McAlmont & Butler
As David McAlmont bellows the totemic chorus from the defiant and euphoric Yes, "Because, yes I do feel better..." for one last time during the final encore of McAlmont & Butler's Bristol O2 Academy show (part of the duo's 6-date UK Tour), aided by the backing of the elated and transfixed crowd's singing voices, you realise what a perfect ending to a very special evening this has been.
For not only is Yes a classic song that has touched people from all walks of life in a number of different ways, but Bernard Butler has even gone on record and labelled it as his favourite song that he's ever written! For discerning fans in attendance tonight though, it isn't simply a case of being unable to separate the track from the artist and the artist from the track, as to date, McAlmont & Butler have crafted a pair of quality albums, which stylistically, interlace everything from rock to pop to Motown to soul to R&B to funk to orchestral into their breathtaking, luxurious and shimmering compositions.
With the two-piece having just put out a deluxe / remastered 20th Anniversary edition of their debut, The Sound Of... McAlmont & Butler, and although now becoming increasingly commonplace for acts to perform a revered long player live top-to-tail, followed by the 'hits'. Just as they did in 1995 at the height of Britpop McAlmont & Butler play by their own rules, choosing instead to have a varied set balanced with songs from throughout their career.
And what an interesting story their career makes. In a recent interview, Bernard (who was still finding his feet after leaving Suede in '94) explained: "When I started, when I wrote the music for Yes, it was just a piece of music and the idea was to find somebody to sing on it and put out a seven-inch. It was a sort of idealistic vision of putting out a pop seven-inch with no sleeve, no name and just an A-side and a B-side, like a jukebox kind of seven-inch, and that was it, without a tour or a plan or anything like that. I mean, that was the kind of principle."
What you will know however, is that it turned into something far more than this and although only collaborating for short bursts of time over the past couple of decades, David and Bernard did reunite for a pair of London gigs in May 2014, in support of Butler's London Marathon effort to raise funds for the Bobath Centre in North London, which helps children with cerebral palsy.
Then, after years of trying and becoming more and more frustrated by the record label's lack of interest in the project, Bernard was finally able to release an Anniversary edition of McAlmont & Butler's first LP via the Edsel imprint. An idea which originally came to him following a tweet from the '1p Album Club' (a group of friends buying and reviewing albums bought from the Amazon Marketplace for the princely sum of one pence), asking if he was aware that the then-deleted record was available to purchase at such a bargain price.
All of which has led to this point. Journeying through this evening's set list, which showcases David's beautiful falsetto voice / velvety register and Bernard's virtuoso guitar abilities often deservedly recognised as one of the greatest guitarists of his generation some people may not realise that The Sound Of... McAlmont & Butler is in essence a compilation, as every song (barring the singles Yes and You Do, "two sides of one coin" as Bernard likes to refer to them) are actually the b-sides to each of those tracks and were not specifically created with a parent album in mind.
Although this freedom in the studio allowed the music to be versatile, even "eccentric" (thanks to having a musical maestro in Butler), one thing that is even more evident in the live setting however, is the personal nature of David's lyrics, which though undoubtedly informed by the sonics, seem to have been drawn from a lifetime of experience. His heartfelt delivery of each and every line and gift for melody, really adds gravitas to the meaning behind the songs and illustrates just why he is an ideal foil for Bernard.
The stage lighting suitably compliments the different moods of the music during the set and augmented by The Magic Numbers, plus keyboards, drums and a string-section, the sound is rich, lush and full-bodied. Visually as well, it is a joyous spectacle to behold, with moments of laughter, big smiles, lots of audience banter from David and musicians who clearly have a pure and magical alchemy when performing together.
And, not only is McAlmont an astonishing vocalist, he is also a mesmerising showman, who like a peacock, struts around the stage with expressive and theatrical gesticulating. But equally as engaging is his songwriting partner, Butler, who throws shapes and plays his guitar as though he is possessed by it! It's perhaps worth noting as well, that the long gaps between McAlmont & Butler actually working with each other / touring (due to their ongoing individual commitments outside of M&B... solo endeavours, producing etc.), must add a freshness to the whole process every time they do reacquaint and reactivate.
If I had to pick some highlights, I would opt for What's The Excuse This Time?, Different Strokes, standalone single Speed, Bring It Back, Zoom (a cover of the Fat Larry's Band song), Falling, a gospel-tinged / spiritual You'll Lose A Good Thing (which David sings accompanied by a sole organist), You Do and of course, the spine-tingling Yes. A special mention must also go to Angela and Michelle from The Magic Numbers McAlmont's "soul sisters" as he affectionately and sweetly calls them for their exquisite, silken and heavenly harmonies.
At one point, David even tells us in all sincerity that we've "been the best crowd on the tour and very generous," and how whenever he visits Bristol, that he always wants to move here! Overall then, the set list was very well structured and smooth flowing, with each player being afforded noticeable space within the warm arrangements to embellish their parts, resulting in some surprise and unexpected musical flourishes amongst the songs you thought you knew so well. Easily one of my most memorable shows of the year!
Poignantly, when addressing his understanding of what music can mean to people, Bernard has spoken of how "music colours the whole experience of life" and there's arguably no better way of putting it. So, thank you to McAlmont & Butler for contributing to the soundtrack of our lives and let's hope that that unreleased third long player can now finally be completed and enrich our lives even more!
A very special thanks to Kara @ SJM Concerts for all of her time and help.