Clear blue April Skies over Bexhill for The Jesus & Mary Chain

April 11, 2017

In full-blown rock-mode, the De La Warr Pavillion shines like a beacon across the English Channel.

Tonight it’s The Jesus & Mary Chain’s last night of their mainland Britain tour, and so the bars, corridors and terraces of this architecturally striking edifice are filled with black leather and old denim.

The audience is very much ‘of an age’ of course – this is largely a school reunion style show, where music fans whose heyday was the 80s are regrouping to relive memories past.

Tellingly outside in the car park we spied a well-dressed middle aged guy stripping down to bare chest beside his expensive looking BMW as he changed from suited mode to an old band t-shirt before heading into the Pavillion.

And it is perhaps the area outside and around the De La Warr that marks it out as a must-visit venue…particularly on days like this when the skies are clear and the sea shines an azure blue.

Gigs are about the whole experience of a visit to a town – and Bexhill, despite perhaps having something of a retirement reputation, has great vibe and plenty of cool places to hang out before a show. And, of course, that view!

Inside the atmosphere and ambience is a notch above many gig-circuit venues around the UK.

This is a double-edged sword of course.

It’s clean and comfortable, but at the same time it perhaps struggles a little to provide the sleazy rock and roll edge that some gig-goers may crave.

However – that said, once inside the main hall, with the seats stripped away and the lights down low, everything starts to make sense.

The proportions of the room are spot on, the stage is the right height, the sound quality is good, and, as the crowd swells for the main act of the night, the atmosphere quickly builds.

Early doors, though, perhaps predictably, the crowd was thinner than it should have been for the night’s support – Willow Robinson.

Various factors were probably at play to cause this.

It was a relatively early start and finish, and a lot of people seemed to have travelled quite a way to be at the gig, so it may simply have been that they couldn’t get there any sooner than they did. And then there is that habit people have of hunting out cheap pubs to have a few drinks nearby before getting to the venue bar…

[It’s worth noting that prices here are not too steep – and the local IPA is great value for money. It’s also available at the foyer bar if the queue at the small bar outside the main hall is too long.]

But perhaps it was simply that Willow isn’t a natural fit for Mary Chain fans.

He is a quality singer and performer – don’t get me wrong. And he’s managed by Alan McGee – a man not know for backing the wrong horse.

But he’s perhaps more Hootie and the Blowfish than Primal Scream.

Polished by his time in the States, Willow creates a more relaxed sound than is generated by the permanently on-edge brothers Reid. And so, perhaps, tonight’s gig-going public had already made up their minds that this wasn’t for them.

Those who did were treated to some consummate guitar playing and heartfelt songs.

What was perhaps notable though was how hard it is for a guitar-playing singer to let loose physically when performing.

Willow started his career as a lead guitarist – and there was a permanent sense that his original playing style is now constrained by having to be locked to a mic stand.

Not something that is a problem for Jim Reid.

Stalking the stage like a caged panther peering from the gloom, his years of live performance shone through with confidence and passion.

With the rest of the band confined at the back of the stage all eyes were on a man whose distinctive vocals have provided the soundtrack to so many teenage years.

Starting off as he meant to go on with absolutely no apologies (for none are needed) for the material on the new album, the band kicked straight into ‘Amputation’… and there’s nobody who can argue that this track doesn’t sit comfortably alongside some of their great earlier works.

The LP may have been almost two decades in the making, but that time hasn’t dulled the Mary Chain’s keen grasp of moody understatement.

For the next hour and a half or so there is a constant see-sawing between old and new, but for anyone only recently inducted into the Mary Chain world it might have been hard to spot the joins, because Damage and Joy contains songs that might as well have been written and recorded back in 1992.

They sit easily tonight alongside stone-cold classics such as April Skies, Head On, Between Planets, Blues From a Gun, Some Candy Talking, Just Like Honey and Taste of Cindy.

There’s only one glitch in the set as William’s guitar mysteriously cut out for half a song and then burst back into life for no apparent reason. But that aside this was a flawless performance from a band who are back at the top of their game.