Marc Almond in Cambridge 7th May 2019

“I have lived each single moment, as a man of flesh and blood
with my soul and all my senses open wide
I have lived and tasted everything
that called out to be tried
I’m afraid of neither heaven nor of hell
Never caring if I had a soul to sell.”

Marc’s passionate rendition of Charles Aznavour’s song “I Have Lived” opened a two hour celebration of life, largely focussed, as Marc pointed out, on songs written by dead artists. He shared that with no new album to promote he was undertaking this mini-tour for the pure pleasure of making music. Many of us life-long Willing Sinner Gutter Heart Cell Mates are very grateful.

I was 16 years old when Marc first appeared on Top of the Pops in 1981, black clothes, bangles and eye liner, with Dave Ball equally mysterious and strange on the keyboards. I was soon swooning to The Girl with the Patent Leather Face, Memorabilia and the sublime Tainted Love 12” with my teenage girlfriends – the other boys around were not so keen. Non Stop Erotic Cabaret arrived, and via the sublime electro from Dave’s keyboards and Marc’s sensuous lyrics we teenagers had our eyes opened to a fascinating, hidden, underworld of sex, secrets and sleaze. Marc’s prolific output in the early 1980s – two Marc and the Mamba albums (that quickly became, and remained, my favourite records of all time) and Soft Cell’s Art of Falling Apart and This Last Night in Sodom – played a role in helping me find an identity and warned me against the horrors of conformity, of being ‘normal’ in a messed up, hypocritical, world.

Last Autumn I was at the 40 year party, One Last Night, Soft Cell’s concert at the 20,000 capacity O2 Arena in Greenwich – a magnificent occasion and performance that affirmed Soft Cell’s role as musical pioneers, punk romantics, and critics of society’s shallowness. But while the show was amazing, my inner emotional journey at the O2 was limited by sitting high up in the balconies, not being able to dance and express myself. When I got home my friends in spirit complained that I had not invited them to join me in the O2, cutting myself from internal companions who wanted to enjoy the show with me and so not giving myself internal emotional space to expand into.

I decided not to make the same mistake this time. I smoked before I went in, and chatted to the homeless people begging outside the Corn Exchange. I found the empty upstairs bar, chatted to the lovely staff and said a prayer to the divine mother. I went to my seat on row H which – thrill of thrills – turned out to be the front row! Then I started inviting in my dead friends, who in turn were opening the gates to more spirits – I was soon feeling very warm inside, faces of long lost friends were appearing in my inner vision, I found I was giggling and excited.

Then Marc came on and delivered for us through song the spirit of Aznavour, the Yardbirds, Dusty Springfield, T-Rex, David Bowie, Jacques Brel, Edith Piaf, Lou Reed and plenty of Scott Walker. Marc’s rendition of Walker’s Big Louise, which he recorded on the first Mambas album, lifted me into the arms of paradise. Marc sang Aznavour’s What Makes a Man a Man, taking me back to the epic finale of the Twelve Years of Tears concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 1993. We also had a few living legends pop in – Cher (A Woman’s Story, one of Marc’s solo singles from the ’80s) , Mary Hopkins (Those Were the Days) and Lana del Rey’s Dark Paradise.

We were treated to a selection of some of Marc’s own fine cuts – that’s got to be the first time I’ve heard him sing Stories of Johnny since the ’80s – we got A Lover Spurned, Pearly Spencer, Say Hello…. plus a stripped down, acoustic version of Bedsitter that brought out the emotional reality of the song, nice to hear Marc acknowledge that it’s a really sad song! Yet there we all were in the 80s, gleefully singing it at the top of our voices, celebrating the misery of the lonely comedown! I’m sure on some level this did us a lot of good! I loved that Marc included the concluding Bedsitter line, ‘I’m waiting for something, I’m just passing time,’ for that is how I now can look back on my own bedsitter years in the late 1980s, when I was a gay caterpillar out in the big dangerous city hungrily feasting on the pleasures to be found. I was waiting for something though at the time I didn’t realise it was a wake up call.

My wake up call came through HIV – in the mid 90s I lived with full blown AIDS for 3 years. That was my cocoon period, when my internal understanding of who I am went through a complete transformation. I responded to the onset of AIDS by diving into a study of the world’s mystical traditions – and while my body was seemingly dying, my spirit came alive. I celebrated the darkness I was undergoing – just as indeed we have been able to celebrate the shadow side of life through Marc Almond’s music over four decades – for through that darkness I was finding golden seams of life’s true treasures. I found myself to be a channel, witch or ‘gatekeeper’ to the spirit worlds – then I discovered that queer shamans had played this role in nature-based pre-monotheistic religions the world over, that this was the case also in ancient Europe until our roles were taken over by the Christian Church, backed up by the armies of the state, from the 4th century Roman Empire onwards. I learnt that the Christians spent 1000+ years destroying the holy trees and sacred groves where the European peoples had worshipped for millennia, and eliminating any memory of the link between homoeroticism and gender non-comformity with nature and the spirit world.

This gay butterfly emerged from the AIDS cocoon and ever since my life has been dedicated to reclaiming this lost part of the queer soul, of our roles as channels and connectors of the worlds, and reclaiming the understanding that through intimacy with nature all humans can feel, intuit and know our place in the whole, rediscover our intrinsic oneness with all life – and with the dead too. The spirit world is not far from us, from a vibrational perspective, but unless we open our minds and hearts to it we will never be aware of it, will not experience it. One of the best ways to open our hearts to the dead, I’ve learnt over the years, is to celebrate them in song. Thanks Marc, you made a lot of living and a lot of dead people very happy that night.

For me, the heavens fully opened and the angelic love poured through the venue as Marc concluded the show with My Hand Over My Heart. I know a Marc show pretty much has to end with Tainted Love and Say Hell -, I have got used to that – so thanks Marc for slipping in your epic love song between the two, to help us Gutter Hearts not only look at but also truly touch the stars.

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