Review and photography by Robert Barrett
A historic Victorian pier in Blackpool is not somewhere you would normally expect a high profile gig to take place. Trust the Damon Albarn fronted supergroup The Good, the Bad & the Queen to make the exception.
Saturday night with its typically ferocious downpour of English rain in full swing, welcomed the band to the stage. Ensuring their names were added to the list of legendary Blackpool gigs, that includes such acts as The Rolling Stones and The White Stripes. They took over the North Pier for what was for me, easily one of the most memorable and unusual gigs of the year.
The group, originally formed in 2007 consists of Damon Albarn, Paul Simonon, Simon Tong and Tony Allen. ‘Merrie Land’, the second album from the group takes the English reminiscing of the debut and grinds it through the pre Brexit filter. Even with Damon’s overarching influence the album still utilises the talent of each of its members, creating a unique, twisted reflection of pre-Brexit Britain.
As I walked onto the rain soaked north pier, it felt like a full ‘Merrie Land’ interactive experience. Whether it was the soaked and aptly named Merrie England bar at the entrance, the plaque reminding us this was famed puppet Sooty’s birthplace, or the eerie echoed 30’s music playing as we walked down towards the 90 year old theatre, it felt like it had been purposely set up to reflect on the themes of the new album. An empty carousel spun round as a queue formed to get in. No other venue could have perfectly encapsulated the ‘Anglo-Saxostentialist crises’ of the new album as good as the North Pier.
After being offered a hot dog and popcorn by the most adorable northern ladies, I found my seat in the beautiful theatre. It was at this point that he support Trevor Raven came out. He felt like an act directly imported from Phoenix Nights as he took to the two organs, and preceded to created a complete musical landscape of a full band. A well timed cover of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ got the audience into a singalong. He ended with a quick rendition of ‘I do like to be beside the seaside’, it really didn’t get any more Blackpool than that.
The red curtain lifted to reveal a hand drawn image of the north pier. A lengthy instrumental got the crowd on their toes before the band took to the stage. Even though the crowd were sitting, as soon as they came on Damon was pacing round the stage, pointing and engaging with them all.
It wasn’t even four songs in before Damon asked everyone to come forward. Controlled chaos ensued as the majority ran to the barrier, but from that moment on the gig became one that would be engrained into the minds of everyone in attendance. Playing the new album in full, Damon fully encapsulated the Englishman driven mad by Brexit. Beating his chest, rolling on the floor, bowing down to the lights, he looked like a man possessed by the current state of the country.
“You know there’s water underneath you” warned a calmer Damon to the freshly formed crowd at the front. Not that his words scared off the audience, who continued to crush forwards in an attempt to get closer to him.
Once the initial new album set was complete, the band came back for a set from the first album. ‘History Song’ instantly thrilling the crowd, and the excitement stayed that way throughout the rest of the set. A couple more select tracks form the first album followed, including an unusual interlude where Damon picked up a ventriloquists dummy called Tommy. “I’m shit at this” he admitted as he forgot to move its mouth. However he stuck with it, and the audience laughed along.
They finished the set on the self titled ‘The Good, the Bad & the Queen’, with it’s rush of instrumental insanity. Damon and company left the stage, apart from Tony Allen who lapped up the applause until Paul dragged him off the stage. The band left us stranded on a historicity British wobbly wooden pier, the heavy rain hitting us and the treacherous waves crashing closely below. Could any other gig and venue be a more of a perfect 2018 Brexit metaphor than this?
Gun to the Head
The Great Fire
Drifters & Trawlers
The Truce of Twilight
The Last Man to Leave
The Poison Tree
Kingdom of Doom
The Good, the Bad & the Queen
(The original version of this article was first published on Gigjunkies http://www.gigjunkies.com/band-reviews/the-good-the-bad-the-queen-trevor-ravens-at-the-north-pier-blackpool-uk-1st-december-2018/)