Soft Cell’s ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ live in London

Ange Chan on a special performance of Soft Cell’s first album, celebrating forty glorious years. 

The last time I saw Soft Cell in concert was at the 02 for ‘the final time’.  The 20,000-capacity venue was packed with the belief that we would never see the band perform together again.  How times change.

Following several lockdowns during the global COVID pandemic, one imagines that Marc Almond and Dave Ball decided to ignore their previous claims and grasped life firmly by the neck, and chose to live life to the fullest, and thank goodness they did!  The concerts in London were the culmination of a small five date whistle-stop tour of the UK encompassing Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds and the two London dates.

The 3,000-capacity Hammersmith Apollo (formerly Hammersmith Odeon) venue was absolutely packed to the rafters, and COVID checks by security staff were reassuringly rigorous.  As we mingled in the foyer, spirits were high amongst fans and friends that hadn’t seen each other in over two years.  At times it was over-whelming, but it was mostly life-affirming when I spotted friends from Germany, Holland, Sweden and two friends who’d travelled over from California just to be there.

As the crowd took their places in the auditorium, Readers Wifes played an eclectic setlist in their own inimitable style. It was the perfect opener to what was to follow.  With no other support band, Soft Cell’s set was in two parts and opened with one of their best loved hits Torch with the familiar saxophone opening refrain courtesy of Gary Barnacle, to an appreciative audience.

The band included a few tracks from their forthcoming album *happiness not included including Bruises on all My Illusions, Happy Happy, Happy, Heart Like Chernobyl, Nostalgia Machine and Purple Zone some of which were more enthusiastically received than others.  Heart Like Chernobyl didn’t grab me when I first heard it however, hearing it live was a completely different experience and the song (as durge-like in its nature that it is) seemed to take on a poignant new meaning and came across with all the intended pathos that was somehow lost on the recording of it.

The first half set also included some interesting choices of songs that we’d not heard live for a long time, if at all.  My favourite 12” version of Bedsitter was played in full, and one of my other favourites Divided Soul from the Cruelty Without Beauty 2002 album.

Another fan favourite following its success at the 02 concert was Martin with audience participation aplenty!  The first half was concluded all too quickly with the Art of Falling Apart from the 1983 album of the same name and a short interval ensued.

Part two of the show was the performance for Soft Cell’s first album, Non Stop Erotic Cabaret released in 1981 and hence celebrating forty glorious years.  I regularly listen to the album and have done over the ensuing years from when I first proudly bought the vinyl home as an enthusiastic 13-year-old to most recently when there was a Listening Party on Twitter, brainchild of Tim Burgess of The Charlatans, and co-hosted by Marc and Dave.  During that session I asked Marc just what was in that brown paper bag, as this subject has been a topic of much heated debate over the years.  At last, we have a definitive answer!

Anyway, I digress… the echoey sounds of Fr-fr-fr-fr-fr-fr-FRUSTRATION! Filled the auditorium and the band were back on stage with all the energy and just the right amount of cynicism required to deliver the song, its lyrics just as relevant today as they ever were.  Played in album order, the next song up was their greatest worldwide hit, Tainted Love, which turned the boys from Leeds into global superstars overnight in 1981.  The album progressed through Seedy Films, and Youth with Cine-8 footage accompanying the songs giving a poignant and authentic vibe.  Sex Dwarf included still further audience participation and the relationship between stage and audience was clearly strongly symbiotic.  Various projected images of ‘Tart Cards’ were displayed, echoing days of old in London’s Soho around which the album was born.

For old school fans like me, side B track 1 was Entertain Me and will always be followed in my mind by Chips on My Shoulder.  Those two tracks just sit perfectly together, and I will always expect to hear them played consecutively!  We were treated to the 12” version of Bedsitter with the ‘pseudo rapping’ element in the middle, which makes more sense of the track than the 7” version, which talks about the ultimate mundanity of ‘eat, sleep, clubbing, repeat’.  Secret Life was the penultimate track, again lyrically mixing mundane ordinariness with something mildly exciting to relieve the tedium of everyday life.

The last song at Soft Cell concerts (and Marc Almond ones too, for that matter) is usually Say Hello Wave Goodbye but in this instance, the popular song was the penultimate track, with Soft Cell’s clubland epic Memorabilia claiming the finale.

All too soon the concert was over.  Those who were lucky enough to be in possession of a VIP ticket, queued up to collect their torch and umbrella.  Some proceeded to the after show, at the Duke of Hammersmith.  Me? I just went on my journey home, basking in the glory of having attended another Soft Cell concert and wondering whether we will ever see another one ever again.  We can but hope…

*happiness not included by Soft Cell will be released in Spring 2022.

 Ange Chan is a Freelance Writer, having produced two novels and six volumes of poetry. A prominent contributor to Me and the Starman (available by Cult Ink on Amazon) and lifelong lover of music, Ange is also We Are Cult’s Social Media Administrator.

Image credits: All photos in this article are owned by Ange Chan and may not be used without permission. Special thanks goes to Mary Mannion.

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