McAlmont and Butler Reunite For One-off Shows
Never mind those Oasis Glastonbury rumours, another Britpop era reunion happened last night, and it was far better than any Gallagher family get-together is likely to be. Whilst twenty years on from the rise of Britpop it has rightly been recognised that it all began with Brett Anderson’s Suede, what is perhaps less widely appreciated is the contribution made by his original six-string-slinger-in-chief Bernard Butler.
Looking back, it is clear that Butler has built up an impressive body of work that includes those early Suede records, a solo album or two, collaborations and production credits, plus some sublime recordings in the guise of McAlmont and Butler.
Last night Butler reunited with David McAlmont to perform the most fantastic show at the Union Chapel in Islington. Backed by strings, piano, sax, backing singers and band, McAlmont lit up the stage with a voice undiminished by the years, backed by an occasionally smiling Bernard Butler. It was clear right from opening song “Can We Make It” that this was going to be a memorable night.
To put McAlmont and Butler into context, it is worth looking briefly at Butler’s colourful career. Bernard Butler first rose to prominence when he answered Brett Anderson and Justine Frischmann’s NME advert for a guitarist (“No musos please – some things are more important than ability” it said).
Butler said at the time he’d been reading the “musicians wanted” page in the NME for five years and it was the first advert that said the right things. His and Anderson’s songs got Suede on the cover of Melody Maker in April 1992 before a single had been released, proclaiming “Suede: The Best New Band In Britain.” Success followed, but Butler and Suede fell out during a US tour to the point where Butler sat in the wings during a performance and asked one of touring partners The Cranberries to strum his guitar for him. As rock star strops go, that’s one of the best…
Things came to a head during the recording of Suede’s second album “Dog Man Star” and Butler left Suede in May 1994, not speaking with Anderson for another nine years.
A year later Butler returned with singer David McAlmont – who “sings like a bird or an angel / he sold his soul to get those pipes” (as a later song* would tell us). Between them they produced one of the decade’s best tracks; the beautiful “Yes”. It was a gorgeous mix of soul, Motown beat, Spector-esque production and was deservedly a UK top ten hit. A second hit “You Do” followed, but that, it seemed, was that. McAlmont and Butler fell out, and a debut album was scraped together from b-sides and the singles as McAlmont and Butler went their separate ways. Butler re-emerged in 1998 with a solo record – and the lovely top 20 hit “Stay”.
It wasn’t until 2002 that McAlmont and Butler returned to the studio perhaps to address unfinished business. The result was “Bring It Back”, a more cohesive album than the somewhat thrown-together debut, referencing The Isley Brothers, Phil Spector and Isaac Hayes. First single “Falling” nearly matched the sheer euphoria of debut single “Yes”.
However, when Suede split, Brett Anderson came calling on Butler to form The Tears in 2004, producing a single album. McAlmont and Butler thus separated again. A single from the pair emerged in 2006 but since then, Butler has had a successful career as a producer working with (amongst others) The Libertines and Duffy, as well as more recently performing with Trans.
All of which brings us to the present day, and last night’s show.
So why have they reformed? The shows (there are two – the next is at Islington Assembly Hall today) were organised to raise money for The Bobath Centre which undertakes research into Cerebral Palsy in children, which is as good a reason as any to reunite a couple of musical legends. Not content to just play a couple of gigs, Butler ran the London marathon in support of the cause a couple of weeks ago, a race in which he finished in 19,623rd place.
Support last night came from Nerina Pallot, and McAlmont and Butler were backed onstage by Magic Numbers guitarist Romeo Stodart (on bass), M&B Strings and others, including Romeo’s sister Michele and fellow Magic Number Angela Gannon on backing vocals.
Happily Butler showed few after-effects from such strenuous effort, despite having apparently completed the marathon with a torn hamstring, something almost as painful as sitting on the Union Chapel pews for two hours.
As for David McAlmont, his voice is as sublime as ever, and he remains as fun, energetic and charismatic a performer as ever gave his tailor a free reign.
Introducing “Different Strokes”, McAlmont joked that fans often ask him why McAlmont and Butler never made a second album. “To which I say, well – we did!” Indeed an early highlight of the set was from that record, the absorbing and emotional “Blue” with McAlmont backed by just Butler’s gently picked guitar.
“Bring It Back” had the crowd on its feet at last, followed by Fat Larry’s Band classic “Zoom”. Both M&B albums were well represented in an eighteen song performance. “Falling” closed the main set before a few encores, including a theatrical “You’ll lose a good thing” from McAlmont.
“We couldn’t do the show tonight without playing this song” teased McAlmont, before bringing on a cake for Butler – it was his 44th birthday – and singing “Happy Birthday”, before launching into “Yes”. It sounded as vital, glorious and joyous as it did when I first heard it nearly twenty years ago…
After the show Butler and his band chatted with fans in the bar and I asked Romeo Stodart how he came to be playing bass with McAlmont and Butler, given that he is the guitar player in The Magic Numbers and his sister is the *actual* bass player. He smiled sheepishly. “Well, I’m friends with Bernard” he told me, “and Bernard called and asked me if I knew any bass players! I thought hmmm, well I could ask my sister….but I’d never forgive her!”
*Theme From McAlmont and Butler
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