Human Don’t Be Angry / Martin John Henry / Andrew Pearson and the Riflebirds – Undercover@Madras, St Andrews – Sunday 25th November 2012

Even rock’n’roll it seems isn’t immune to the vagaries of the recession. This was demonstrated by  the last Human Don’t Be Angry band show for the foreseeable future (in St Andrews on Sunday) where the band had downsized in number from a quartet to just a trio of Malcolm Middleton, Martin John Henry on bass and Scott Simpson on drums.

And that wasn’t the evening’s only surprise as the show turned out to be somewhat different affair from what I’d expected.

The venue itself was somewhat unusual – a marquee in the centre of St Andrews. Set up as part of the St Andrews Festival, the large stage was dressed for a run of performances of a play and, with its winter trees, it provided a pleasing aesthetic quality to the show.

The size of the tent though was a problem as the audience of about 50 was drowned in a space which must have accommodated at least 300. There was therefore something of a dead atmosphere to the proceedings even if the acts did their best to energise the crowd.

There was also something of a problematic ‘quieter’ sound arising from the intervention of Fife Constabulary during the soundcheck. In retrospect the organisers must surely have regretted not starting the show earlier because the consequence of the strict 11pm curfew was that Malcolm’s planned solo acoustic encore had to be dropped in its entirety.

Song-wise too the Human Don’t Be Angry set was surprising. Given that the banner is being put on hold whilst Malcolm Middleton returns to his solo career, I was largely expecting a re-run of the September show in Edinburgh.

Not a bit of it as two new songs were unveiled. Much closer to traditional rock songs rather than the largely instrumental led HDBA stuff, the effect for me was similar to when Malcolm introduced  both ‘Shadows’ and ‘Red Travelling Socks’ into his band shows several years ago. These two tunes are surely too good to lie dormant until HDBA is re-activated and the smart money must be on Malcolm taking these tunes back from The Other Guy.

Sound-wise the loss of the extra guitar made quite a difference particularly since the rhythm section was quite muffled throughout. As a consequence the show was far closer in spirit to the solo HDBA sets than could reasonably have been expected as the focus was very much on Malcolm’s guitar.

But actually, the show really didn’t really suffer as much as you might have expected. Without the extra guitar, the whole thing seemed slightly cleaner compared to the wall of noise of previous shows.

So there were plenty of highlights, particularly the blissful guitar coda on ‘Askipliio’, the crunching metallic finale to  ‘Monologue: River’ and the ever brilliant ‘1985’. Even if police clearly don’t make good sound engineers.

If you push me, then I would prefer to see a ‘solo’ Middleton band show but a return for HDBA in a couple of years is still something to look forward.

Human Don’t Be Angry played:

1. Intro  2. Mumbo Jumbo (? maybe!)  3. Monologue: River  4. H.D.B.A. Theme  5. First Person Singular, Present Tense  6. Jaded  7. New song – Stranger?  8. 1985  9. New song – “Any way the wind blows”  10. Asklipiio

The two support sets were far quieter affairs.

The half a dozen songs from Martin John Henry were entirely acoustic (no loops this time) but there’s a purity about Martin’s solo sets which is spellbinding and it was nice to hear the likes of ‘A Love Economy’ again. And does ‘Spectres’ betray some influence of the headliner’s main man?

Martin played:

1. A Prelude to Entropic Doom  2. Arc 3. A Love Economy  4. Hattonrigg Pit Disaster  5. Pest  6. Under The Stairs

Andrew Pearson and the Riflebirds were depressingly young* – and playing to such a large tent (even if mainly empty) they seemed to be very nervous. Yet they quickly gained in confidence as the set progressed and the four piece (guitar, bass, clarinet, accordion and occasional electronic flourishes) came over as a more reserved Randolph’s Leap. Particularly since the final tune shared the lyrical whimsy of RL

More photos from the show can be found here.

*Actually it’s maybe the other way round – maybe I’m depressingly old!