❉ On Sunday 30 September, Marc Almond and Dave Ball reunited for Soft Cell’s celebration of forty years since they met and their last ever show.
Back in February this year an announcement was made that blew the minds of every Soft Cell fan in the world. Estranged for many years, the fans were consigned to playing the music and basking in their Soft Cell related memories, until it was dramatically declared that the duo were to play a final last gig together, commemorating forty years since they met and started making music.
The last time they played live was at the turn of the new millennium, kicking off their then reunion at Ocean in Hackney, East London after a sixteen year hiatus. The Ocean gig was followed by a tour of the UK. I was lucky enough to catch them at the Manchester show, and more significantly, at Leeds University where the band first met in 1978, when it was known as Leeds Poly.
So we fast forward some sixteen additional years later and the more recent Soft Cell announcement. Singer Marc Almond commented at the time: “With Soft Cell I always felt something was unfinished. This last ever final show will be the best ever ending. It will be a real statement and send off, and thank you to every fan.”
The venue of choice for this final “say goodbye”, was the biggest venue in London; the O2, formerly known as the Millennium Dome. It holds 20,000 people and it would be by far the largest gig the band have ever played in their history.
The decision to choose that venue fell out of a conversation in a pub and was initially a throwaway comment. However the more they thought about the possibility of putting on such a large show, the more credible the idea became.
The big announcement was made in March on Chris Evans’ BBC Radio 2 Breakfast Show. Within a matter of days the gig was sold out, with fans travelling from all over the world for the huge event. The show was to be a one off extravaganza, the biggest possible, and to go out with a final flourish on Sunday 30th September 2018.
As the long hot summer months progressed, the Soft Cell machine started to crank up a gear and merchandise was released including t-shirts, kitsch tea towels and other memorabilia.
There was also box set of ten discs released in specially designed digi-pack with remixes and rare tracks, two new tracks and including a DVD, to ramp up fans enthusiasm.
As we got nearer the gig, the merch machine went into warp-speed overdrive, with all sorts of products for a discerning fans’ delectation, as well as t-shirts, posters, tote bags, pre-sale gig programmes their product line including a snowstorm keychain in reference to their earliest single Memorabilia. Kitsch to the max and SO Soft Cell.
In an unexpected merch twist, a new Soft Cell beer was launched called Say Hello Wave Goodbye and was available for sale both before the gig in selected pubs as well as on the night, along with Pink Flamingo cocktails.
An expectant and highly excitable crowd gathered in the O2 arena, and as I looked around the packed venue I saw “a thousand people just like me!” The mostly middle-aged crowd had doubtless grown up with Soft Cell in their formative years, and their music shaped a generation of kids who didn’t fit into the standard eighties offerings of the charts at the time. Like me, they probably wore their Soft Cell fan club “Cellmate” status like a badge of honour, whatever the consequences. They say your vibe attracts your tribe, and here I was in the biggest tribal gathering I’d quite possibly ever find myself in.
The evening kicked off with a Readers Wifes DJ set to get us all ever more in the mood. Mark Wood, one half of the duo told me, “When Marc asked us to DJ for them at The O2, I thought he must be pulling our legs. What an honour! We’re both old Cell Mates who were at the last farewell concert back at the Hammersmith Palais, so if you’d tried to tell us then we’d be doing this in 2018 for our favourite band ever, we wouldn’t have believed you! We’ve got to know Marc and Dave over the years so we put our support DJ set together based on things we know were influences on the Soft Cell records. It’s an eclectic mix and we hope people liked it. I also hope they’ve forgiven us for our knocking-‘em-cold-in-black-and-gold outfits. We couldn’t resist!”
Meanwhile across the UK and parts of Europe, the show was also being livecast to cinema audiences, to fans who couldn’t make it to the London gig. A DVD and live CD of the show is also being released next year (details of how to order this are available HERE).
The opening track was Memorabilia, and its pulsating beat got the audience in the zone from the off as everyone rose to their feet to dance.
Marc explained that not everyone’s choices would be catered for during the long set, but they strived to deliver a diverse range of songs from across all of their albums, which was sure to please most people. A highlight was when Miss Beehive herself, Mari Wilson, joined Marc on stage for The Last Chance from Beauty Without Cruelty.
