I’m almost certainly breaking my own gig rules by including this one, effectively a covers band gig, in my gig list, but I don’t care, they’re my rules, and I can damn well break them if I want to! I think, however, I need to say, by way of explanation/ justification, that (music being a highly subjective topic, and one’s own taste in music as intrinsically individual as their own DNA) for me, The Parachute Men are the best band ever to hail from these shores, full stop. Their 1988 debut album “The Innocents” is one of the finest ever recorded; from the opening deliciously plangent guitar chimes of “Sometimes In Vain”, through to the wispy, haunting refrain that fades out closer “Quiet Day” like some distant, half-remembered dream, it’s an album as familiar to me as my own skin, and only has one serious rival, the Bunnymen’s 7-years-older “Heaven Up Here”, as my most-played record ever. And just to round it off, their finest hour, the monumental, majestic “If I Could wear Your Jacket…?”, only has “Revolutionary Spirit” and “Life On Mars” as company for the best single of all time. There, I’ve said it!
Right, hopefully that positions how I came to find myself in Leeds, 200 miles North of home and hearth, on a chilly January Saturday evening. Thanks to the good offices of Facebook, I’d re-connected with The Parachute Men’s vocalist, the vivacious force of nature that is Fiona Gregg, and kept abreast of her occasional musical dabblings. So when a window of opportunity cracked open, even only slightly, with Fi’s “hobby” covers band, The Leeds 6 All-Stars, first on the bill at the Brudenell on a potential Evan visit Saturday, I leapt through it with gusto! Having dropped Evan off at 4.30 in North Wales, I traversed the Pennines in increasingly inky blackness, nevertheless finding The Brudenell relatively easily, and parking up at 6.30. I followed the noise into the hall to the left of the venue, spotting Fi and the band chilling while waiting for their soundcheck and watching tonight’s headliners, second wave Anarcho-punk survivors Abrasive Wheels, crank up their own noisy soundcheck. Nothing to do but surprise the holy hell out of “Lady Poundland”, so I did! The years fell away as we caught up, comparing life experiences over the last 25 years – yup, it’s been that damn long since I last saw The Parachute Men…!
Eventually, Fi and The All-Stars had to soundcheck, running through a bouncy version of Blondie’s “Dreaming” as the WMC-style venue filled up with old punkers, then off to prepare. I hung out and sussed out tonight’s “raison d’etre”, which was to celebrate the 50th birthday of Skum, a heavily tattooed and apparently notoriously cantankerous local punk rocker (though he seemed a reasonable enough bloke when I shook his hand and wished him happy birthday). An old mate of Skum’s got up onstage to do likewise (“we’re surprised you made it to 50!”) and play a number, before the stage was swathed with dry ice and Fi led the All Stars onstage at 8.30. Smartened up for the occasion, particularly Fi’s beau, former Three Johns bassist Phil Brennan, who sported some natty red checked trousers onstage, they kicked into an eclectic selection of rock, punk and 60’s covers, chosen to fit the mood of the evening. Some fine fretwork from veteran guitarist Mick Lake early doors, particularly during a strident “Blitzkrieg Bop” and a punchy, push’n’shove “Can’t Explain”, but let’s face it, I was only really here to hear THE VOICE…
Husky, sincere, heart-crackingly world-weary and able to project a mood of delicious melancholy back in the day, time and maturity has only given Fiona’s voice more depth and range, Fi switching deftly from disconsolate yearning to impish rabble-rousing, seemingly in consecutive breaths, complementing her bouncy, energetic performance. This was no better illustrated than by the set highlight, a perfect rendition of Joy Division’s desolate classic “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, which segued skilfully, thanks to the outro riff, into The Crystals’ “Then He Kissed Me”, Fi’s vocals driving the mood change. Just lovely stuff. A swift half-hour concluded by Fi announcing, “we’re available for parties”. Hmmm, there’s an idea…!
Hung out with Fi afterwards for long-overdue photos, meeting folks and banter, while second band The Expelaires kicked off their set. A Leeds post-punk band from back in the day, I remembered and enjoyed their angular Zoo Records release “To See You”, but ultimately the realisation that there was a damn long way to go to get home hit me, and I bade fond farewells to Lady Poundland, hitting the road about ¼ to 10. Good thing too, as M1 roadworks necessitated a lengthy 50 mph crawl, then worse, a junction closure sent me through a mordant Wakefield city centre frantically looking for diversion signs. Once clear of this muck, I made good time but still hit home at a red-eyed 1.15. Yikes! But you bet it was worth all the hassle to catch up with an old friend, and to hear THAT voice sing and soar once again.