Sunday, 4 December 2016

The Christians

Dunfermline Carnegie Hall

25th November 2016

I can remember yet The Christians' 1987 appearance on Channel 4's The Tube, whereupon once Jools Holland, following a typically gargled and rambling introduction had announced “The Christians!” I, like the majority of folks across the country who happened to be watching I imagine, immediately thought: “Who?!”.

But I think most of us swiftly sat up and took notice once this striking collection of individuals rattled their way through Forgotten Town.  With its relentless beat, angry as-socially-relevant-then-as-now lyric, plus harmonies The Temptations would have been proud of, it sounds (to me anyway), as fresh now as the day it was written.  

I can recall thinking at the time that it reminded me vaguely of the hippie anthem The Age of Aquarius, although I cannot for the life of me work out how, when I listen to either song today.

The anti-Thatcher diatribe provided the boys with their first foray into the UK singles charts.  And the hits just kept a-coming as the year progressed: Hooverville, When the Fingers Point, Ideal World.

Listening to the band's self-titled debut album back in the day, I recall thinking the lads really could have chosen any four tracks at random from it, and all would have been hits, such was the quality .

Where had these guys come from, with all these wonderful songs?  The three Christian brothers: Garry (the handsome bald one with the Ray-Bans), Roger and Russell had seemingly been sprung fully-formed from the depths of some Liverpool housing scheme.  

The chap who wrote the songs, Henry Priestman had, I knew, pottered around in a few lower-league outfits previously -  Yachts, Bette Bright & The Illuminations and It's Immaterial – but had done nothing to suggest he had this sort of quality in his locker.

My fave tune on the album was the closer; Sad Songs, which introduced me to the strange and occasionally challenging world of French chanteuse Suzy Solidor.

The band's second album Colours, perhaps inevitably did not quite live up to the standard set by its predecessor, but still housed a clutch of strong compositions: Words, Greenbank Drive and One More Baby in Black.  I sort of lost touch with The Christians after this, and it was only at the insistence of a brace of Rewind-Attending work colleagues that I dropped in this evening to catch up.

I discovered, as is often the case with Eighties bands still doing the rounds, that original members were rather thin on the ground, and what we now have is a Christian (singular) i.e. Garry.  Brother Roger having sadly died in 1998, and brother Russell quitting the band in 2005.  

Main songwriter Henry Priestman I learned recently has been ploughing his own solo furrow for some years, but has been known to jump up on stage on occasions when the band are playing at their home town.

Dunfermline Carnegie Hall

Garry Christian.

As may have been expected, songs from that debut album featured heavily this evening; six, I think I counted.  But the rest of the set was judiciously chosen from across the breadth of the band's career.

But there were also some unexpected delights: Marvin Gaye's Inner City Blues (the second cover from What's Goin' On I have heard recently), plus a stunning new song Big Red Sky, dedicated to the families of the Hilsborough victims were both highlights.

Also, when Garry was telling us all about the band's new album We, some wag shouted out asking if there was any reggae on it.  “We don't do reggae” returned the singer.  But then, almost as if just to annoy Garry, his guitarist Joey Ankrah mischievously began playing the opening chords to Harvest For The World in reggae time, to which the rest of band swiftly joined in.  Garry was then left to to sing a couple of verses a la Bob Marley, before deciding “Right, that's enough of that”.  All in good fun.

The Christians - Dunfermline 2016

The Christians - Dunfermline 2016

The Christians - Dunfermline 2016

Garry did come across as a slightly eccentric bloke at times though, I have to say: happy to chat away with individual audience members, even if some of his ramblings were met with slight bafflement on the audience's part.  

And there was the rather embarrassing moment when we were all asked if anyone had purchased their previous album.....and silence filled the room.  It felt like being part of classroom of schoolkids, all of whom had all been caught out failing to do homework due in that day.    

I did wonder if there was perhaps more than just a kernel of truth in Garry's light-heartedly admission that his lengthy between-song chatter was merely an excuse to allow him get his breath back.  Not that he appeared to need to do so, for his voice still retained those unmistakable velvet tones. 

Nevertheless, at one point during the set the impressively bosomed lady who later fielded the merch stall, wandered to the front of the stage enquiring of Garry, with matronly concern, “If he needed anything?”.  All very peculiar.

Sad Songs was played as the first encore, before the evening was closed out with the band's version of Harvest For The World (non-reggae this time).  The Christians being, I think, the only act, apart form perhaps Lulu who have succeeded in making even a half-decent first of an Isley Brothers' cover.  

Set list

I Shall Be Released
Born Again
The Perfect Moment
What's in a Word
Greenbank Drive
Forgotten Town
Ideal World
Inner City Blues
Harvest For The World (Improvised reggae version)
Big Red Sky
When The Fingers Point
The Bottle

Sad Songs
Harvest For The World

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