Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Proclaimers: Nottingham Royal Concert Hall 16 October 2009

A Friday night gig with a long-established pop rocking band like The Proclaimers should be utterly life-affirming and delightful. It was, really it was -- but part of me knows that was in spite rather than because of the venue. Torch-song performers like Rufus Wainwright can get away with this sort of venue, but others may find it more of a battle.

It's rather a shame really but the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham, bless its heart, is a bit of a quirky place not least for being a completed seated auditorium for 2499. Since opening in 1982 it has served a multitude of functions as a sister venue to its neighbour the Nottingham Theatre Royal: the RCH operates as a venue for classical and diverse forms of pop music, comedy, musicals and other sundry events includes conferences and graduations.

The problem with such adaptable venues, even with its adjustable acoustic canopy, is that it can prove itself just not quite right for anything. And pop music has often proved an especially awkward form to accommodate.

The Proclaimers did everything to make the place swing and sway with their range of sweet, bittersweet, acerbic and anthemic songs. It was the first time ever the Reid brothers had played Nottingham in their long career and they were assiduous in dedicating songs to their loyal fan-base from notes of requests. But the place just didn't quite take off as this sort of gig could and should have. Maybe Nottingham folk, once they feel they've moved away from the Rock City / Rescue Rooms / Bodega Social triumvirate of standing venues, lose faith with how to be enthused. Even crowd pleasers like "I'm on my way"* didn't seem to sparkle with the audience as much as I would have hoped.

It's odd, because when we last saw the band (Summer Sundae 2006) they practically took the roof off de Montford Hall which had to run a one-in/one-out policy on the door for their set. DMH has at least the benefit of its downstairs section being standing, even if its upper section is a tiered seated area, and maybe that was enough to make a difference.

With new album Notes and Rhymes out, the set inevitably drew more heavily on that than any short festival set would do. Neertheless, the brothers and their able band members know how to mingle old and new, bringing in tracks from their back catalogue with ease and this of course included several from the Leith album ("Cap in Hand", "Then I Met You", "Sean" and "My Old Friend the Blues" as part of the encore). Yet it is testament to them all that new songs feel like friends to the established tracks with their talent for sharp, well-observed lyrics and heartfelt sentiments with memorable hooklines. They also bought on a very lovely female violinist who brought that special dimension to "Sunshine on Leith" as well as another couple of tracks (and whose distractingly stunning black and red halterneck dress had my heart skipping to acquire one just like it).

Ending on a full-bloodied version of The Joyful Kilmarnock Blues, the evening was almost certainly nothing special for the band (neither especially memorable or disastrous): their thanks for our attendance did nothing so crass as to suggest this had been 'the best night of the tour' or anything like that. But it is still a shame that they didn't leave their first visit to Nottingham with any real sense of the passion and enthusiasm with which (some) local fans hold them so dear.

* the brothers acknowledged the need to rejuvenate the fan-base and inclusion on a successful film soundtrack like Shrek certainly has done them no harm in that regard! It was quite amusing to see some younger attending folk who looked the right generation to have grown up on Shrek debating whether to join in with standing up to join the largely 'dad-dancing' style boppery going on during "I'm on my way'!


Rob said...

We've booked to see them (for the third? fourth? time) at teh Usher Hall in Edinburgh in November. That's an old-fashioned concert hall, all seated, but I must say they've never had any trouble on previous visits making it rock. But then I suppose (with no disrespect to Nottingham) that there will be more hardcore Proclaimers fans here: and of course it's as close to a home crowd as they get. Looking forward to hearing them do the new stuff though (and to watching the violinist!)

Imposs1904 said...

I'm so jealous.

I love The Proclaimers but I've never got to see them live . . . yet.