Stackridge at the Ropetackle, Shoreham by Sea *****

Stackridge are living proof that there is no justice in the world, for if there were, they would have been one of the biggest bands of the 1970s, instead of being just the best. And now they are finally calling it a day, with a run of farewell concerts under the title ‘The Final Bow’ after one of their quiet classics from the ‘Sex And Flags’ CD from 2005. But not, like some, limping out whilst going through the motions. Their Sold Out gig at the fabulous Ropetackle in Shoreham-by-Sea was a tour de force that showcased everything that is so brilliant about this wonderful band : songs of ingenuity, wit, pathos, thoughtfulness, all performed with warmth, verve and enthusiasm. When bassist/vocalist/founder member James Warren joked that as it was Stackridge’s last tour they would be playing every song ever recorded by the band, the audience would definitely have been up for it. There are still some gigs to come on the tour – including London’s Borderline in London – and my only advice to those who haven’t seen them yet is : beg, buy or steal to see this band on this tour. You won’t regret it.

The Stackridge story is one of two parts, really – the first relating to their 1970s incarnation, which saw five albums released between 1971 and 1976, the most noted of which was ‘The Man In The Bowler Hat’, produced by Beatles supremo George Martin. The band split in 1976 but reformed in 1999 and have been playing in one format or another ever since, producing along the way a fine CD entitled ‘A Victory For Common Sense’ which ranks up there amongst their finest work and featured four of the six original members of the group. The current line-up features just Andy Davis and James Warren from the original team, but ably supported by Glenn Tommey on keyboards, Eddie John on drums and Clare Lindley on, primarily, violin. And what a fantastically talented five-piece they are.

Their set ranged across their entire career, with tracks from every album released, demonstrating the sheer eclectic versatility of a band that can play instrumentals about spaceships and ploughs and songs about elephants, plimsolls, Venezuela and the Beatles. On this outing Andy’s electric guitar was more to the fore than usual on many of the songs so that this was a band ably steering a course between gentle lilting numbers like ‘The Final Bow’ itself to a virtual thrash romp through ‘No-One’s More Important Than The Earthworm’. And succeeding brilliantly at every turn. There was only way to end such a momentous gig, of course, and that was with a singalong through one of their silliest but most endearing ditties, ‘Dora The Female Explorer’. As we chanted along with successive choruses, a slight tear in our eyes at the significance of this run of final gigs, it was with a sense of love and gratitude for all the years of great, great music and fab fun gigs that have raised the spirits of all those who have followed them over the years. Thanks to Andy, James, Clare, Glenn and Eddie for all the current splendour and to those who have served with merit in past incarnations, notably Mutter Slater, Jim ‘Crun’ Walter, Mike Evans and Billy ‘Sparkle’ Bent. You were always as good as you could be, and as good as we could want you to be. And who could possibly wish for more?

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