When I was invited to do this regular feature, the biggest battle was always going to be which gig to choose from the four hundred or so that I've been to over the years. No easy task. Sometimes the big gigs you are looking forward to fail to deliver. Sometimes it's the smaller more intimate gigs that were subject to less expectation that turn out to be the best. Sometimes it's not just the main band - it may be the venue or supporting acts that make the gig that extra bit special. After much soul-searching and changing of gigs, in the end I decided to go for That Petrol Emotion at London's Town and Country Club on October 3rd, 1988.

There were few bright musical lights in second half of the 1980's. One group that did shine as a beacon of hope were That Petrol Emotion. Formed by ex-Undertones guitarist Sean O'Neill and fellow guitarist Ray Gorman, two Derry residents soon joined them - Sean’s brother Damian on bass and drummer Ciaran McLaughlin. The final piece of the jigsaw was their Seattle-native frontman Steve Mack whom the band met in London while he was "serving pizzas." They may not have bothered the charts much during their ten-year tenure that stretched from the mid-80's to the mid-90's, but as a live act they were always nothing less than incendiary. Few bands were actively trying to innovate and move far from the indie-guitar template, and even fewer were mixing pop with politics.

By 1988, the band had a strong following in London and would regularly sell-out the Town and Country and similar sized capital venues. I'd seen the Petrols (as they were affectionately referred to by their fans) earlier that year at the very same venue. A couple of things, however, made this one stand out. Firstly there was a fascinating supporting set from the Swiss post-industrial trio the Young Gods that was intriguingly hypnotic and very well received by the sell-out crowd. Secondly was the fact that the gig was being filmed for future video release ('Seen and Unseen' - Virgin 1988), meaning that the sound was crystal clear and the lighting that little bit more special.

I remember a tangible sense of excitement down the front of the main standing area of the Town and Country, and from the opening bars of set opener 'It's a Good Thing' to the final encore of 'Lifeblood' the crowd didn't stop bouncing. Having just released their 'End of the Millennium Psychosis Blues' album, the band now had three long players worth of songs to draw from. 'Candy Love Satellite', with its syncopated drum beat and twanging guitars, and the poppy 'Genius Move' kept the crowd on their toes. But it was the indie-dance fusion of 'Big Decision' that got the gig in full swing. Few bands back then pushed the alternative music envelope as far as the Petrols did, and on this track their mix of dance music and guitars worked to fantastic effect. At the time 'End of the Millennium Psychosis Blues' proved a little too eclectic and disjointed for the critics. Unsurprisingly that night it made up a good slice of the set-list, but live the tracks translated well. The experimental 'Groove Check' featured a drum machine and drummer Ciaran McLaughlin on guitar and went all the way, throwing funk into the Petrols' multi-layered musical equation. Less so 'Under the Sky', which sounded lumbering and a bit of dirge by comparison.

But this was the only lull, and things were quickly back on track though with the gloriously swirling ballad 'Cellophane' and the ridiculously sweet Velvetsy strum of 'A Million Miles Away'. But the best was still to come. Off came Stevie Mack's 'Nicaragua Libre' T-shirt as he bounced around the stage in his black cycle shorts, the lanky American frontman's dreads swaying with gay abandon, to the deep-south blues of 'Swamp'. And while we're on the topic of band apparel that night, where did Raymond the guitarist get that diamond-patterned jumper from? And who allowed drummer Ciaran McLaughlin to break the band taboo of not wearing your own group's T-shirt? It mattered not. The Petrols were always about the music rather than some contrived band image. Up until that point the band's set, the first album, 'Manic Pop Thrill', had been slightly under-represented. Enter the double sonic salvo of the harmonica-driven Beefheart-stomp of 'Mouthcrazy' and a frantic and vital 'Fleshprint'. All finished off with the sonic maelstrom of their traditional set-closer, 'Creeping to the Cross' with its sledgehammer bass line and duelling guitars.

First encore 'The Price of my Soul' took the mood right down before another 'Manic Pop Thrill' cut, 'Can't Stop', dedicated to Irish socialist and republican political activist Bernadette Devlin, raised the tempo to fever-pitch once more. The final encore, the atmospheric 'Lifeblood', was the perfect end to a rollercoaster set by a band at the top of their game. The band would go on to write their finest album of their career in two years' time ('Chemicrazy',) and I would see them a further six times (including two gigs post their reformation back in 2008). Nothing though would match the intensity of this gig, the memories and excitement of which have stuck with me over twenty-five years later. That is why I've chosen this, of the many, many gigs I've been to over the last four decades, as my 'Gig of a Lifetime'.


Set List:

1. It’s a Good Thing
2. Candy Love Satellite
3. Genius Move
4. Big Decision
5. Here It Is…Take It
6. Groove Check
7. Under the Sky
8. For What It's Worth
9. Cellophane
10. A Million Miles Away
11. Swamp
12. Spin Cycle
13. Tension
14. Mouthcrazy
15. Fleshprint
16. Creeping to the Cross

Encores:

17. The Price of My Soul
18. Can’t Stop
19. Tight Lipped
20. Lifeblood











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