The Psychedelic Furs, The Wendy James Band, O2 Ritz, Manchester 01/10/2019

It came about at the request of the lead actress- a yet-unnamed project about teenage love both requited and unrequited, in a setting already familiar to the cast and crew.

A single by a band she liked very much, at the time her favourite song. She asked a screenwriter, a man she enjoyed a close professional working relationship with, to write something based on the tune as she played it to him. John Hughes fell in love the same way Molly Ringwald did and set to work. The project had a name. Pretty In Pink.

The band in question were The Psychedelic Furs, who after several years on the precipice of becoming global hitmakers, were bequeathed with the circumstances and fortune given to Simple Minds by John Hughes the year earlier, in fact, their road to success was even smoother due to Pretty In Pink’s soundtrack being regarded as one of the best in modern cinema: a fantastic mix of pop, new wave, post-punk and synthpop from the likes of Echo & The Bunnymen, New Order and Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark (the latter’s contribution “If You Leave” sits at the head of the table, played out during the movie’s climactic sequence). Their inclusion as the title track to the hugely successful motion picture introduced an entire new world of fans ready to be won over, however, like Simple Minds before them, the Furs chased this idea and in doing so abandoned their original sound, the artier end of the post-punk spectrum, in favour of slick commercial sheen that although sold well did not receive the same critical acclaim as before.

Although having written no new material since 1991, the Furs continued to be a live touring presence and able to retain and even regrow their popularity without succumbing to the 80s-nostalgia circuit- and now in their 40th year they prove that they have the energy and enthusiasm of a band half their age, having just finished a US summer concert series with James before jumping straight back onto the bus for a European tour.

Support comes from Wendy James, formerly of Transvision Vamp and now a solo act (“No, don’t cheer that hard- we’re not that good!”). Once part of the badly-named ‘Blonde’ movement (a rare misstep for John Peel) in the late 1980s alongside The Primitives and The Darling Buds, Transvision Vamp were the harder-edged of the triad, a mixture of jangling indiepop with crunching garage rock- time has seemingly sharpened Wendy’s claws, added venom to her bite as her band throw themselves through supercharged versions of Transvision Vamp classics as well as a selection of Wendy’s solo material, including new songs that will feature on her upcoming album (“It’s gonna be a fucking good album!” she cries after the raucous, punky “Impression Of Normalcy“). “You’re A Good Man“, Sister’s glam stomp is as authentic as any from the mid-70s, the band’s throwback sound working wonders here, while Transvision classic “Baby I Don’t Care” positively bristles with power thank to huge crashing drums and fuzzy organ, still as carefree and fun as it was in 1989.

Like the Furs, Wendy James has been able to avoid the pitfalls of the nostalgia loop (Come one, come all! Remember the 1980s? Kajagoogoo! Howard Jones! A Thompson Twin! Climie but not Fisher!) by almost taking the Gary Numan route- updating her original pop-punk-leaning sound to keep her material fresh, meaning that songs first heard on Pop Art and Velveteen some 30 years ago blend seamlessly into her new solo work, what was once a jangle is now a full-on six-string attack, at times only some additional distortion and feedback away from a proto-industrial grind, with Wendy’s poppy, at times almost deadpan delivery cutting above- ‘Bad Valentine’, a meditation on absent-minded romantic fumbles set to a swaying doo-wop rhythm, showcases Wendy’s individual style the best- a thin veneer of ‘little girl lost’ masking sarcastic dry wit and a rebellious streak a mile wide.

The Psychedelic Furs make their way onto the stage putting an end to the frankly dire PA selection of progressive rock/metal with the swirling, kaleidoscopic saxophone of Mars Williams punching through as the band open with Talk Talk Talk’s to “Dumb Waiters“. It is clear from the off that the band are in a celebratory mood and their infectious enthusiasm beams out into the crowd as they go for the hits. Frontman Richard Butler, suited, sunglass’d and bearing something of a resemblance to James Spader, is still affecting his trademark baritone rasp, a art-punk take on Berlin-era Bowie has near-unmatched charisma as he conducts both the band and the audience through the set, acting out his lyrics with theatrical grandeur with a huge grin plastered on his face that never falls, even if his voice occasionally falters (even on record Butler wasn’t the strongest singer of the post-punk scene- especially compared to, say, Ian McCulloch) his- and the band’s- sheer force of personality still wins the hearts of the crowd- “Ghost In You” ending with an almost apologetic smile and shrug but still met with rapturous response.

The run of albums from their 1979 debut through to 1984’s Mirror Moves are most represented tonight which makes perfect sense as the four albums the Furs released in this five-year period are home to their most-loved music: a huge cheer breaks out as the intro to “Love My Way” kicks in, and the return of original guitarist Roger Morris adds an extra dimension to early hit “Sister Europe“, spiralling chiming arpeggios nestled under cold, snaking saxophone lines.

The use of saxophone as the lead instrument, as opposed to guitar or synthesiser, allowed The Psychedelic Furs to stand out from the crowd during the post-punk years, showing their influences of early Roxy Music and the more oblique Bowie records of Low and “Heroes”, with Mars Williams almost bordering on avant-jazz at times, threatening to break out of the confines of the “Into You Like A Train” but kept in check via the twin anchors of drummer Paul Garisto and bassist Tim Butler– like elder brother Richard, eyes hidden behind sunglasses, and looking debonair in velvet dinner jacket and Bryan Ferry fringe.

Overall the night has a feeling of a lap-of-honour- every song jubilant in delivery and sung along by the high-spirited crowd “Heaven” breezes through on smoothed-out new-wave guitar tones while “Pretty In Pink” (getting the biggest response of the night as the crowd erupts) has transcended the band and cemented its place in pop culture immortality, fired out from the stage triumphant yet effortless- the elder Butler acting again as conductor for both sides of the stage. The Furs end the night with something of a bookend, self-titled debut album opener “India“, with the long hazy wash of an intro found on the LP before bursting into life with driving bass and wailing sax. Nothing short of spectacular, tonight marks the start of some very special birthday celebrations and judging from what was seen, maybe life truly begins at 40.

Postscript: I’m a John Hughes fan- he’s probably my all-time favourite filmmaker. The run of movies he wrote, directed and produced from the early 1980s through to the early 1990s (bookended by National Lampoons’ Vacation and Career Opportunities, with Home Alone 2 thrown in at the end) are essential viewing for every teenager and twentysomething, as well as some of the funniest, warmest comedies in cinema history as well as some genuine contenders for greatest Christmas movie ever, almost all of them set within the same mythical Chicago suburb of Shermer, Illinois. However, as much as the soundtrack is fantastic, and as much as the film is well-written and well-acted, I can’t really say that I like Pretty In Pink– certainly not to the same degree as the likes of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Uncle Buck, or Planes, Trains & Automobiles. The reason is because of Jon Cryer’s character, Ducky. His incessant pining for Andie, his blind hopefulness, his unwillingness to accept that what he wishes for will never come true, unwillingness to face fact and come to terms- it’s an uncomfortable watch for someone who spent some time in that exact situation doing the same thing. When I watch Pretty In Pink and cringe at Ducky’s actions and behaviour, did people do the same when to me? The solution to this emotional predicament is very simple: put The Great Outdoors on instead and giggle at the racoons going through the trash cans eating John Candy’s hot dogs.

Words by Liam Moody.

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