Veteran Scottish indie band Del Amitri brought their extensive catalogue up to date with a live set at the Ironworks, Inverness, that showcased new album Fatal Mistakes alongside many of their hits
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REVIEW: Del Amitri
IT was hard to forget about the passing of time at Wednesday’s Del Amitri gig at the Ironworks.
And it was almost the biggest elephant in the room, if it hadn’t been for the ghostly presence of Covid – a few masks found on punters and stage crew in there. But you felt that for many, it was the first back-to-normal gig they had enjoyed for a long, long time.
New line-up The Byson Family opened the show with a set of surprisingly mature-sounding blues and Americana-tinged songs for a band just got together. But once you knew former Temperance Movement ace rock’n’blues singer Phil Campbell was one of the band’s two singers, it all made more sense.
Centre of the stage, behatted singer Grai McCabe added his own impressive vocals, some of the time duetting with Phil for an incredible punch of power. Evidence of the energy he put into the performance coming at the end of one of the set’s early songs after Blowout.
“I think I punctured a lung in that last song!” he grinned.
Favourite song of the set for me was the slow bluesy grind of Only Love Can Live, though at the end of You’ve Been A Fool, Grai’s superhigh note climaxed euphorically. But a hint he may be a fairly recent addition to the line-up was the fact he appeared to be reading off a music stand during the set.
Picking up the band’s CD album Kick The Traces at the end of the night, your listen suggested this might be a band worth keeping an eye on.
Del Amitri’s opening number When We Were Young took us back to the vintage years of 1992 album Change Everything but with lyrics that were even more relevant for the greying Dels fans now, perhaps, than then – “Down nostalgia’s rocky road/ You watch your former lovers getting old.”
Instantly, the band were on familiar territory – walking on in a workmanlike way and straight into the music, no initial chat. It was a rich sound, Justin Currie’s voice came loud and clear – as they headed into the first two songs from their most recent album out in May, Fatal Mistakes. Like so many of the earlier albums, whole novels are distilled inside some of the songs in this latest collection.
Musicians And Beers which sets off in an almost glam rock stomp proved the band have lost none of their wry humour, as a scenario is deftly sketched in of life being very much better if you remember to buy a musician a beer. And in All Hail Blind Love – Andy Alston on melodica – you catch a line ‘Don’t assume we’ve mellowed’ which if applied to the band is strangely reassuring.
Their performance was super-focused, just the odd bit of chat, an instrument swapped here or there through a generous 23 songs, according to their setlist – delivered at quite a rate, often not stopping between songs, but seamlessly slipping into the next.
But with many of the band’s songs originally set at a naturally chugging pace beloved of radio, back in the day, they pulled off a masterstroke in carefully alternating the tempos, the set also glimmering with imaginative arrangements, all warding off any risk of a lull that a long set might sag into.
Another Change Everything number, Always The Last To Know, was served up early in the set at what my notes called a “fair lick”, maybe jogging away some of the natural drama of the song, but cheering up any audience member who was hoping there was going to be time to fit in all their favourite older songs between new ones.
And they got their wish.
But it was also really clear that amongst those familiar hits, the seven new songs fitted in oh-so snugly with melodies and lyrics pure vintage Del Amitri.
Lonely started with just an acoustic guitar, drums swapped for a shaker and a single regular beat from Ash Soan, a Hammond-style organ from keyboard-player Andy Alston adding retro vibrations to the song that was melancholy and mythic at the same time. A gold ring and a woman respectively disappeared by fire and desire – I mean how classic Del Amitri/ Del Amitri 2021 do you want it to be?
And in a slow, languorous performance, adding in Andy Alston on accordion, Fatal Mistakes’ gem Mockingbird, Copy Me Now – which Justin told us had been written by himself and guitarist Kris Dollimore – was a highlight.
You Can’t Go Back which has been released as a single, sounds like a favourite of the future too, a love song – and rarely for the band, a happy one, about continuing surviving love: “That thing between us/That we knew was something special/ which it seems it still is”.
The song locked itself in your brain where it circled for days after the show. An actual earworm.
And before Won’t Make It Better, a song from 1997 album Some Other Sucker's Paradise on more familiar territory – about being sick of love, Justin tried to pin down the where and how of their last visit to the city.
“Good evening, how are you? It’s been a while since we were here – was it Eden Court?” he mused.
And, yes, murmurs from the audience seemed to confirm what he already thought he knew, it was.
Then almost as an afterthought, he asked: “Anybody here under 50?”
Many of the crowd lied shamelessly with a “Yes!”.
And quick as a flash, Justin replied, deadpan: “Yeah, me too…”
Expert documenters of the sore places of infidelity, Del Amitri proved again and again over the night that they have observed acutely on the borderlines of love, fully paid-up masters of that plus their other specialised subject, songwriting.
New album track Scared Of Dying, saved till the encore, not only has a hip-swaying singalong mantra to savour, but also reveals in the lyrics a seriously sinister motivation. The persona in the song says they don’t want to die and leave their partner alone. Aww, cute. But it’s more coercive control, really, as the song expertly unfolds revealing the truth: "It is better for us both if I survive/ So you never know how it feels/ To truly be alive”.
All along the way, you get many perfect little snapshots of how compulsive love feels, as in Here And Now from 1995’s Twisted: “Sometimes I could sell my soul/Just to sit and watch you smoke”.
And the songs chosen to play encouraged you to remember the artistry of the many great ones that have been packed into their career so far. Like the playful wordsmithery of 1989’s Justin Currie lines in Empty: “You’ve been seeing SOS, when it’s just your clock reading 5.05.”
As we were eased towards the encore’s five epic greats with a rousing Stone Cold Sober, Let’s Kiss This Thing Goodbye made a heartfelt singalong – but reassuringly, the kick the band seemed to be getting from the gig, made kissing this live thing farewell for another few years seem mercifully unlikely.
And the crowd still seem in love with a band they drank and danced to, fell in love to, broke their hearts to, sought consolation from and have continued to soundtrack their lives to, even into slightly grizzled middle-age.
There was a reminder of the advancing years on both sides of the stage in Justin's final words, channelling a perfect host with slight Covid concerns: "It's been an absolute pleasure having you here. And I hope no-one gets sick after this."
In some ways another Change Everything track, Be My Downfall Tonight – always a great showcase for Justin's husky and sometimes almost keening vocals – seemed an odd choice to end a triumphant set with.
But the story of a man’s guilty temptation to follow his heart rather than get home to his partner is a perfect Del Amitri ending, if there had to be an ending for the live return to us – for now at least. Both deliciously bitter-sweet. MC
Del Amitri played Inverness Ironworks, on Wednesday, October 13 with support from The Byson Family. The album Fatal Mistakes is out now on Cooking Vinyl. Also, catch their film You Can't Go Back about 'friendship, fame, ageing and the creative process' and the making of the album, their first in 19 years. More on the band: www.delamitri.info