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Band on the Wall, 5th November, 1999

Review by James Nice

Few outside Manchester got to see Crispy Ambulance live during their brief existence between 1978 and 1982, and fewer still saw the group perform the kind of material that they committed to vinyl during their final two years. For me, as a fan, it was therefore a rush in a million to learn that all four members had agreed to re-unite for a one-off show in Manchester, to mark the re-issue of the back catalogue (The Plateau Phase and Fin) on CD.

True, I could not help but wonder if the band could carry off a convincing gig in 1999. After all, Gary Madeley had barely played drums for ten years and Robert Davenport guitar for five. However, on the night all doubt was dispelled by the opening notes of Are You Ready? and by the certain knowledge that the group had undertaken about twenty intensive rehearsals.

A word on the venue. The Band on the Wall is a gig that the group played several times in the late 70's, and is little changed today. The atmosphere was therefore wholly authentic in every sense. The venue was also comfortably full (about 300 punters), due in part to the show forming part of the monthly Toolshed night, organised by Graham Massey (808 State/ex Biting Tongues), and also featuring a set by the Toolshed Allstars, joined by Jah Wobble.

I had expected more people to travel further to see the show. After all, the 'Bonfire Night Party' would be the first (and last) opportunity in seventeen years to see this unique, precious band in the flesh. As it was, at least three people flew in from the States, and another three from Scandinavia. Add to that maybe another twenty-five from far flung corners of the British Isles and a rowdy gathering of vintage Manchester fans, and you have a suitably partisan crowd.

So what songs did the group play? In order: Are You Ready?; Deaf; Come On; Federation; Travel Time; The Presence; Funtime (Iggy Pop cover); Lucifer Rising; Choral; Nightfall Ends the Ceasefire; The Plateau Phase. Followed by an extended encore of: United; Say Shake; Open Gates of Fire.

For my money, the set was nigh on perfect. While the performances were not quite as unhinged as those preserved in the Fin live album, the Band on the Wall show was certainly no sedate trundle down memory lane. Songs such as The Plateau Phase, Deaf and Open Gates of Fire demonstrated real bite, while Travel Time (dedicated to the late Rob Gretton) and Presence provided breathtaking displays of subtle power. The ancient Moog synth was almost the equal of the original ARP, while the musician ship of all four members was simply outstanding.

The song selection kept the audience guessing too, although with hindsight it loosely follows the pattern of studio album/live album/late 1982 compositions. Not what I expected! And with little known tracks such as Say Shake and Open Gates of Fire on offer, the group maintained their policy of avoiding the obvious. Indeed, what it boils down to is this: everyone at the show saw Crispy Ambulance play one of their finest gigs ever, and not simply a museum-piece recital by the four ex-members. Quite simply, a dream come true.

I know the group were delighted with the set, and the reaction. The show will not be repeated, but a multi-track recording has been made and a CD should surface in the New Year. Maybe even a video...? We'll see.

Pictures by Eric Julier.

Update: A recording of this live performance, entitled Accessory After the Fact, is now available on CD from LTM Publishing.

Read the full press release.

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