Thursday, 1 December 2011

John Foxx and the Maths, Live at the XOYO Club, London, 25th October 2011

Been a while since a "proper" posting here. Anyway, what better way to get back into the blog thing than with a bit of a review of the John Foxx and the Maths gig at the XOYO Club in London on Tuesday 25th October 2011.

It was a day of adventure for me as I love London and I love travelling to London by train. My last excursion to the Old Smoke when I visited Ben Edwards' studio was done by car, which whilst giving more flexibility on time proved to be a rather expensive option, not just with outrageously priced petrol (don't get me started!!! ), but also because of my lack of familiarity with the congestion charge thing and the subsequent £60 fine I received a few days later. A note to the London authorities, you might like to make it more apparent to "out of towners" that it needs to be paid in advance - I don't live in London!!!

So. The concert.

I really liked the XOYO. Small, intimate and well run. The main room was a good size and the sound was great. It would great to play here one day myself. As soon as the doors were opened from the bar to the downstairs gig area, I made my way down and got a very position right at the front near the stage. And there I stayed for the duration.

First up was American songwriter/composer/performer, Tara Busch. I've become a big fan of her music over the last couple of months. Her album "Pilfershire Lane" is simply brilliant and her recent E.P. "Rocket Wife" is one of my favourite pieces of listening at the moment. And her performance exceeded my expectations, which were quite high anyway. Tara was surrounded by "stuff" and for an aging synth-nerd such as I, it was all "good stuff" :-) I noted Moog Voyager and the ever present Moogerfooger which is, for synonymous with Tara Busch. I also was quite enthralled by her use of the Suzuki Omnichord - a real vintage piece of equipment that you really don't see very of nowadays. And Tara plays the flute!!! That was used to great effect on "Rocket Wife". Her cover of the Carpenters track "Superstar" was awesome and for me the highlight was the track "Rocket Wife". A great song and brilliantly performed, as was the whole set. It's always good to see female electronic music artists as there are too few on the circuit these days.

The next set was Gazelle Twin. I got hold of their album a few days before the gig and had a good listen to it on the train to London. The debut album, "The Entire City" is really very good and has enjoyed some rave reviews. In my view, it is most definitely required listening, but I find it difficult to be as positive about the rather disappointing live set. The stage was in virtual darkness, the sound was a little too bassy, I really couldn't make out the vocals, such as they were and to be honest, I simply didn't get it. Perhaps I need to exercise my art muscles a bit more, I don't know. Also weird was the paper hats that the musicians were wearing. Or perhaps I'm being a bit grumpy, but either way for this particular follically challenged punter, it was a case of "sorry, bit of an own goal".

During the wait for Mr. Foxx and company to start, I had the opportunity to chat with a most interesting personality, namely Tapio Normall. I have seen this man on countless photographs displayed on Facebook et al with various electronica icons, so for me it was quite a cool moment to meet this veritable living legend. At the end of the evening when the gig had finished, it was fascinating to see how John Foxx and co. recognised him immediately, and I was told that many artists actually look out for him at their gigs. A very interesting character and a pleasure to chat with. I view black shoes quite differently now.

Another pleasure was to meet and chat with the webmaster of John Foxx's official website Metamatic, namely Rob Harris. I was hoping to meet Rob as we had exchanged e-mails earlier in the year in connection with the latest Geigertek album "Soundtrack For City Living". Two of Rob's photographs of Tokyo cityscapes adorn the centre pages of the CD's booklet. And just before the main event started, whilst I was faffing about with my camera, a gentleman walks up to me and introduces himself as Rob Harris!!! We chatted about websites and music and stuff, even after the gig started - I would point out that Rob was in the photographer's pit taking photos and manning a video camera (crosses fingers in anticipation of a live DVD - go on John, you know you wanna!!!). And for the second time that evening, I met an interesting and personable character which put a nice dusting of extra enjoyment onto the evening.

