It’s 2am and it’s a Friday morning in Düsseldorf. With the last performance of the No-Man mini
mini-tour of 2008 over, the members of the band that are still awake go in search of life and strong coffee. Explorers all, excitement is high.
Two hours of aimless wandering later and it’s clear that beyond the dubious delights of Doctor Jazz and the somewhat bizarre allure of the transvestite café, Euro 2008 (‘your non-stop café’, apparently), bed is the only option for the five exhausted would-be Dr Livingstones.
This, along with eating too many vegetables backstage in Germany (an act that nearly ended up in ‘Maestro’ Steve Bingham being hospitalised!) was as close to rock’n’roll excess as we got. Clearly, the Iggy Pop gene ran rampant in this group of intrepid sonic warriors. Not.
There’s no doubt that the experience of No-Man’s first live dates in 15 years was an energising one and that the desire to do it again seems strong in all the participants.
Breathing new and powerful life into the material, while remaining totally true to the fragility and intimacy at the heart of No-Man’s music, songs such as All The Blue Changes, Time Travel In Texas, Pretty Genius, Mixtaped and Carolina Skeletons became vital and vibrant performance pieces that in some ways eclipsed their studio counterparts. Days In The Trees once more seemed alive to me (a former favourite that had faded from memory now restored to its rightful place) and Things Change, Watching Over Me and Wherever There Is Light hit the highs I hoped they would. The only disappointment occurred with Truenorth, which seemed very empty and slight compared to the vastly superior Schoolyard Ghosts version.
Performance-wise, with less pressure and no intrusive cameras present, the German and Dutch gigs were technically the best, with the Dutch performance also seeming more open, physical and fun than the others. Without doubt, however, the London show had the most magical atmosphere. What it lacked in finesse (and stage size), it had by the bucketload in spirit.
The post-gig reactions were very touching and numerous, and I was genuinely moved both by how much people seemed to like what they’d seen and by how far some people had travelled to see what they’d just seen. At times, the gigs appeared like an unofficial UN convention. Aftershow gifts of flowers, sour herrings and apples with (German) worms were strangely welcome and strangely strange.
Many people (including the man Wilson) were surprised and excited by the more than expected rock/noise quotient and whisper to a scream dynamics in evidence with this incarnation of the band. Classic Rock’s Dave Ling felt my ‘No-Man – Monsters Of Rock’ joke was very nearly an accurate description of events on stage.
For me, the best part was that there was no element of nostalgia. This wasn’t a revivalist band (no hint of 70s, 80s or 90s replication), this was a band creating a distinctive and eclectic rock music in the here and now. Elements of Minimalist Classical fused with Rock dynamics and evocative electronic sounds, while all the time remaining true to the core songs. The Bearpark/Wilson guitar coupling worked superbly, the Morgan/Booker rhythm section had real bite, ‘Maestro’ Bingham shone and ‘Baron’ Bennett justified his position as first choice for the keyboard slot.
Beyond the music, the social element worked well too. Nine* opinionated men in a small space for several days could have been a recipe for justified serial killing, but in this case, the atmosphere was consistently upbeat and the exchanges sympathetic and funny.
* We were joined on the tour by ever-charming film maker/TV presenter, Richard Smith, and Alan Price/Gerard Depardieu lookalike come agent, Rob Palmen (a man not frightened to insist on moist toilet tissue and fresh fruit for ‘his boys’!).
As the tapes are being listened to and the visuals are being sorted for the forthcoming DVD, my hope is that this is the start of something beautiful rather than merely a wonderful one-off.
Alain Bashung – Bleu Pétrole (2008)
Gavin Friday – Shag Tobacco (1996)
Steve Reich – Daniel Variations (2008)
Roxy Music – Manifesto (1979)
The Who back catalogue (1965-2006)
Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land – Dublin Gate (with Michael Gambon)
Harold Pinter – Plays Volume Four