After a postponement of nearly five months, BEF finally played the first of two special concerts featuring an impressive line-up of guest vocalists to celebrate the three volume high-tech covers series ‘Music Of Quality & Distinction’ and in particular, the latest release subtitled ‘Dark’.
Announced on stage by its musical director Martyn Ware as “the last ever BEF concerts”, the production company made its live debut as part of a dual weekender with its most successful subsidiary HEAVEN 17 in Autumn 2011. Taking place at The Roundhouse in London, it was a gloriously ambitious outing which included the likes of Sandie Shaw, Boy George, Kim Wilde and Midge Ure. Tonight’s show was in the slightly more intimate confines of Shepherd’s Bush Empire and provided an opportunity to showcase a number of songs that had not been aired at the last BEF show. It is always to their credit that the BEF / HEAVEN 17 umbrella always give value for money to their loyal followers by varying setlists, something which other acts from the Synth Britannia era who still tour could learn from.
Naturally, HEAVEN 17’s Glenn Gregory opened proceedings with a song that could be seen as 2013’s electronic music scene theme tune ‘It Was a Very Good Year’. With its eerie HUMAN LEAGUE meets THE FUGEES breakbeat arrangement, it was a fine opening that reflected Martyn Ware’s electronic roots with his love of contemporary soul and classic songwriting. But there were surprises from the off as first guest Andy Bell from ERASURE gave an emotive rendition of QUEEN’s ‘Love Of My Life’ in addition to his contribution to the impressively diverse ‘Dark’, KATE BUSH’s ‘Breathing’. Then one of the ‘Dark’ album’s best numbers ‘Don’t Wanna Know’ got its premiere courtesy of COMMUNARDS singer Sarah Jane-Morris. The contrast of her deep blues with the blippy electronics came over like a darker gothic version of YAZOO. Slightly more laid back but no less dramatic, her version of ‘Family Affair’ also highlighted the funkier standpoints of the BEF sound. HEAVEN 17’s contemporaries SCRITTI POLITTI’s Green Gartside and PROPAGANDA’s Claudia Brücken took their turns on the stage with Green reprising his raspy tones on ‘Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time’ and ‘I Don’t Know Why I Love You’ while Claudia (who didn’t actually appear on the ‘Dark’ album as she was recording her own covers LP ‘The Lost Are Found’) gave a beautifully Germanic edged realisation of ‘The Look of Love’ that recalled ‘Felt Mountain’ era GOLDFRAPP and a finger-clickin’ good ‘These Boots Are Made For Walking’.
But there were a trio of amazingly heartfelt performances; first Glenn Gregory performed ‘Party Fears Two’ which he first sung at this very same venue in 2007 for the Billy Mackenzie 50th Birthday Tribute Concert. It was a fitting remembrance of the late vocalist from THE ASSOCIATES who sang on Volumes 1 and 2. Trained undertaker and singer/songwriter David J Roch gave his Moroder-esque spacey disco take of Bill Withers’ ‘Same Love’, one of the stand-out tracks on ‘Dark’.
However, the biggest surprise of the evening came when regular HEAVEN 17 / BEF live band member Berenice Scott stepped out from behind her keyboards for a dazzling cinematic rendition of BLONDIE’s ‘Picture This’. Endearingly sung by “possibly the sexiest lady ever to have got behind a synthesizer”, the crowd was aghast with her vocal abilities; it came as such a surprise that it almost stole the show. The extremely modest Miss Scott though had actually ventured back to her keys before the lengthy song’s conclusion, so didn’t quite feel the full weight of applause that acknowledged her performance.
On the final stretch, The Swiss Family Wilde took to the stage with Kim joined by her niece Scarlett and brother Ricky for a Motown triple tribute. Beginning with the magnificent but little known Stevie Wonder composition ‘Every Time I See You I Go Wild’, the spine tingling industrial backdrop suited Ms Wilde’s vampish demeanour. Then it was a pair of Hitsville classics that featured on the first volume of ‘Music Of Quality & Distinction’ series ‘There’s A Ghost in My House’ and ‘You Keep Me Hanging On’ which Kim had a hit with herself back in 1986. With Tamla influences very much dominating this section of the show, it was appropriate that to finish was an extended workout of ‘Temptation’. Centred around the band’s two backing vocalists Billie Godfrey and Kelly Barnes, the pair had already demonstrated their power particularly on their respective interpretations of ‘Smalltown Boy’ and ‘Just Walk In My Shoes’. The spectacle of the pair engaged in a battle of the disco lung smiths was a wondrous delight
This evening of fun and frolics was a marvellous achievement on the part of Martyn Ware and the BEF band Asa Bennett, Julian Crampton and Berenice Scott for their abilities and professionalism in learning and playing so many songs for effectively a one-off event. It is a shame that there will be no more BEF events such as these but they are an extremely big logistical undertaking.
But then again, for anyone who attended this or the Sheffield Academy show, or The Roundhouse back in 2011, these will be special memories to be cherished for a long time.
It Was A Very Good Year (featuring Glenn Gregory)
Breathing (featuring Andy Bell)
Love Of My Life (featuring Andy Bell)
Don’t Want to Know (featuring Sarah Jane Morris)
Smalltown Boy (featuring Billie Godfrey)
Free (featuring Billie Godfrey)
Walk In My Shoes (featuring Kelly Barnes)
Party Fears Two (featuring Glenn Gregory)
Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time (featuring Green Gartside)
I Don’t Know Why I Love You (featuring Green Gartside)
Picture This (featuring Berenice Scott)
These Boots Were Made For Walking (featuring Claudia Brücken)
Every Time I See You Go Wild (featuring Kim Wilde)
There’s A Ghost In My House (featuring Kim Wilde)
You Keep Me Hanging On (featuring Kim Wilde)
Temptation (featuring Glenn Gregory, Billie Godfrey and Kelly Barnes)
‘Martyn Ware Presents…’ takes place as part of the Virgin 40 celebrations at London’s Koko on Monday 11th November 2013. Material spanning his entire career will be performed including HEAVEN 17 and from his time as a founder member of THE HUMAN LEAGUE. Please visit http://www.koko.uk.com/listings/martyn-ware-presents-heaven-17-11-11-2013 and http://www.virgin40.com/ for more details
Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Richard Price
9th October 2013