Engine rooms Southampton
March 23, 2022
Clare Grogan and her brand new edited images are making a midweek visit to the South Coast. A new album is in the works and Ian Canty has been persuaded to come out of his local retirement to launch one of his increasingly rare live reviews
One of the things that made Gregory’s Girl such a great piece of cinema is that it got what it was like to attend British secondary school and even teenage life in general in 1980. I can speak with a reasonable amount of knowledge on this subject, as I was that age and an inmate of such a facility at the time.
This film introduced Clare Grogan to most mainstream audiences, but she was already a member of Altered Images at that time. They were part of a developing post punk scene in Glasgow which was gaining momentum during the filming of the film. The band enjoyed considerable success on the UK charts early in the same decade, but they broke up in 1983 after the album Bite’s attempt at a more sophisticated sound divided fans.
Clare herself focused on acting after a solo career that yielded just one Love Bomb in 1987. A memorable and hilarious appearance in Father Ted was one of the highlights of her career. television and film work. In recent years she has played with a new line-up of Altered Images and now, with contributions from Bernard Butler and Glasgow pop contemporary Bobby Bluebell, a new album titled Mascara Streakz is in the works for release.
I have to admit my heart sank a little when the AP played some tired old hits like some kind of “I Heart The 80s” compilation before and between the bands. It’s probably me, but I took this penchant for an idealized version of the world of 40 years ago as a symptom of a general refusal to face the present. When Altered Images broke through with their youthful brilliance and endearing, sloppy energy, they were an antidote to that 20-year-old gang anyway, style over substance. Going back further, punk has no future wasn’t just an easy excuse to ignore the fact that times are changing. I guess I’m as guilty as anyone for re-watching many re-releases, but I for one think observing and understanding the story can help us move forward.
Even so, maybe I should close my trap and keep rewatching the gig, huh? Magnetic Skies, a quartet specializing in a slightly over-the-top synthpop sound, opened the show. In fact, they’re fun – Bowie’s cover of Ashes To Ashes is perhaps, in the words of my old pal Silly Steve, “a bit ambitious”, but they barely pull it off. Into Paradise, one of their singles, was also impressive.
After A Day’s Wait played over the PA system, this new Altered Images aggregation began with the perfect pop guitar of I Could Be Happy. See Those Eyes follows, before we get the first of four new ones, which is the LP’s title track itself. The indications given by this one, Glitter Ball (a co-writing with Bernard Butler), Beautiful Thing and The Color Of My Dreams are favorable and seem to indicate an evolution towards a very danceable and neat post punk disco sound. These four tunes seem to wisely build on their 1980s history, instead of naively seeking to recreate it.
If we forgot that the AI was baby Banshees to begin with, a blinding rendition of Dead Pop Stars and a very atmospheric Insects bring the point back. It also offers a crucial escape from the cozy certainties of the 1980s. Clare is still a real ball of energy with her voice made a little more hoarse. It helps invest older hardware with some pathos, an audio acknowledgment that times have moved on and we can now look to the present with no regrets.
The happiness that she invests in the performance and the absence of any pretension is really contagious, it’s pleasant to observe. For example, I couldn’t even find the cover of That’s Not My Name by the Ting Tings in my heart because of the sheer joy it brings. The young band are adept at bringing back 1980s material with renewed vigor and are clearly having a great time on stage. If not “original” they were great for getting the perfect spirit.
Bringing down the curtain on the main set is the cool charm of the latest single (well the first time anyway) Change Of Heart and smash hit Don’t Talk To Me About Love. But of course they’re back for an invigorating storm through Happy Birthday. I found this version of Altered Images both endearing and satisfying – what could only have been a nostalgic trip was avoided by the promising new material and liveliness of the performance. I couldn’t help but smile, which for a miserable asshole like me is something and I felt completely charmed and so much the better to enjoy an hour in the company of Clare and her band mates.
Clare Grogan is on Facebook here and on Twitter here
All the words and clichés of Ian Canty – see his author profile here