Bad Manners, Picture House, Edinburgh
A nostalgic taste of special brew
Wednesday 06 January 2010
Although 2009 was something of a vintage year for large-scale ska revivals, with the Specials reforming to much acclaim and Madness making another of their infrequent forays onto the live circuit with a new album to promote, the news that Bad Manners still exist is unlikely to be a cause for national celebration. An unashamed novelty band whose defining characteristics were an overweight, skinhead frontman and a liking for nonsensical lyrics, the group's acceptance into the premier league of classic rock greats is destined never to occur.
Yet this is also a band who remain adored by a certain brand of middle-aged men with porkpie hats or skinheads of their own and a similar dietary regime to Buster Bloodvessel himself. Big, boisterous blokes, in other words, whose admiration for the 51-year-old Hackney geezer in the oversized, brash leopard-print suit onstage before them is reflected in their mass chant of "you fat bastard", an unlikely term of endearment that Bloodvessel seems happy to welcome.
"I ain't ever gonna change," he bellows in response, although the gastric bypass operation that five years ago saved the singer from chronic obesity and declining health suggests that he may have implicitly disowned his former bad habits. Despite the fact that he doesn't quite join in with the rest of his band's feverish bouncing during "Feel Like Jumping" and slobbishly prods his modest pot belly prior to the signature "Fatty Fatty", Bloodvessel is in no worse shape than most other men of his age.
Still, many of his performing habits are so gauche as to make Liam Gallagher look positively Wildean in comparison. At one point, his trousers are unhitched, dropped to the floor and then flung in his surprised drummer's face; fortunately, a big pair of shorts are being worn beneath. Bloodvessel's huge, plate-like tongue is also a dubious trademark, which he unleashes upon the crowd with proud regularity.
If such boorishness doesn't sound particularly enjoyable, most of the show is more fun than it should have any right to be. Bloodvessel is the only original member of the group left, and the seven youthful replacements backing him are lively and tightly practised, particularly the trio of horn players who keep breaking out into synchronised dance moves during the evening's liveliest tracks, among them "Lorraine", "Wooly Bully", "Special Brew" and "Lip Up Fatty".
One particularly gratifying aspect of the evening was rediscovering just how many entertaining ska-pop hits Bad Manners enjoyed in their early- Eighties heyday, among them a quite joyous rebranding of Millie Small's "My Boy Lollipop" as "My Girl Lollipop" and an only semi-serious cover of Frankie Valli's "Can't Take My Eyes off You".
Although the closing "Can Can" is a garish blight on even Bloodvessel's own output, as a well-executed blast from the past not bogged down in stuffy nostalgia, this show succeeds on its own terms.
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