Dead Beat Consistent - The Blue Aeroplanes live at Camden Electric Ballroom, 29th September 2023
Updated: Oct 2
Years ago I loved a magazine called The Word - if you are reading this, there is a good chance you did too. Produced by Mark Ellen, David Hepworth, Jude Rogers and Andrew Harrison, it was quite splendid. It didn't pander to music biz wants, it just wrote about music. Mark and David still have a podcast going - the lovely Word In Your Ear, which is thoroughly recommended.
It's great listening for the music spotter and I even downloaded Mark's audiobook, Rock Stars Stole My Life!, and listened to it whilst I walked 26.2 miles last weekend for the London SHINE Night walk. It was fab, and got me through 64,113 steps overnight - thanks Mark! Must download one of David's books next month.
But I am a little cross with Messrs Ellen and Hepworth - in a recent episode of their music chunter sesh, they discussed a list produced of the 24 bands with the most members (by The Cavan Project). It's an interesting list (I'd never have guessed The Waterboys had had 74 members!), but they rightly highlighted it does not include The Fall. Mark E Smith was legendary for firing people on a whim, and the band went through at least 60 members...BUT Mark and Dave made no mention of Bristol's finest and, in my humble opinion, the greatest live band I have ever seen - The Blue Aeroplanes.
The Aeroplanes even had a t-shirt with the slogan "Are you now or have you ever been a member of The Blue Aeroplanes?", the reverse of said t-shirt listing some 40 plus names. Their website lists 46 members and wikipedia lists over 70 members and supporting players. Surely, they deserved a nod?
And that's the challenge - The Blue Aeroplanes remain unloved, despite their longevity, their consistently great albums and their always energetic and enthralling live shows. There is always at least drums, bass, three guitars (there's usually more, and by the encore they are normally joined by guests, ex-members, anyone they can drag on who can play two chords), a dancer (way before Bez, the ripped Wojtek Dmochowski was elegantly manoeuvring his way round a crowded stage, his muscular moves leaving me wishing I made more time for the gym)...and front and centre, there's Gerard Langley.
Singing/speaking/shouting his complicated, enigmatic, literate, funny, moving, joyous lyrics - weird imaginings, plays on truths and half-truths.... always, always, always wearing shades, he is cool personified.
This is my 13th time seeing them in the 42 years they have been playing. And it does not disappoint. The band is the same as when I saw them play the Xmas show at The Fleece in Bristol (their home venue, one of them now manages it). They have a new album, Culture Gun, which is exactly like the other ones, but simultaneously different - it's harder, louder than previous efforts, and it's great.
Live they remain a true force. Gerard has had some health issues so this gig was cancelled and rearranged, but you would never tell from this show. He's a real presence on stage, but also gracious to his band members. Bec, Rita, Mike and Chris all sing one each. Mrs JO'B described them before as a YTS training scheme for up and coming young Bristolian musicians, taken under the wings of a sunglasses wearing, Television/Velvets inspired beat poet. Gerard is now in fact a lecturer and Head of Songwriting at BIMM Institute Bristol. She was, as usual, spot on.
The gig is wonderful - so much energy crammed onto the stage, though sadly it's not sold out - a crying shame. They play a career-spanning set, with 6 songs from Culture Gun, plus classics from Swagger, Tolerance, Beatsongs and Spitting Out Miracles.
Of the new songs, Half A Crown and Bec Jevon's (An Unlikely Hit Of) Adoration are highlights. (Check out Bec's own band, IDestroy - they are rather good). It's backed by saxophonist Alexander Dmochowski, son of Wojtek, who also has a jazz band - In The Name Of Ra, who are playing Hackney on 11th October). And only The Blue Aeroplanes would write a song that includes the word Anthropocene in its title.*
The crowd rotate their arms like helicopter blades as they play the still brilliant Jacket Hangs and there is much excitement as Wojtek's brother Jedrej takes the stage for the first encore, singing the chorus of my favourite ever Blue Aeroplanes song, Tolerance. I say there is much excitement amongst the audience - I primarily mean me, and I get very over-excited!
...And Stones, Yr Own World, Broken & Mended, Fun and Bury Your Love Like Treasure tear the roof down. And then they return for one last encore - the same cover version they have finished every show they have ever played with. Consistency is a much under-valued trait and this two chord classic (originally by Television's Tom Verlaine) brings proceedings to a riotous end. Breaking In My Heart is just the perfect closer - Jedrej returns to the stage, guitar in hand, along with the sax player who joined for Bec's moment in the limelight. 9 people on stage and it sounds like 90. Through them all, Wojtek ducks, dives, bends and weaves, whilst Gerard dodges through and keeps them all in order.
And that's it. They are gone. We are smiling. It's a first time for my friend Mark and his mate Steve (his other friend John saw them years ago, but it's the first time in recent years). Also, it's a first time for my friend Linda's mate Penny. All are enthusiastic. This was my xmas present for Lozzer, who's seen them with me many times and we both agree it was splendid.
Like The Fall, they are always different, always the same, always consistent and still always the best live band I have ever, or will ever, see.
They are playing another Xmas gig in Bristol...I can't go sadly, and I am genuinely gutted. But they will be back, to swan about, swan about and I will be there, drunk probably...and they will be happy to have me there...come along!
Stay safe, and if you enjoyed this, please subscribe (see link below), x
*The Anthropocene Epoch is an unofficial unit of geologic time, used to describe the most recent period in Earth’s history when human activity started to have a significant impact on the planet’s climate and ecosystems. Obviously....