And so to the main event. The stage line up consisted of John Foxx up front (as one would expect of course), flanked by Hannah Peel (keyboards, violin and backing vocals) to his right and Serafina Steer (keyboards, bass and backing vocals) to his left with Ben "Benge" Edwards. All said and done, I was not disappointed at all and at no part of the proceedings did I find anything negative. The set was strong, vibrant and full on. The sound was loud, bassy, gritty and I loved it. No breaks between songs and John Foxx every bit as enigmatic as ever. The opening track was "Shatterproof" from the "Interplay" album and it was gloriously "in-yer-face". Foxx snarled and spat out the lyrics to the driving beat provided by backing tracking augmented by Benge on a set of Simmons drums. I was taken aback by the energy and sheer performance standard of a man now in his 60's - it was an impressive start.

Next up was "He's A Liquid" from the "Metamatic" album. And wow. Maths member, Hannah Peel played the main hookline on violin and boy did it work. Full of drama and tension, greatly enhanced by the violin.

The next track was "No One Driving", again from "Metamatic". Brilliant. Simply brilliant. The haunting violin just took this track to a new level. It's one of my favourite Foxx songs as well, so the pleasure was doubled.

Onto "Evergreen" from the "Interplay" album. The studio version is a terrific modern pop song, and I have to say that it translated well to the live scenario. Upbeat and uplifting, continued a great atmosphere.

Now the next track was "Running Man" from "Interplay", one that had kind of passed me by in my listening of the album. But, the energy that JF put into it brought it screaming for attention - it now has regular play here I can tell you. The pace was maintained with top drawer versions of "The Shadow of His Former Self" from the new JF and the Maths album "Shape Of Things".

The first real treat of the evening for me came with the Maths version of the Ultravox! (note the exclamation mark please) classic, "Hiroshima Mon Amour", taken from the second studio album "Ha!Ha!Ha!". This is one of my favourite all-time songs and to hear this being sung tonight was quite emotional. Beautifully handled by the group, it retained all of it's minimalistic magic. Throughout JF performed as if totally detached from the world around. Benge's Simmons drums supplemented the original TR-77 drum machine track perfectly and Serfina Steer's bass gave the piece the required depth and warmth. Gig highpoint number one.

The next two tracks were a "Metamatic" bonanza - "A New Kind Of Man" and "Plaza", the latter given a new lease of life with Hannah Peel's fabulous violin. Now, I'm going to court a painful death by stating that I was feeling that Hannah's live violin sound was actually better then Billy Currie's - very contentious I know, but it sounded so much fuller and, erm, more in tune .
The next track was "Watching A Building On Fire" from "Interplay" - not one of my as I don't really rate Mira Aroyo's vocals on the studio version. Now having said that, the live version was infinitely better with much improved female vocals.

And then another Ultravox moment (note the dropped exclamation mark?) with a stunning rendition of "Dislocation" from my favourite JF era album, "Systems Of Romance". Foxx's confident vocal and presentation instantly recaptured the magic and mystery of this song. Gig highlight number two.

Another track from "Interplay" and it was the title track. I adore the album version and I was very curious as to how this would work on stage. Being very minimalist, it leaves John Foxx's vocal quite exposed. Curiosity was satisfied immediately as he brought the angst and emotional pain of the song to the live arena. A beautiful performance all round.

The quiet serenity of "Interplay" was soon blown to bits (in a good way of course) by the excellent "Catwalk". Mr. Foxx was quite animated thought this track, and again I found myself thinking that many of the younger acts around now could learn an awful lot about stagecraft from watching him.

The pace was kept going with the excellent "Summerland", another one of those tracks which, for some reason, also passed me by on the album, but the live performance brought it to prominence for me so that it is now often listened to.

