Sunday, November 25, 2012

China Crisis @ 30

Much of today’s music passes through my ears without my brain noticing. Even tunes which prove hugely popular often fail to register. The best, on the other hand, are eternally evocative. Only a really good tune can transport me back in time, sometimes even to the other side of the world, with pin-point accuracy. I can close my eyes and see yesterday.

One such song, which reached the top ten in the UK singles charts in January 1984, invariably reminds me of longing to be elsewhere. I can recall, as a teenager, gazing from my bedroom window upon snow-covered fields which blended into the hazy midwinter sky less than a mile away. The window was probably wide open, letting the heat escape, along with the ethereal sound of China Crisis on BBC Radio 1 singing Wishful Thinking (Figure 52.1).

Figure 52.1: Original 7” sleeve for one of the ’80s’ enduring classics

Copyright © 1984 Virgin Records

Formed in Liverpool by Gary Daly and Eddie Lundon more than thirty years ago, the band enjoyed considerable success in the ’80s, not only in their homeland, but also across the Atlantic and throughout Europe. A colleague of mine from the Home Office – himself a musician, having played with the likes of Chuck Berry and B. B. King – knows Gary well, and vouches for the band’s musical talent, songwriting ability and social awareness. Combining post-punk New Wave influences of thirty years ago with blues and reggae, their style was never easy to pigeonhole.

Of their ten hits, the mellow Wishful Thinking is the standout classic. While the smooth keyboards, blended with bass, pizzicato-style strings and unobtrusive acoustic guitar, render it instantly recognizable, it is the lyrics which set it apart. These days, the line “I see the likeness in his smile and the way he stands” makes me think of my young sons – reason enough to have the song, which I first bought on vinyl, playlisted on my iPod.

Of all the artists whose shows I have been fortunate enough to see over the years – Bruce Springsteen, Paul Weller, Pulp, Moody Blues, Annie Lennox, Mike & The Mechanics, Elkie Brooks, Hot Chocolate, Asia, Simply Red, Queen (last ever performance), Freddie Mercury Tribute at Wembley, Eagles (twice), ELO (three times) and Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds – China Crisis eluded me. Until yesterday, that is. The band announced its 30th anniversary tour a few months ago (Figure 52.2). It was a must, cost and distance no object, and a pleasant surprise trip for my partner (Figure 52.3).

Figure 52.2: Unmissable after waiting thirty years

Copyright © 2011 Eastwood City

Figure 52.3: Tickets for a show I never expected to see

Copyright © 2012 Floral Pavilion

The seven-piece band took to the stage at 8 p.m., with Gary jokingly complaining about the heat from ‘these *%@*ing spotlights’. The audience seemed to know what to expect, and his string of camp remarks broke the ice well. Then came a succession of beautifully crafted songs, all performed slickly and faithfully to their original recordings, but with an exciting spontaneity. Black Man Ray, Christian and Working With Fire And Steel preceded a bouncing rendition of King In A Catholic Style and many well-known album tracks (Figure 52.4). Wishful Thinking came midway through the performance, and it was well worth the thirty-year wait. I closed my eyes as Eddie began to sing – “It’s time we should talk about it ...” – and I could once again see those fields of snow. The only disappointment was that they omitted Arizona Sky, originally released in 1986, and which should, in my view, have become their biggest smash.

Figure 52.4: Photographic equipment prohibited, of course

Copyright © 2012 Paul Spradbery

At 10:30 p.m., we emerged from the theatre into the pouring rain with heads full of treasured memories. If China Crisis were to tour every year, we would definitely make last night a habit. I doubt they will, though. On our part, it’s just wishful thinking (Figure 52.5).

Figure 52.5: Two happy former teenagers

Copyright © 2012 Paul Spradbery

Copyright © 2012 Paul Spradbery