I'll start with a quick comment -- if you haven't heard of the Fannies and you are into indie music, go hang your head in shame. Go on, pick up Grand Prix right now.
The Hi-Fi Bar is not one of my favourite venues. It's smoky, gets very hot, it doesn't have the magic of a lot of other venues like The Forum. And I'd be lying if I said that I felt comfortable at any gigs I had been to at the Hi-Fi Bar. The last one, Pete kindly informed me, was The Doves back in 2002 (I think?). Great gig, and we were right up front so at least the issue of some drunken lout obscuring our view wasn't there. Not that Pete would know what that feels like, being the tall lad he is.
After support from The Pictures, the Fannies opened with Near you from their 2000 album Howdy!, which is one of the few Fannies albums I don't have. They followed with The cabbage from their most critically panned album Thirteen which is another album I don't have. Considering I didn't know the first two songs, I guess you could say it was a disappointing start. Not much to say about these songs, I can't really remember them now.
They followed with the first song of the night which I did know, and that was the Grand Prix opener About you. It was also the first Ray McGinley sung song of the night. It was good to hear something familiar, even if it isn't one of my favourite Fannies tracks, but I know Pete disagrees with me on this point.
Time for a [small] amount of background information about The Fannies. There are three core members of the band - rhythm guitarist Norman Blake, bass player Gerald Love and lead guitarist Ray McGinley. Other members have come and gone in this time, but these guys have been in for the long haul. They share songwriting and vocal duties, generally singing the songs they have written. And their albums since Grand Prix have generally been very democratic, with each member contributing a fairly equal share to each album. A bit like the Go-Betweens really. A lot of Fannies fans tend to see Ray McGinley as the lesser songwriter to his peers, and I agree with this. He has written some wonderful songs (Only with you from their latest album Man-made is one of my favourite cuts on the album), but his songs definitely feel much more simplistic compared to the Norman and Gerald numbers.
Anyway, back to the review. After Grand Prix opener About you, we followed with a couple more album openers. There was the Gerry-led I need direction from Howdy!, and the Norman-led Start again from their low-key but excellent 1997 effort Songs From Northern Britain. A very nice run of songs.
We followed with the first new song of the night, Feel from Man-made which sounded really nice live. It's another Ray cut which I'm quite a fan of. Take the long way round, another nice Songs From Northern Britain cut, followed this. Now we came to one of the absolute highlights of the gig, the classic Grand Prix number Neil Jung. This is not only one of my favourite Fannies cuts, but one of my favourite cuts of all time. It's just a superb guitar-driven pop classic. Great melody, great vocals, great guitar solo. Perfect song.
Following this great cut was one of Nick Hornby's favourite songs of all time, Your love is the place where I come from. I know he likes this song because it was included in his book 31 songs where he talks about the songs that have changed his life. It's another Ray song, and it's a beautiful number. Wait a second, didn't I say before that I wasn't a Ray fan? Maybe I need to re-evaluate that theory. It was a great live number!
Did I say followed, which was another track I don't know since it was a new track tacked on to the recent best-of release Four Thousand Seven Hundred And Sixty-Six Seconds so that existing diehard fans would have to buy it. Bloody record companies. A couple more Man-made tracks followed, the beautiful Gerald Love number Time stops and the overrated Norman Blake opener It's all in my mind. Next we got a track which many diehard Fannies fans consider to be one of the weaker in their catalogue, Verisimilitude. And yes, it's a Ray number. It's quite unlike any other song they have released, even the other Ray ones. It's got a certain novelty aspect to it, and it's got a melody which can really get under your skin. But you could say it has a sorta cult following.
Next we got the earliest song of the night, Star sign from their critically acclaimed Bandwagonesque album. While I'm definitely more of a Grand Prix fan, many diehards consider this to be their best album. Spin magazine in the US actually named this the best album of 1991, quite an amazing feat considering that Nevermind and Blue Lines were released in the same year. It's a decent album, with a lot of fantastic cuts, but it has dated a lot.
A couple more brilliant Songs From Northern Britain cuts followed, the classic I don't want control of you and sublime Byrds-esque Ain't that enough. A couple of my favourite Fannies cuts right there. A highlight from Man-made followed, the previously-mentioned Only with you.
And now we come to the wham-bam-thank-you-Mam killer highlight of the gig. There were a few killer cuts that the fans were practically gagging for at this stage of the gig, and out they came.
She wears denim wherever she goes
Says she's gonna get some records by the Status Quo
Oh yeah... Oh yeah...
Seriously, one of the greatest opening lines from a song ever. It's from The concept which is the opening cut from Bandwagonesque. Hearing this was a truly sublime gig moment. Sure to get a mention in Pete's upcoming Top Gig Moments post in this very blog!* Just when the gig couldn't get any better, we get a song I'd been hanging out for the whole night. Sparky's dream from Grand Prix. I can't throw enough adjectives at this song - it's absolutely brilliant! And hearing it after The concept was a truly amazing gig moment.
Wisely, the Fannies decided to end the first set here. They went off stage, the fans chanted, yadda yadda yadda. No need to go into the cliched encore routine here. They came back on stage to another one of my favourite Fannies numbers - Don't look back from Grand Prix. I told you how much I love this album, didn't I? But those 3 songs added up to a classic gig trilogy. The concept, Sparky's dream and Don't look back. All in a row, albeit separated by a dodgy encore. Despite my discomfort at this stage of the gig (it was already getting close to 1:00am), this was truly a superb moment.
Slow fade from the new album followed, and then a Ray number which I'm not a big fan of - Can't feel my soul from Songs From Northern Britain. They ended the 2nd set with Everything flows, which was their first single from their debut album A Catholic Education. A song I didn't actually know prior to the gig, but a song which instantly became a classic from hearing it once live. It has the kind of melody that you feel like you've known your whole life. Just goes to show what great songwriters these guys are.
After another encore, they came back for a final number -- a cover of He'd Be A Diamond from neo-psychedelic British band The Bevis Frond. Can't say I knew this song, and can't say I even remember it now. Interesting way to close out the gig.
Despite the discomfort factor (sore back, smoky venue, etc.) this was a very enjoyable gig!
* I can't guarantee if and when this will ever be posted.