Say the words Tainted Love to anyone and the response you will invariably receive will be Soft Cell, a synth duo from the early eighties from the north who went to London seeking fame and fortune like Dick Whittington. Such is the pull of that name that when it was announced in February that they would reunite for a one off gig at London’s 02 the event sold out in hours. Then screenings globally had to be added. All this for a band who achieved best selling British single of 1982 for Tainted Love.
It’s busy at the 02, very busy. There is literally not a seat to be had for what we are promised will be a roller coaster ride through the best of their catalogue; some songs not performed for decades, others not at all and, of course, their slew of hits which cemented their place in pop history. At 2 hours 40 minutes the duo do not disappoint. Arriving rising from the stage here they are. David Ball, master of bleeps and odd clicks and synth riffs that could take somebody’s eye out and the sunglasses wearing Marc Almond in all his art house black clad glory. They both look genuinely shocked at the screaming crowd in front of them and we are off straight into their first single for the Some Bizarre label Memorabilia with the aforementioned beeps and whistles and thundering bass.
The crowd are singing already. We meander through some of the more darker items in their back catalogue, Baby Doll, a tale of the soulless life of the sex worker and a reminder of how porn has casually slid into the mainstream; Monoculture from their brief reunion 16 years ago and a prophetic discourse on how everything is now the same and Darker Times accompanied by a montage of Donald Trump and war. Darker times indeed. As Marc says during a small speech at the start some people may be offended by their accompanying montages, but that everyone is offended by something now and if you are easily offended “what are you doing at a Soft Cell concert?” He has a point and the crowd roar their approval. Soft Cell were always the doyens of the detritus of life, the seedy side of the street encouraging what the music magazine Smash Hits at the time coined “a black clad army of parent haters”. Well how their world has come to pass….. The hits are all there – Torch standing alone with the backing singers adding a subtle layer to the theatrics of Marc’s voice and even their 2001 track Last Chance gets an airing with the surprise addition of the ageless Mari Wilson sharing vocal duties.
Nearly three hours later of non stop dancing including to the new single Northern Lights, a homage to northern soul and with a video filmed at Manchester’s very own Twisted Wheel, and the gears shift from the less commercial into their juggernaut of chart toppers. Starting with What via Bedsitter to the one and only Tainted Love. “Manson’s was okay, it was alright” says Marc and the crowd tut and boo their disapproval at this comment and we are off into the 12” version. Is anyone still sat down? I can’t see anyone and the crowd are now well into taking over vocal duties for each song. Then comes one song that the crowd of fans have been shouting and waiting for; 1981’s Sex Dwarf, a track that was notoriously banned from MTV and whose accompanying video provoked a raid on their management offices under the Obscenity Act. This was the 1980s and now it wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. How times have changed.
“Well I think that’s about it then” teases Marc and David actually leaves the stage only to re-appear when Marc says that there is one other song and one we all have to sing together. Say Hello, Wave Goodbye. The pink flamingos of the titular nightclub are held aloft, the phone lights come on and I see grown men and women with tears in their eyes. A glitter canon fires and we realise this was it. This was our chance to say hello and wave goodbye. Cheers and tears. As farewells go it was a mixture of glamour and sleaze, tawdry and tinsel and, like Memorabilia says, I have my ticket “to show you I’ve been there”…..