In a fortnight from now Ian McNabb will puts his boots back on and return to his old job of fronting his old band, the Icicle Works. Sadly this is the only tour I won't be able to make, but as he has soundtracked my life I at one level don't want to be part of that party. Much as I might love an artist, it always pisses me off when they go back to their back pages. Where are the same fans when they play local gigs? Where are they when your favourite artist isn't selling new albums? They are probably too busy drinking down the pub. As Ian told me earlier in the evening, "I'm having to relearn songs that I wrote before I was 28 years old."

Unlike his last show here in Leicester, he is playing to an older crowd, whereas the last show was seated and full of families. He is looking great these days with long 1971 Neil Young-style locks of hair. As soon as he spots me, he comments to me, "I don't know what to say," as he has not seen me since I was told I have cancer. And then he jokes, "Don't go dying on me. I haven't got enough punters as it is."

As far as I'm aware this is his first gig here at The Donkey, and he pulls in a decent-sized crowd. I watch Ian as he runs through his two soundcheck numbers, 'Fire Inside My Soul' and 'You Must Be Prepared to Dream', upon which his second guitar gives him attitude.

A lot of people here worship him in different ways, but my relationship is different. He is like my brother, whereas another young married lady sits herself on the stage all night as if he is hers alone which Ian jokes about.

We wait for almost two whole hours before he returns to the stage, so in that time I catch up with him for a chat and I meet up with a new fellow McNabb fan for the first time and bond.

He finally gets on stage at 9.48pm, and opens up with five songs played on acoustic guitar and mouth organ. 'Fire Inside My Soul' has the fire of youth in an older body. 'Merseybeast' is a story of misfortune. 'You Must Be Prepared to Dream' is a song about youthful dreaming and still living your dream. 'Camaraderie' comes over as very sad, while the first Icicle Works number, 'Little Girl Lost', promotes the first sing-a-long of the evening. After this he tells the first of several stories, an amusing anecdote about how Warren, the landlord at The Donkey, gave him an Andy McNab book to sign for his girlfriend, Zoe, so Ian started telling him tales about fighting in the Middle East.

'Out of Season', another Icicle Works track and the first number that Ian wrote that he thought was any good, follows. It's the most beautiful take on the song that I have ever heard. 'I'm a Genius' and 'Liverpool Girl' come next. He explains some of the lyrics of the latter to non-Scousers, and that it is not a song about Cilla Black but the fact that Scouser girls like their crisps.

The Icicle Works' 'Who Do You Want For Your Love?' from 1986 gets a very rare solo acoustic reading, with the odd ablib from 'Sailing' thrown in. 'High on a Hill' is political number about the people who run the world. 'Ancient Energy' hails from four years ago, and then the 1986 classic 'When It All Comes Down', which he mixes up with a touch of the Who's 'Pinball Wizard', closes the first set at 11.05 p.m.

He returns to the stage at 11.20 p.m. and tells the crowd, "Phone the babysitters. I'm going nowhere." The second set is more freeform and open to more sing-a-longs and covers with enough great songwriting to convert any new fan if there are any here.

'Rider' is a re-recording from his latest album 'Krugerrands', while the 1984 anthem 'Hollow Horse' is sung back by a more than loving crowd. 'German Soldier's Helmet Circa 1943' is a song about childhood dreams.

By this time Ian's on the drink and ready for another sing-a-long with the crowd, so he treats us to a "stars on" segment, starting with a full acoustic reading of Echo & the Bunnymen's 'The Killing Moon'. This is followed by the Teardrop Explodes' 'When I Dream' which he forgets the lyrics for and asks me to sing along too, but when my mind goes blank he adds the La's' 'There She Goes' onto the end.

'Gravy' follows, which is the only new number he wrote for 'Krugerrands', which otherwise is a collection of re-recordings of his old material. To me this is a song that has been years in the making. It is strong, bold and fresh, and has a stand-up straight and fight-on attitude that I now live my life to.

'Evangeline', another song from Ian's Beggars Banquet past, sounds fresh as it was when delivered back in early 1987. He gives 'Truth and Beauty' a go, but forgets it so we get 'Great Dreams of Heaven', his debut solo single, followed by the mystical beauty of 'You Stole My Soul'. This is followed by the Icicles' first hit single, 'Love is a Wonderful Colour', and much loved by the now drunken crowd should close the main set.

He decides, however, not to leave the stage for an encore and carries on. 'Still Got the Fever' remains strong and full of passion, while a fun medley of 'Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep' is followed by Ian's introduction to real music by the invention of the 'Top of the Pops' glam classic of Marc Bolan's 'Hot Love'. He calls an end to the evening at 12.30 a.m., with some small retellings of 'Dig It' and 'Maggie Mae' from Liverpool's most famous sons.

He finally leaves the venue at 1.30 a.m. after having taken pictures and being hugged by fans and drinking with me and getting me to sing along to two early songs by early Roxy Music that I never knew before. We both try to work out Spotify on the jukebox and fail to find any Neil Young. Ian, Gaz who is the promoter, and I sing the Doors' 'Light My Fire' before his roadie reminds him of the drive home. Ian McNabb has still got the fever, is still on the run and still brilliant.

Photographs by Mick G. Lydon
















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