My personal highlight was my favourite song Insecure Me with saxophone courtesy of the great Gary Barnacle who played on all of Soft Cell’s original singles.
However the show wasn’t without its hitches; this was a Soft Cell gig after all! Where the Heart Is had several false starts as did The Best Way To Kill as Marc declared we were witnessing some of the chaos that ensued in the early days!
There was a brief interlude as So was played, an instrumental track, giving both Marc and Dave a chance to breathe, and the audience for a much needed sit down! When they returned on stage everything seemed much slicker and we were treated to stunning pyrotechnics during Heat and an impressive laser show during Somebody Somewhere.
The show built up to a final crescendo of their most recognisable hits; What!, Bedsitter, Tainted Love, the song that launched Soft Cell’s career into the stratosphere, then followed by Sex Dwarf and ending, like every Soft Cell/Marc Almond show does, to Say Hello, Wave Goodbye where the audience were encouraged to light up their phones to a stadium of twinkling lights. It was quite the moment.
The nearly three hour set was over in a glorious heartbeat and with feelings of both euphoria and melancholy and we left the arena knowing that our hearts were high and our little black souls were duly filled with the little piece of both personal and music history.
However for some, the festivities didn’t end there, as a select number made their way to All Bar One to dance their way into the night with internationally-renowned DJs HiFi Sean and Jon Pleased Wimmin on the decks, both influenced in their formative years by Soft Cell.
Sean said, “One thing that Soft Cell brought to me as a teenager, was introducing me to so much great music like Suicide. I luckily got to work with Alan Vega few years ago on my album “Ft”. It was sadly the last thing he ever recorded. Soft Cell also introduced me to bands like Foetus, Psychic TV, Throbbing Gristle and lots more. These were all the best pop stars who took you into new unknown places with musical tastes and styles. Soft Cell were also the first proper concert I ever went to.”
He went on to add, “Being involved in this whole project, firstly by remixing ‘Insecure Me’ and ‘So’ for the 12″ picture disc and now DJing at the after party, is a teenage ‘Gutterhearts’ dream come true”.
DJ Jon Pleased Wimmin, who was also spinning the tunes at the after show party said, with fond memories, “Soft Cell is the group I used to bunk off school for, to go and sit outside their offices in Soho. They were/are more than just a pop group to me though. They made all the misfits and outsiders realise that the coolest thing of all is to not give a shit about being cool or fitting in, being true to yourself and celebrating the flaws that make us all unique are what it’s all about. So I was ecstatic to get to play records along with the gorge Hifi Sean at the after party and it is a real honour. We had a back-to-back scream-up party vibe taking in everything from Goth to Electro.
It really was a wild celebration of feelings inside….“
The mood was sombre as we left the venue, as the crowd collectively realised this was truly the end of a well-worn era. We’ll always have the songs, the memories, the heartbreaks, and each other. I’m very grateful for the friendships I’ve made in the name of Soft Cell, many of who I was delighted to see last night, and a lifetime of dancing, laughing, drinking, loving. Despite it being the final gig and the end of a certain era, I know I’ll always be forever the same; a Soft Cell fan, and a Divided Soul, for the rest of my days.
❉ “Soft Cell: One Final Time. Live Concert from London” was also broadcast live from London to cinemas across Europe on Sunday 30 September. A CD, Vinyl, DVD and Blu-ray of the show is also being released next year: More details and pre-order is available right now from the OFFICIAL SOFT CELL SHOP over at Lexer Music, as well as from Live Here Now’s own online store over at TOWNSEND MUSIC.
❉ All Soft Cell merchandise is available via Lexer Music
❉ Soft Cell Official: Website, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook
❉ Marc Almond Official: Website, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook
❉ David Ball Official: Twitter.
❉ Ange Chan has been a both a Cellmate and Gutterheart since she saw the duo on TOTP in 1981 when that seminal moment shaped her life, forever. She is a poet and novelist. Her latest collection of poetry, Songs of Sorrow and Heartbreak, was published in October 2017. Her third novel Champagne Flutes and Pixie Boots is currently a ‘work in progress’.