The Alarm due to the M4 being blocked between Cardiff and Bristol; The Undertones Scandinavian tour due to war fears in that area; Joe Jackson due to Covid venue restrictions in Europe; Ian McNabb’s mum passing away (RIP Pat); Adam Ant having exhaustion; Bruce Foxton having rest after a surgical procedure and then there was the Adele hissy fit Vegas fiasco. Gig arrangements are never nailed on – keep bookings flexible. I was only going to four of these I should add and no Adele wasn’t one of them 🙄
Back in the early 80s when Altered Images appeared I bought some early singles and that first album Happy Birthday 1981) but now over forty years later I get to go to an Altered Images gig for the first time.
I did catch a few songs from them – well it was Clare Grogan singing – at Let’s Rock the 80s Winter show at Wembley in 2019 (my blog here) but this was a mere taster.
Well, I’ve got here for tonight’s gig anyway – wife Sally has Covid though. Not easy to sell a mobile phone ticket outside.
I didn’t rush – I thought it was supposed to be DJ set by Gary Crowley aka no support – and walked in to hear Magnetic Skies playing. I only caught about five songs, one of which was a Bowie cover. Reasonably heavy indie rock.
There’s not many here and it doesn’t get any better – less than 200 in and max 800 capacity room (my venue blog). It doesn’t look much like a gig audience and there’s not much energy in the room; more an air of curiosity, and I suppose that’s why I’m here.
The Altered Images single A Day’s Wait starts playing after a string of early 80s indie classics and I thought that was odd, they’re playing in a bit. But this was their walk on music. They didn’t play it. They start with I Could Be Happy.
Clare Grogan’s happy. Massive smile and seemingly pleased to be on stage and out despite the small and rather flat and curious crowd: “It’s fucking awesome – we’re out and it’s a Wednesday night” she exclaims. The band with her changes round a bit she says and there a female backing singer and overloud bassist, with drummer Martin and Alan guitarist.
See Those Eyes from the second album Pinky Blue is an early well received one. It is over 37 years since Clare Grogan and Altered Images have put out an album and she tell us, full of excitement, that a new album Mascara Streakz is on its way soon, before they play the title track. “Can you please just buy it” she pleads.
I gave first Altered Images album a spin this week and it’s still a good listen although the single Happy Birthday may have lost its magic through overplay. They play Insects and, a little to my surprise, first single Dead Pop Stars, my highlights of the compact and just long enough set.
Dead Pop Stars is I’d say their best song – Clare says she loves singing it. It’s as if she gets in character to be disrespectful. I still have on 7″ vinyl single still.
Clearly still an important one to Clare as the band wrote it and played it in their early excursions on tour with Siouxsie and the Banshees.
She’s also ‘super proud’ of a song she wrote in Lockdown with her London neighbour Bernard Butler of Suede fame.
For most of her career she has written songs with her now husband Stephen Leroni, who was originally in the band. She introduces the first song they wrote together: Don’t Talk To Me About Love, another familiar one.
The Ting Tings cover It’s Not My Name injects some energy with some Clare and her backing singer enjoying themselves.
The bass really is loud and with a few disco beat numbers it’s a bit overwhelming on the vocals. The sound engineer located at the side of the stage keeps popping out to listen but no change.
The main set over the band disappear and return for the inevitable encore of Happy Birthday, a single that set her up for life. The applause was polite but this was a long way short of any sort of party atmosphere. Clare’s buoyant spirit wasn’t matched by this Wednesday night tired audience.