Soft Cell at Leeds Academy 13/11/21

It’s more than 42 years since Marc Almond was a regular at The Warehouse. The iconic Leeds club that has hosted so many great gigs and music nights. Almond was a regular both as a clubber and as it’s cloakroom manager. Leeds is the city where Marc Almond and David Ball met, in 1977, as students and the city where, as Soft Cell, they played their first public gig at Futurama Festival in 1980. So tonight is not only a celebration of it being 40 years since the release of their first album, Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, it’s also something of a homecoming.

Big Crowd

There’s no support, it’s early doors and I can only hope that those at the back of the extremely long queue at 6:15pm manage to get in before it all starts at 7.00pm. Inside there’s already a fog of stage smoke and nothing but blue light as the prelude to the band is filled with every classic 80’s synth-pop/New Romantic song you can think of. And despite the early hour there’s a rapidly developing party atmosphere. People are dancing, laughing, drinking (see what I did there?) and clearly looking forward to a night of pure nostalgia. But it mustn’t be forgotten that Soft Cell will release a new album ‘Happiness Not Included’ in Spring ’22 and that tonight is an opportunity to air some of it’s content.

Marc Almond

The show is split into two ‘Acts’. Act 1 opens with ‘Torch’, the immediately recognisable saxophone intro, pulsating beat and irresistible dance sounds bringing a rapturous response from the sell out crowd. As always Marc Almond is dressed in black, a pair of Ray Bans covering his eyes, the smile on his face as he takes centre stage stating he’s loving being back as one half of Soft Cell. Meanwhile David Ball, who took his place behind a bank of keyboards before Almond set foot on stage, is set a little back to the right, effortlessly cool as the person delivering the sounds that bind so many great songs. As the applause subsides Almond tells us how it’s good to be back in the North “where we belong”. The unremitting rhythm of recent single ‘Bruises On My Illusions’ and it’s tale of damaged dreams could fit into any list of classic Soft Cell singles from their peak. Stepping onto a smaller, raised platform towards the back of the stage focuses all attention on Almond as the first of a series of captivating stage backdrops plays for ‘Happy, Happy, Happy’. Lyrically ‘Happy, Happy, Happy’ is anything but, confirmed by the multiple scenes of destruction and futuristic visions playing out behind him. It’s a stark message about the world fast developing around us.

‘Monoculture’, the only song played from 2002’s ‘Cruelty Without Beauty’ really stirs up the beat, it’s words about mediocracy just as relevant now as they were then. The bleak, desolate ‘Heart Like Chernobyl’ continues the theme of a possible future without hope before ‘Nostalgia Machine’, another taster from the forthcoming album, lifts the audience with it’s sudden burst of buoyant electro beats and bright visuals. Soft Cell have lost none of their ability to overlay confident, light-hearted, often positive sounds with some heart wrenching, dark subject matter.

1983 album ‘The Art Of Falling Apart’ dominates the remainder of tonight’s first half – ‘Kitchen Sink Drama’, a huge crowd singalong with ‘Where The Heart Is , intense, anguished, dramatic lyrics in ‘The Art Of Falling Apart’ (a first half highlight) and the haunting, horror laden mania of ‘Martin’. In the middle of these ‘L’Esqualita’ – the only song from ‘This Last Night .. In Sodom’ brings seductive sleaze amongst drugs, sex and violence over a dark, heavy Latin beat. 

Forty years ago tales of sexual deviance, dark and dingy dives, one night stands, prostitution and backstreet encounters were topics little discussed in average lives. Layering them over teenagers new appreciation of experimental electronic tunes packed full of dance beats brought them straight into the living rooms of every suburban household. One of the most influential records of the time, and the soundtrack to many a youngsters angst ridden, hormone driven, confused life, ‘Non Stop Erotic Cabaret’ helped make the torment of many lives seem just a little better. From nowhere Marc Almond’s piercing cry of “Frustration, Frustration, Frustration” introduces the evening’s second half and a complete performance of the whole album. ‘Frustration’ is carried by the beeping, electro sounds that scream 80’s pop but tonight the wild, energetic saxophone, courtesy of another musical legend – Gary Barnacle – adds a real edge to the song. The million selling cover of Gloria Jones’s ‘Tainted Love’ brings a roar of appreciation from over 2000 people, a proportion of whom will be here tonight just to witness this moment. Sex, sleaze, calling cards, dark encounters and secret moments run through everything as adverts for sexual favours, the neon red of sex shops, the backstreets of a dreary London town play out a stunning backdrop to ‘Sex Dwarf’, ‘Entertain Me’ and an extended ‘Bedsitter’. The popularity of ‘Non Stop Erotic Cabaret’ is obvious. Leeds Academy is a mass of happy, swaying people. Those who were teens in 1981 reliving their youth whilst those present who were considerably younger at the time, many not even born, relish this opportunity to witness live songs that have lost none of their popularity in clubs across the nation.

Gary Barnacle

Aside from the glorious trip down memory lane there’s little doubt that a tour bringing back the live sounds of a classic bygone era serves two main purposes. It’s a money earner and it paves the way for a new album, reminding people that the music and tales that once filled their bedsits will soon be rekindled with a 21st Century twist to drift through their suburban semis and detached dwellings. But it’s also proof that Soft Cell can still produce the goods. Almond’s voice is still magnificently graceful, Dave Ball is still an electro genius and, accompanied by the raw, emotional sax playing of Gary Barnacle, three perfect backing singers and an array of stunning visuals they deliver a show that succeeds on every level. And whilst ‘Tainted Love’ proved popular it couldn’t compare to the response received at the end of this second half by ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’. Inflatable pink flamingos appear (amongst the crowd) and whether or not you like the song the sound of over 2000 people singing along, completely lost in the moment, cannot fail to stir the emotions. 

Dave Ball

They return to the stage for a two-song encore. ‘Purple Zone’, another taster from the forthcoming album, has the potential to become a sing-a-long club classic. Finally the intense, throbbing rhythms of ‘Memorabilia’ bring the night to a triumphant close.

For a trip down the road of nostalgia tonight did everything that could be asked of it. And for the many who have wanted Soft Cell to bring something new to their ears it provided the perfect taster for what is to come. 

Review and Photos by Steve White


Philip Goddard

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