And oh, how we danced… the little children of Stonehenge.
Olympic Way was abuzz in nerdy expectation & excitement last Tuesday night as Housemate James & I approached former swimming pool Wembley Arena: mock-rock gods Spinal Tap were playing the UK gig on their single-date world tour. The fans were out in force and I spotted many sartorial nods to Tap, such as a yellow-trousered green-skeleton-tank-topped bloke with a white cowboy hat, and numerous Polymer Records shirts.
As seems to have become customary at these things, the support act was folk trio Mark “Marta” Shubb, Alan Barrows and Jerry Palter – collectively, The Folksmen: famously featured in the motion picture “A Mighty Wind”. Their half-hour set was a whistlestop tour of most of the songs featured in that documentary, such as “A Mighty Wind”, train & mining disaster song “Blood on the Coal”, a folky take on the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up”, and of course the groups only hit, “Old Joe’s Place”. The trio’s close harmonies were excellent, and Marta’s deep basso was as pure as back before she started wearing wigs & dresses.
The main event though were of course Spinal Tap themselves – delayed entrance to the stage this time courtesy of them playing video games rather than getting lost en route, and following a ludicrous screen animation sequence set to their power hit “The Majesty Of Rock”, Messrs Tufnel, St. Hubbins and Smalls took the stage to wild applause and adulation.
The concert was a good, solid, exhaustive set – featuring nearly every song in the film (sadly missing the beautiful but elusive composition “Lick My Love Pump”), as well as songs from more recent ventures such as their album “Break Like The Wind”, and the climate change anthem “Warmer Than Hell”.
People have claimed that 2009 is the year of the band revival (which of course ignores all the reforming & touring going on in 2008 and 2007), and Guest, Shearer & McKean prove themselves to still be capable of parodying mainstream rock in this 25th anniversary gig. Going back to their supposed roots, they played old songs from The Thamesmen, such as “Gimme Some Money”, “Listen To The Flower People” (for which Tufnel strapped on the obligatory double-necked mandolin), “Cups and Cakes”, and a rare performance of “All The Way Home”. Plundering any musical lead at their disposal they also performed the opening number to Smalls & St Hubbins’ musical based on the life of Jack The Ripper, “Saucy Jack”.
The programme wasn’t chock full of stunners – songs like “Short & Sweet”, “Clam Caravan”, and “Stinking up the Great Outdoors” provided ample time to visit the bar, and felt a little like they’d been included either to justify some half-baked banter, or just to pad out the set time.
However there really was no need, because the good stuff – and what the fans were there to see – worked splendidly. America, Hell Hole, Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You were all in there. Rock And Roll Creation was played with enthusiasm, although without the giant alien pods. For some bizarre reason they included Heavy Duty as one of the encore songs – this flies in the face of my understanding of how encores work, but despite not being one of the better songs it still worked OK. Towards that end of the evening Tap were joined on stage by guest keyboardist Keith Emerson, who stepped up to the plate with some ludicrous stage antics (kicking his keyboard over, attacking it with a ceremonail dagger, etc) and was greeted largely ambivalently by the crowd, who were after all treating it more as a comedy gig than a music gig.
A nice twist was inclusion of a funked-up version of sophisticated set staple, Sex Farm. It’s still one of Tap’s better lyrics:
Working on a Sex Farm
Trying to raise some hard love
Getting out my pitchfork
Poking your hay
Oh yeah, poetry.
Highlights of the night though for me were the two great classics – firstly, Druid inspired rock epic Stonehenge. Cemented in infamy forever when, during the documentary filming, band manager Ian Faith procured a piece of scenery which due to errors in scale “understated the hugeness of the object”.
After all these years though, Spinal Tap were to get their correctly-sized Stonehenge – to right of stage as they were singing a lifesize inflatable started to unfurl itself, however even this didn’t seem to go smoothly, leading them to lament “We never seem to get this right, do we?”. Finally however it was erected, and the midgets were free to dance around it as prescribed.
And of course no gig would be complete without the triple-bass-guitar masterpiece known as Big Bottom. St Hubbins called up some guest bassists for this, including Justin Hawkins of The Darkness (playing what can only be described as a ludicrously huge space shuttle-shaped bass), and cranked the low-tones up to 11.
Joined on stage by a bevy of generously rumped groupies, a look passed over Nigel Tufnel’s face as if to say “I can’t believe we’re still doing this, after 25 years”.
Summary of the night would have to be that while none of them are particularly stellar musicians they still put on a stonking good show, and one which compares very, very favourably to many other gigs I’ve been to. Not at all bad for a fictional band, and definitely going in my list of favourite & most memorable gigs of all time. Even 25 years on they haven’t stopped taking the piss out of ego-centric rock acts. Who else but Spinal Tap would be daft enough to announce a World Tour consisting of one date only, and then add a 2nd date? I envy us, I really do.
(More photos in my Flickr set, here)