If you’ve seen The Members on a bill recently, it’s understandable if you felt sceptical about a line-up without lead singer Nicky Tesco, that voice and charismatic energy a key component of what this band were about.
But there in that particular four-letter word – band – is the reason why this set-up works so well in his absence. The Members were always a proper band … or team if you like. So think of it as the top scorer having nipped off the field and a touch of good old-fashioned camaraderie (Was that the Italian boy?’ as Trigger asks on Only Fools and Horses) kicking in, his team-mates raising their game, showboating their ability to fill the gaps.
Kevin Keegan would probably give it some baloney about the remaining quartet giving 150% effort, but maths was never his strong-point. But stalwart co-vocalists JC Carroll (guitar) and Chris Payne (fairly recently returned on bass) plus Swedish nippy winger Calle Engelmarc (lead guitar) create a three-pronged attack on the senses, while Nick Cash (drums) – who took over from Adrian Lillywhite in 2009, then rejoined after a spell of The Damned’s Rat Scabies sitting in, in 2014, when Calle also signed up – tidies up at the back, keeping his team-mates covered. And they still know all there is to know about barnstorming performances.
No offence intended, but they’ve also lived life a fair bit judging by the look of this 2018 incarnation of the band. Yet they’re clearly all still sparking off each other, as musically tight as JC’s finances back in that Kilburn bedsit in ‘77, an accomplished collective, their music keeping them young. Perhaps you’re only as old as your Gibson SG guitar man.
And while Tesco’s distinctive tones are missed, Chris and JC – plus Calle on backing vocals – more than pull their weight in the vox department, for my thinking more so live. And long may that continue.
Have I mentioned my dodgy knee? I’ve been struggling the past few months (thanks for asking), but I’m off crutches and away from the bags of ice, on this occasion happily letting the train take the strain and heading to Manchester Piccadilly, the venue clearly visible from platform 14. Yet my ligaments were wrecked by the time I’d negotiated Sunday night traffic chaos, taxi gridlock and two flights of wooden stairs to find the upstairs room of this traditional Manc boozer, Guinness in hand.
But it was worth it, arriving in time to see the main act (missing supports Kid Klumsy and 4 Past Midnight – sorry fellas) warm up in traditional style, heading up through the gears on tremendous early B-side ‘Handling the Big Jets’.
There was further quality nostalgia with a track also recorded 40 years ago and still as fresh, At the Chelsea Nightclub‘s ‘Soho a Go-Go’, transported back down the decades, the party definitely up and running by the time they led us through their reggae-reggae sauce-flavoured blast at the money-men, ‘Offshore Banking Business’, its message as relevant as ever, Bahamian flavour bringing warmth to a dark, dismal night in Cottonopolis.
It’s not just about the legacy numbers, a gloriously-raucous ‘New English Blues’ boasting more than a little Mott the Hoople power surge before one of the two songs that defined the band, Stiff single ‘Solitary Confinement’, a memoir to the realities of city living with little money, shifted by way of JC’s amended lyrics to Manchester for the occasion.
I grew to love the third album every bit as much as the first, but just one track got an airing, ’Working Girl’ offering a masterclass in what the Americans would call ‘power pop’, while from the second album Chris gave us an impassioned ‘Muzak Machine’.
The punky reggae party vibe was always important for Camberley’s finest, and an inventive take on John Holt’s ‘Police in Helicopter’ was next, earmarked for a Members covers album next year, I understand. And there was a further indication of the retention of the band’s writing gen(i)e with their mighty hymn to empowerment (if not English grammar), Ain’ Gon’ Be Yo’ Bitch No Mo’’, the second of three fine selections from 2012’s InGrrland.
It was only a matter of time, ‘The Sound of the Suburbs’ next, smiles on faces all around, this Guildford boy based in Lancashire since 1994 feeling a swell of pride as JC told the assembled on the lead-out, ‘We’re The Members and we’re from Surrey’ and met with a respectful roar, suggesting universal recognition of frustrated suburban living.
They nipped off and quickly returned, JC’s Black Sabbath-like run through ‘Midlifecrisis’ followed by 1980 – The Choice Is Yours‘ Larry Wallis cover, ‘Police Car’, its scene shifted for a high-speed chase back down the M6, our guests leaving nothing but vapour trails and a crowd eager for more.
I think they timed it just about right personally, not out-staying their welcome, leaving me able to get my train home and the audience hungry for another North West visit … whenever that might be. Top entertainment all round.
If you missed this website’s feature/interview with The Members’ JC Carroll from June 2018, now may well be the time to catch up, with a link here. And for all the latest on the band, from live dates to merchandise, head to their official website.