Marc Almond – A Live Treasury of Song 1992-2008
Limited edition 10 CD box set
Over 10 live CDs Marc Almond showcases the range of his unique voice and artistic vision, including hits from Soft Cell and a stellar solo career.
From the day Tainted Love went to number one Marc Almond’s massive voice and flamboyance made him the star he was born to be. This compilation of six very different concerts from his mid solo career offer reminders that he is not only one of our great vocalists, but also an artist with a restless vision.
He is never content to rest on his undoubted musical laurels, so the only thing constant in this limited edition box set, featuring 10 and a half hours of live material, is the range and depth of his voice, but on every disc there is something new to devour. Almond is always taking risks so not just relying on the electronica that made his name, but switching from that to playing live accompanied by only a piano right through to the full orchestral treatment of his hits. Along the way he throws in carefully chosen covers by the likes of Charles Aznavour, or his solo songs that always inhabit a dark underground celebrating outsiders of all sorts. Better still for his fans who have stuck with Almond through good and bad times of the 147 tracks in this lavish box set 73 are previously unreleased.
The first disc is a show at Liverpool Philharmonic just down the road from his Southport birthplace with only Martin Watkins on piano. Almond is on relaxed and chatty form cleverly using the space the sparse accompaniment offers to stretch his voice on a beautiful rendition of Stories of Johnny, and a melodramatic Where The Heart Is from his Soft Cell days, before continuing his obsession with Jacques Brel on a sprightly Jacky.
The next two CDs cover his landmark 1992 gig with a full band at the Royal Albert Hall wonderfully billed as 12 Years of Tears, and this release is from the original tapes minus much of the studio trickery used on the DVD release. He seems inspired by the historic surroundings as his voice soars over Vaudeville & Burlesque and Champagne. There’s an epic orchestral version of his Top 10 hit The Days of Pearly Spencer, and a romp through his chart-topping version of Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart. He closes with a crowd-pleasing double whammy of his all-time classic number one, and an utterly joyous orchestral version of Say Hello Wave Goodbye with Almond belting out his anthem in a gold lame suit.
It’s back to basics on disc 4 with a 2000 gig at Leicester Cathedral as he teams up with another long time collaborator Neal X on guitar and keys as he plays stripped down versions of tunes from his then latest album Stranger Things. The Flame benefits from X’s tasteful playing as does Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart, and there’s a sensitive version on Caroline Says, which hints at the influence Lou Reed had on a young lad from Southport.
Almond devotees will enjoy discs five and six as X and Watkins join forces during an intimate gig at London’s Union Chapel. The subtlety of the playing from people who really understand what Almond wants is matched by the sensitive singing on Almost Diamonds and Child Star as the crowd join in during a buoyant Stories Of Johnny.
It’s a short trip across the capital to the Almeida for Sin Songs on discs seven and eight, featuring songs from his Heart Songs record, an album for which Almond notes he spent two years in Russian recording mainly traditional tunes in that strange and troubled country. There is distinct feel of the Steppes as he invites accordionist Igor Outkine out to accompany him on The Glance of Your Dark Eyes, and Russian romantic song Just One Chance gets its first airing, He jokes before a toned down Tenderness Is A Weakness he’d been told off for camping this song up (hard to believe) at other gigs before a respectful cover of Rock ‘N’ Suicide written by a man who influenced a whole generation of outsiders like Almond. There’s even a bit of jazz on Johnie Ray’s Lotus Blossom, and there’s an exquisite take on Charles Aznavour’s What Makes A Man A Man before Almond declares ‘I can do romance’ launching into a sensitive Strangers In The Night. There’s a rare semi-acoustic version of Say Hello Wave Goodbye as the audience roar the chorus back at Almond.
The final two discs are from a fan favourite show at Wilton’s Music Hall in the East End and 11 tracks from that 2008 gig get their first release. The acoustic guitar of Neal X on Bluegate Fields underpins a song written especially for this gig, and Brel once gets a look in as Almond takes on The Desperate One and The Devil – Okay. There is a serious note as he dedicates Kill Me Or Make Me Beautiful to those who have been murdered by oppressive regimes simply for being who they are. Almond proves over all 10 discs that he doesn’t just do covers to fill time, there is always something new in them, so the breathtaking vocal on Richard and Linda Thompson’s The Great Valerio about walking a tightrope clearly has resonance for a flamboyant performer who has always teetered on the high wire during his long career.
147 songs by one artist might seem a lot to wade through, but each CD does offer a new and often unexpected angle on one of our most original and singular artists. Marc Almond has always done his own thing, and even if you’re not a fan this collection offers a fascinating journey through the middle part of a genuine one off’s career.
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Words by Paul Clarke, you can see his author profile here
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