A trip to the Echo Arena to see Wet Wet Wet, a gig that regular readers of this blog may not be too surprised to learn was largely for the benefit of My Beloved Wife (far from her first time seeing them), rather than myself. Having said that, I used to own a couple of their CDs, though I would certainly never really claim to be a fan of any kind.
So this is probably a shorter and less enthusiastic review than is typical of this site.
We left the Boy Wonder in the capable hands of big cousin Owen, as well as Nana and Grandad, and got the train into town with enough time to catch the end of the second support act, former Westlife singer Markus Feehily. I don’t have a lot to say about him, partly because we only heard about three songs, but mainly because he was far from my cup of tea.
He did a rather histrionic version of his old band’s You Raise Me Up, before finishing with his solo debut single, the rather forgettable Love Is A Drug. He was backed by a keyboard player and a couple of backing singers, while he wore an outfit with a rather ludicrously striped left arm (but only the one arm was striped).
The between-bands music was a real step up, and left me expecting that it might prove to be the highlight of the night, including Kate Bush, Pulp and Kylie, before ending with David Bowie’s fabulous Fame, featuring John Lennon of course.
Out came Wet Wet Wet, with the original four piece joined by long-standing live fifth member Graeme Duffin and a three-man brass section. Lead singer Marti Pellow was the object of much affection from the thirty- and forty-something largely female crowd, and his pipes were still in good working order.
It’s interesting (to me…) to think that this is one of the last hugely successful pop bands who were actually a band – Graeme Clark on bass, drummer Tommy Cunningham and Neil Mitchell on keys. Since then, pretty much all the big boy bands or pop groups have just been a set of singers, with the music performed by a faceless array of studio musicians – from Take That in the 1990’s through to today’s One Direction.
I hadn’t realised until doing a little reading about the band that they were apparently named after a line in Gettin’ Havin’ & Holdin’ from Scritti Politti’s marvellous debut album Songs To Remember, not that they don’t sound all that much like them, although they both share a love for classic soul music. I also discovered that they allegedly came close to being signed by Rough Trade, which would surely have sent them down a slightly different, less populist route.
They kicked off with East Of The River from their first album Popped In Souled Out, which went down well but isn’t one of their best numbers. They ramped things up a notch with the subsequent Wishing I Was Lucky, their debut single from 1987 and first of thirteen Top 10 hits to date.
They kept up a run of big hits with Sweet Surrender and Julia Says, before delving into their most recent album, 2007’s Timeless, for the underwhelming Run. There then followed a bit of chat from all of the band, with guitarist Duffin showing off a half-decent scouse accent.
Marti sat down to sing Goodnight Girl, one of their songs I like the most, with a mass singalong seguing into Angel Eyes (Home And Away), Temptation and finally a cover of The Beatles’ With A Little Help From My Friends, that reached number one in 1988.
That was the first of their songs I ever owned, as it was part of a charity cassette album put out by the NME in 1988. The most notable aspect of their song to me at the time was that it took the Bard of Barking, Billy Bragg, to the top spot as his version of She’s Leaving Home was the other half of a double A-sided single, though it was probably the Scottish popsters who were responsible for the majority of the sales…
The only new song of the night was the rather trite Love Worz, that at least featured some interesting back-screen projections, of a cavalcade of soldiers and politicians, with it being unclear whether or not the band approved of the likes of Thatcher, Cameron, Putin and Farage. However, their view of Tony Blair seemed clearer, as his face was interchanged with a skull in a somewhat heavy-handed suggestion of his role in the Iraq war.
They made good use of visuals throughout the gig, with old band photos featuring in the rocksteady-esque Somewhere Somehow from 1995’s Picture This. The tour was (slightly belatedly!) in honour of the twentieth anniversary of this their sixth album, but they played less than half of the tracks off it.
This was followed by 2004 single All I Want, which bears an uncanny resemblance at the start to The Las’ There She Goes.
A mid-set acoustic section featured just Marti and the two Graeme’s, but rather slowed the mood. However, I quite enjoyed the Tim Hardin-eqsue Gypsy Girl and their cover of John Martyn’s classic May You Never.
The rest of the band returned for Sweet Little Mystery, a clear audience favourite, before they ended the main set with I Can Give You Everything, that sounded like they’d been listening to the Shaft soundtrack.
They came back for the pseudo-funky Lip Service before the night inevitably ended with The Troggs’ Love Is All Around, their megahit from 1994 that stayed at number one for a ridiculous fifteen weeks. Cue mass singalong. They left the stage once more after a band and audience group photo.
They put on a decent enough show, with Marti’s voice being the star of the show, but I think it’s fair to say that they remain a band that don’t really fit into my usual listening repertoire.
We headed straight for home as it was very cold and we had an early start the next morning for the long trek down to Wembley for the (eventually unsuccessful) Capital One Cup Final.
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Here is much of the music from the night on Spotify: