Roddy Frame - Bush Hall, London
Roddy Frame founded Aztec Camera in the early 80s, with the band delivering their phenomenal debut album High Land, Hard Rain to the world in 1983, with sophomore release Knife appearing the following year. By the time LP number three - Love hit the stores in 1987, Roddy was pretty much operating AC as a solo project. Roddy continued releasing under the Aztec Camera banner until the late 90s, releasing his first official solo album The North Star in 1998, followed by two albums this century - Western Skies and the critically acclaimed Surf.
The Edinburgh Gig Archive tells me I first viewed Aztec Camera live at their show at the city's Queens Hall on Tuesday the 20th of December 1983! I caught a handful of AC gigs in the couple of years that followed but sort of lost interest in what Mr Frame was up to until 2002 when I decided to jump back into Roddy's world, heading along to shows at his London Borderline solo residency, where he previewed his upcoming acoustic album Surf.
I've viewed several Roddy shows in the years that have followed, especially during his Surf era, with each one being solo acoustic performances. I've loved them all and have always left each gig blown away by his guitar playing but had always hoped to get the opportunity to see him play with a band again, so it was great news when he announced his first shows with a band in ten years, including two nights at London's Bush Hall.
The venue was heaving by the time Roddy took to the stage, opening his set with AC's 'The Crying Scene' to screams of admiration! The singer was backed by a four piece band, including keyboards and it was a joy to hear Mr Frame "rocking out" once more with a full group, with The North Star's 'Reason For Living' following the opener.
Roddy's set was pulled from all stages of his career, with plenty of Aztec Camera tracks on offer alongside solo material but Roddy's last two albums got slightly short shrift - I assume that's because he's played the tracks on numerous occasions in recent years. People expecting new material from the singer may have a bit longer to wait as the tour wasn't promoting anything, Roddy was just gigging to give him the opportunity to have fun with a band. There was one new song previewed though, with "White Pony", inspired by the death of filmaker John Hughes as it was a "coming of age" song. It sounded impressive on first listen anyway as it's upbeat and quite catchy.
As good as the new song was it was obvious the crowd were there for Roddy's back catalogue, especially his older Aztec Camera material and it was AC's 'Killermont Street' that seemed the first number to really wow the audience and had them listening with a hushed reverence after the initial roars of approval when the crowd recognised the introduction. 'We Could Send Letters', the song that followed, was the first track unveiled at Bush Hall from High Land, Hard Rain, with four others appearing later in the set. It's obvious that the album is still held dear to many people's hearts, including myself and Roddy and the boys didn't let us down with a breathtaking run through of WCSL, with Roddy delivering a divine guitar solo, leaving me smiling throughout the song. Hey, even the Eastenders drumming towards the end sounded better than on record!
A couple of highlights for me outside the HLHR offerings were The North Star's 'Bigger, Brighter, Better' which saw Mr Frame repeat the ending just for the hell of it so he could play the closing solo again and 'Sun', a track from the final AC album and a song I wasn't familiar with until I watched the Surf era shows, so it was my first experience of hearing the song with its full backing and was certainly worth the wait.
Although Roddy's now in his late 40s he still seemed to have bags of energy and looked a lot younger than his years. I'm sure the woman in the crowd who shouted out that he was in good shape made his day, it certainly had the audience laughing anyway. Roddy's band show did bring out another side of him that hadn't been seen in years as when he wasn't producing his exquisite guitar solos he was thrashing chords out on his guitar like he was channeling the ghost of Joe Strummer at times, throwing himself into the song.
As the set drew to a close the "big guns" were brought out, with 'Oblivious', 'Walk Out To Winter' and final number 'Pillar To Post' just slaying the audience, leading to many fans having a good old singalong and whooping and shouting for an encore after the band had left the stage.
Roddy returned for a solo encore, thanking the crowd who were hushed into silence within a few bars of the introduction to 'Surf', followed by 'Hymn To Grace', with audience members cutting loose again for lively renditions of 'Down The Dip' with its traditional burst of Dylan's 'It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)' at the end, leading to the Scotsman busting out his regular "Elvis" style moves and segueing into 'Birth Of The True'.
The singer welcomed his band back onto the stage for a final run through of Aztec Camera's biggest UK hit 'Somewhere In My Heart' (reaching number 3 back in 1988 pop fans!). I've never been a huge fan of the song but I couldn't help enjoy the Bush Hall performance, and the track had a slightly different vibe to it compared to the recording, reminding me of Springsteen at times and The Cars at others, though that was probably just in my mind! The audience adored it anyway and many were due to return to catch Mr Frame in action again the following night.
Sadly I couldn't attend but I really hope I'll have the opportunity to see Roddy in this form again. Now he's got a band behind him it's the perfect time for a T In The Park King Tut's headline set as I'm sure the AC hits would go down a storm with thousands of celebrating Scots!