Arts: Edinburgh: Take my tears...

ON FIRST impressions, you would be forgiven for thinking that Marc Almond is about to saw his backing band in half. Dressed in a long black coat and parading a sculpted black quiff, he only lacks the top hat and leotarded assistant for the full magical effect. Indeed, for a man whose career is supposedly at its lowest ebb - a couple of shabby albums and a long drug addiction have seen to that - Almond seems spectacularly cheerful. With not a thread out of place, he is the picture of glamour and well-being, a far cry from his Soft Cell days when a bloated pallor lent him the look of a pickled egg.

Almond describes the show as "a journey through my nightworld" and prowls around the stage like an imperious ringmaster. "This isn't an audience- participation show, you know," he snaps at a heckler, "now shut up and listen." No one opens their mouth again.

Almond claims that age has mellowed him, but his songs would indicate that he is not ready for the pipe and slippers just yet. Prostitutes, gangsters, pimps, rent-boys and transexuals are just a few of the characters that flit in and out of Almond's songs and, although such preoccupations smack of sixth-form poetry, he delivers them with the kind of infectious swagger that makes you want to rush home and burn your sensible shoes.

There is an appealing drollness in his songwriting: "There is a bed/To lay my head/When I am dead." And his chatter between songs brims with self-deprecating humour. He muses over his "chequered" career with a mix of melancholy and mirth. Where most would recall parties, the groupies and, God forbid, the music, Almond's enduring memory is of being thrown into a vat of sludge on TV's Tiswas and baking mince-pies on cookery shows.

There is a note of horror in his voice as he recalls the Soft Cell years, but he seems ready to embrace the numerous humiliations that lie ahead. "It's amazing how, despite everything, you suddenly become `available' again. It's like `OK, I'll do GMTV'."

Beneath the bravura, there is an element of anxiety which informs Almond's work, particularly in the stream of references to past misfortunes. But the overall feeling is one of a seasoned cabaret artist having the time of his life. With evenings like these you get the feeling that, in Almond's case, the show has only just begun.

Fiona Sturges