(By our UK correspondent Simon Helm of Cold War Nightlife) This is a review of yesterday’s event at the London School of Economics where Vince Clarke did a debut solo show supported by Sunroof (comprising Daniel Miller and Gareth Jones).
Vince Clarke admits that he is a little nervous. The confession comes as he adjusts his set-up between songs. Normally, Andy Bell would step into these gaps, but this is not an Erasure show. It is a performance of “Songs of Silence”, Clarke’s album of songs based on drones. There is no need for concern: the sold-out crowd in a basement venue at the LSE is a friendly one (look – there is Neil Arthur from Blancmange!); and the spaces between tracks are exactly what the album’s title promises.
The event is billed as Vince Clarke’s first ever solo performance – but, of course, it is not. Clarke is a serial collaborator, who has spent his career working with other talents. Depeche Mode, Yazoo, The Assembly, Erasure, The Illustrious Company, VCMG – even when the prime mover, Clarke has sought out others to share the experience and the credits. Tonight, the limelight is shared with his friend, Reed Hays, and a cameo from the indomitable Sarah-Jane Dale, while Richard Evans from the Erasure Information Service tweaks the lighting. Clarke is more exposed than usual, but he is not alone.
The title of the new album is a reminder that Clarke is a life-long Simon & Garfunkel fan. It might also be a reference to the recent losses of his friends, Robert Marlowe and Andy Fletcher. The cover photo shows Clarke in stark relief, and the cruelty of time is written into the songs. Performed live, they lose none of their emotive content, and Hays’ cello underlines the sadness of “The Lamentations of Jermiah.” Even “Blackleg,” a version of the traditional miners’ song made popular in a more combative form by Steeleye Span and the PCA Band, is ominous and melancholy. Grainy footage of miners walking from a pit invokes something lost – like Test Dept without their fine-tuned debris.
The appearance of Sarah-Jane Dale for “Passage” adds a touch of glamour to the otherwise spectral drones and haunting rhythms. Clarke seems relieved to have the focus on another part of the stage, but he warms to the experience as the show continues. By the time of “Last Transmission,” he can’t hold back a full-on smile. The audience – most of whom have followed Clarke’s career for more than four decades – never doubted that it would be a special night. Clarke, it seems, has to pass through it to agree.
Support came from the Sunroof project of Gareth Jones and Daniel Miller. Facing each other across blinking panels of Eurorack modules, the two great producers embarked on a journey into improvised electronics that led down unpredictable tributaries of blips and webs of bloops. Sunroof’s shows are as unique as snowflakes and even cooler, as they harness the flow of electricity to weave magical textures. On a stage filled with Mute’s main superconductors, they played their roles as human Tesla coils with inspiration.
Pictures of Vince Clarke and Sunroof live sets
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