If you’ve not yet caught up with Wanderlust, the latest album from Blancmange, you’re missing out.
After several weeks’ rotation around the house and in the car, I put it to one side for a couple of weeks. But now it’s back, and provided the soundtrack for my latest M65 and A666 (that’s Blanc Burn Road, rather than the trunk number of the beast, by the way) meanderings, as I headed back to the Far East (Lancashire, that is) for the return of Neil Arthur to his old stomping ground.
Don’t get me wrong. Darwen’s Library Theatre is a cracking venue, with friendly staff, and the sound was pretty much perfect all evening (not least thanks to the band’s own Adam Fuest). It’s just those seats that get in the way. You can’t fail to be moved by Blancmange’s pounding rhythms, yet – not least when you’re 6ft 4ins – you feel sheepish blocking the other punters’ view through your lesser-honed moves.
When perennial pop exclamation mark ‘Living on the Ceiling’ arrived three tracks from the end we were finally up, but really needed to be down the aisle to properly wig out to the ever-mighty ‘Feel Me’ and main set-closer ‘Blind Vision’, Neil and his bandmates taking a bow all too soon.
I hate to point it out, but the average Blancmange fan is getting a little long in the tooth. Yet there were plenty of next generation fans in Darwen (including my 16-year-old daughter), and thankfully the likes of Neil’s lad, going under the DJ handle, Kincaid, are helping turn on new audiences to these highly-influential masters of electronica.
Blancmange certainly deserve that ‘discovery’. Forget age. The music is timeless and pervades youthful energy, with a case in point the new LP’s lead track and Wednesday’s opener, ‘Distant Storm’, going down well with my afore-mentioned youngest.
While there was initial disappointment at bare-footed guitarist David Rhodes not being on board this time, Neil had quality service from long-time collaborator Oogoo Maia and electronic percussionist Liam Hutton. And while those two brought the average age down somewhat, I still reckon their effortlessly-dapper boss, who turned 60 back in the summer, has a painting in his attic that ensures he fits in perfectly.
As he was last October, the front-man was emotional at times, back in a town he left at 18 for a capital city paved with golden opportunities, truly ‘locked in’ beneath the shadow of Darwen Tower and familiar moorland surrounds, among a few old friends and neighbours.
There was plenty of banter between stalls and stage, one local asking if the returnee had visited his old school, letting on that he knew the keypad combination if need be. And the esteemed guest admitted he was wary of returning to the adjoining library, fearing colossal fines for any books that he never returned.
But Neil – like Blancmange co-founder and long-time creative partner Stephen Luscombe – was never about standing still too long, and selection-wise there was plenty of focus on the new record, the surging ‘In Your Room’ helping set the scene before a slip back through the years to Mange Tout’s brooding ‘Game Above My Head’, a perfect fit before new number ‘Not a Priority’, Oogoo stepping up commendably in album guest Hannah Peel’s absence.
Next up was a personal favourite from last year’s splendid Unfurnished Rooms, Neil showcasing his nifty footwear on the quirky, hypnotic ‘What’s the Time?’ Incidentally, I’m still listing all the things I’ve never owned and never said.
From the first album there was the intense ‘I Can’t Explain’, the first Lydonesque moment on the night, before Wanderlust’s hymn to 21st century technology, ‘I Smashed Your Phone’, then another stroll back to a long, long, long, long, long, long time ago for Believe You Me’s ‘What’s Your Problem’.
The emotive ‘Wanderlust’ also impressed, another great example of how the album of the same name showcases this band’s continuing creative peak, while we were playing Happy Families again and returning to Neil’s roots for ‘I’ve Seen the Word’, in his old backyard, so to speak, before a sideways sweep to bring in his Fader project with Benge, ‘I Prefer Solitude’ a welcome set addition.
From there we stretched back through the decades, last year’s haunting ’Anna Dine’ followed by another of my personal highlights, an impassioned ‘Last Night (I Dreamt I Had A Job)’ from Commuter 23, then the afore-mentioned late flurry of hits.
They weren’t quite done, returning once more for an impassioned ‘Waves’, then goodbye. But I’m kind of taking it for granted they’ll be back, something Neil hinted at while mentioning David Rhodes’ absence. Besides, he’s still creating great albums year on year, and we’ll be there at short notice to see them honoured live. ‘Crack on, lad’, as they say in these parts.
For the most recent WriteWyattUK interview with Neil Arthur, head here.
Blancmange’s November tour continues with dates at Edinburgh Voodoo Rooms (8th); Glasgow Oran Mor (9th); Newcastle The Cluny (10th); Brighton The Old Market (15th); Southampton Brook (16th); Dover Booking Hall (17th); Wolverhampton Robin 2 (22nd); Gloucester Guild Hall (23rd); Northampton Roadmender (24th); Leeds The Wardrobe (29th); and Derby Flowerpot (30th). For more details, head to www.blancmange.co.uk and keep in touch via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.