And then, for me, the song of the night. I've already stated that "Systems Of Romance" is my favourite Ultravox album from all eras and probably my favourite track on the album is "Just For A Moment". In amongst the high-energy pieces and the laid back feel of some of the other songs performed, the serene beauty of "Just For A Moment" surpassed all that had gone before. I found myself totally lost in the atmosphere and dystopian emotion of the piece, amplified with the use of Hannah Peel's violin instead of piano in the instrumental part before John sang the most magical part of the song:

Listening to the music that the machines make,
I let my heart break,
Just for a moment
Pure class.

And then another magical moment - "Burning Car" - with violin -this so worked!!! Hannah Peel's violin playing gave the song a whole new dimension and once again I found myself feeling that this violin sounded better than any Ultravox I had seen before (heretical words I know - I shall flagellate later!!!). This is another favourite from John's earlier solo catalogue, and quite obviously a crowd pleaser judging by the response from the audience. Great energy, great atmosphere and great performance all round. And it was this track that brought us to the close. Strobe lights going insane and then they were gone. For now.

The first of two encores brought my favourite track from "Interplay" to the live scenario - an excellent version of "The Good Shadow". I love the sequenced Korg MonoPoly intro (I know it was a MonoPoly 'cos Benge told when I visited his studio back in September) and here it was again slowly fading in, shortly joined by the drum machine and then the vocals. Benge's drum playing was a good live supplement and really made the song cement itself in the set - a great choice for an encore. That finished and we then waited a little while longer because we knew there had to be a second encore. Why? Because we hadn't heard "that" song.

And then it came.

The band drifted back on stage and the thunderous modulating drone came forth and filled the air with tension and electricity. The kick drum started and we knew for certain - "Underpass". For a song that was written more than 30 years ago, it still holds a place in modern music. It hasn't aged as some others have. It still has that resonant dystopian edge and can still hold the listener from start to finish. And the quality of John's performance was without question.
All too soon it came to an end with the strobe lights blazing and the sound of tortured synths heralding the end of the evening. I have seen a a good few concerts in my time, not least all the times I have seen Ultravox, with and without John Foxx, but I can honestly say that this was the best gig I have seen in 35 years of watching live bands. A huge "well done" to John Foxx and the Maths, and it's important to include the Maths as they provided an excellent backing to a true artist.

After the gig I was fortunate enough to meet and get a photo with both Hannah Peel and Serfina Steer, very good of them to be so willing as it was quite obvious they were tired. A quick hello with Benge and then I was able to meet the man himself. And what a gentleman he was. Of course, I had to have my photograph taken with him, and once again, Tapio Normall was on hand to do the business - a huge thanks to him for that.

The only downside to the day was that I missed my train home. Fortunately, the XOYO was only a 15 minute walk to Liverpool Street Station and I managed to get onto the next train which left at 0045hrs which was great. The knock was that it arrived at 0200hrs and terminated at Colchester with the next train not departing until 0500hrs - that was to go to Ipswich and then change at Ipswich through to Norwich. Not good because when we got to Colchester, I wasn't allowed to stay in the station and spent the next 4 hours in a bus shelter just outside the station doors. Fortunately there was a 24 hour Asda across the street and so I was able to get a drink and something to eat, but sadly there was nothing hot. Now, I said that I arrived at Colchester at 0200hrs and that I waited for four hours, but I stated earlier that the next train wasn't due to leave Colchester until 0500hrs - that's because I hadn't been given the right information. The train for Norwich left at 0600hrs and I arrived at my final destination at 0730hrs, when a tired Anne came and picked me up. All that said, it didn't really detract from what was a great day.


  1. hey great review! glad you liked it, sorry about your journey home....


  2. Thanks :-) Certainly did enjoy it and as for the journey home, one of those things, at the end of the day it's abou the music.


  3. Superb review Neil and nice to hear the travel problems didn't spoil the evening. Gary

  4. Well done John Foxx and the Maths. A great gig and I had such great time. Well done also Neil :-)

    Tapio aka Mr Normall


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