It must be
over 30 years since I last caught up with Sad Café - a superb late 1970s
band that somehow never quite made major rock league status. A shame
really, because in their magnificent debut album Fanx Ta-Ra (1977) they
signalled a major talent and left an enduring legacy. They were a
marvellous live act, and Fanx Ta-Ra an overlooked 'classic album'. The
follow up Misplaced Ideals (1978) has also stood the passage of time
rather well and I'd strongly recommend searching out the single CD
pairing of the two.
Ironically, the pressures began to tell not long after the eponymous
fourth album and a clutch of singles (Every Day Hurts, Strange
Little Girl and My Oh My) tickled the charts of 79/80.
It was as
if the band weren't quite sure what direction to travel. Original
members John Stimpson (bass) and Vic Emerson (keys) left and vocalist
Paul Young began a very successful 'secondary' career with Mike & The
Mechanics before sadly passing away in 1990. Sad Café never recovered.
or for worse, founder members - Ian Wilson (rhythm guitars) and Ashley
Mulford (lead guitar) along with drummer Dave Irving (who was also
pretty much there from the outset) and Des Tong (bass) who joined in
1980 have resurrected the band for their first tour in 25 year bringing
in Steve Whalley (vocals, guitar), Sue Quin (keyboards, vocals), and
Simon Waggott (keyboards).
There's plenty of 1970s acts still on the road with fewer original
members, so there's no reason to think this line up couldn't pull it
off, but it's a fine line between tribute act and a real echo of past
glories, and while it was wonderful to hear the Sad Café canon of work
once more, there were frailties on display that suggest there's work to
do if this band is to have a long term future.
One of Sad Café's signatures was always great songs. A great song needs
a great singer and while it was never going to be possible to replace
Paul Young on a like-for-like basis, or wise to attempt it, on the
night the vocals largely fell short of the mark.
Ian Wilson's sounded
hoarse (the strain of being back on the road, perhaps?) but most
disappointing were those of Steve Whalley. I somehow expected more from
someone who once stepped into Noddy Holder's shoes than a crooner from
the Steve Overland (FM) school of vocalists with a few tired glam moves.
That said, the rhythm section was rock solid throughout and Ashley
Mulford stood out as a clear star of the show pulling some classic
guitar lines out of the bag and looking like he was having a real blast.
His Santana-like performance on 'Emptiness' was one of the highlights of
But all too often the lacklustre vocals detracted from the overall
performance - for example, the classic pairing of 'Hungry Eyes' and 'Black
Rose' should have brought the house down, but somehow neither got the
volcanic rendition they deserved.
There was, however a clear highpoint and that was when Sue Quin stepped
to the front of the stage to give a magnificent, spine tingling, Clare
Torry-like performance of 'Fanx Ta Ra'. It was inspirational and the
impetus drove the band onto a collectively raucous version of 'On With
The Show', before closing out with 'Everyday Hurts'.
So while there were shortcomings - perhaps to be expected after such a
long layoff - to my mind the answer's obvious - bring Quin permanently to
the front of the stage. It could be a real 'match winner' and something
I'd pay to see time and time again.
Set list: I'm In Love Again / Love's Enough / Strange Little Girl /
Restless / Misunderstanding / Losing You / Hungry Eyes / Black Rose /
What Am I Gonna Do About You / Trying To Reach You / Emptiness / Love
Will Survive / Fanx Ta Ra / On With The Show / Everyday Hurts. Encores:
My Oh My / Rat Race