The general consensus amongst those who attended the Windlesham show last Saturday on 20th April was that it was one of the best gigs ever played by After the Fire in their present line up. From the moment that promoter, Julian Lewry welcomed the band on stage, they showed an energy and commitment worthy of their long-standing reputation for giving value for money. Abandoning the Thunderbirds theme this time, they launched directly into a confident delivery of "1980-F", and then romped through the next three numbers: "Listen to me", "Bright Lights", and "It’s High Fashion" with barely a pause. "Lights" did not feature the accustomed drum solo, but Banksy surely broke his personal record for longest note! There was a brief change of pace as the Peter and the boys accompanied Rob’s meditative "You", before the pace picked up once more with a rocking "Dungeon Ghyll"a track which certainly benefits from the full ATF treatment.
About this time, the first mugs of tea were seen to circulate, but John didn’t get his, as he was required to strike up the introduction to "I can Say". "One Rule" followed, featuring , as always these days the Fair Trade campaigning verse, and then the fivesome were "Dancing in the Shadows". Did Mr Niblo really forget the bass riff, or was he just teasing us..? "Suspended Animation", which is arguably the strongest musical link to the style of the "Signs of Change" era followed, as did "Der Kommissar" and "Billy Billy", with another superb guitar solo by John.
As the opening chords of "Life in the City" struck up, we knew that we were drawing into the final phase. The merchandise Lady was seen to attempt a few jumps, putting her knees at great peril, before getting her team of arm wavers synchronised. Up until this point there had been no immediate evidence of Banksy’s Multi Moog, but as the previous song died away, the unmistakable beetle-bops of "Laser Love" rang out in the darkness, and we knew Rob was preparing to put us through our verbal aerobics. But where was Rob? And who was this curious turquoise android with flashing red eyes who had taken his place? It turned out to be a martial arts mannequin, which they’d found in the dressing room, and co-opted for this particular crowd favourite. Shame they couldn’t turn him off afterwards….
With the opening, haunting bars of "Starflight", the final song was announced, and to my great relief, it was played in it’s masterful entirety. Of course, this was not the end, but just a pause before Banksy, John, Ian, Rob and Tim were drummed back on to the stage for two final encore numbers: "Joy" and "Check it Out", with 100% being given by all, right up until the final crescendo, with Rob whacking Tim (Taylor) Turner’s cymbals like they’d done him wrong!
I appreciated the fact that the songs were played as we love them, keeping mostly away from hybrids or modifications. It was clear that the music was given first place. The band played tightly, with barely a note out of place or a word forgotten. The venue, intimate, but not too small was comfortably full, and possessed good acoustics for both audience and musicians. Thanks to the technicians for a good sound balance and lighting.
Credit must be given also to the support act, Lisa Winship and Andy Mathewson. They played blues, ragtime and country with charm and competence, winning over even hardened ATF souls who wouldn’t normally listen to such music. Banksy insisted on singing throughout their set – no doubt picking up tips for his "Café Musica", but he can sit somewhere else next time ! ;-)
We celebrated Wendy (Zippy)’s recent …th birthday in the interval with a rousing chorus of "Happy Birthday, and Jennie Sharp appeared with a plentiful supply of delicious home-baked chocolate cake in Wendy’s honour, which we all ate.
It was a great reunion, as well as a chance to meet new friends. People travelled from far and wide. Hopefully no one felt excluded – the merchandise table is always a good point of call for a friendly welcome. So, thank you, After the Fire; thank you Julian for being a competent and imaginative promoter, and we will carry fond memories of this evening with us for a long time.
Sankt Augustin, Germany 24th April 2013