Amazingly this was the first time I had seen the Icicle Works. Led by Ian McNabb they have been around for nearly 40 years since forming in Liverpool in 1980. It is criminal that their chart success has been so limited. In the UK they only made it into the top 50 singles chart once. That was back in 1984 with “Love Is A Wonderful Colour” which reached number 15. The band release five studio albums between 1984 and 1990. Since 1993 McNabb has issued eleven albums. His second solo album, ‘Head Like A Rock’ from 1994 was recorded with Crazy Horse and was nominated for the Mercury Prize that year. Sadly it lost out to M People. A point which McNabb poked excellent fun at during his set at the Brudenell.
This show was billed as an Icicle Works gig, although we were treated to a few McNabb solo outings as well. Ian McNabb is a stunningly talented singer songwriter and guitarist. His older songs have really stood the test of time well and the newer songs sound fresh and sometimes edgy. At times his playing reminded me of Neil Young at his best perhaps during his ‘Weld’ album days. The band played two sets with a fifteen minute break, by my estimation they were on stage for just under three hours. That is on a par with some of the best Springsteen shows for length. It would be difficult to pick out any low points from the show. But particular highlights in the first half were Icicle Works songs; “Evangeline”, “Seven Horses”, “Starry Blue Eyed Wonder” and a McNabb solo tune, “Hurricane Elaine”.
The second set was relatively evenly split between Icicle Works songs and Ian McNabb solo excursions. The best of the second set for me were; “I’m A Genius”, “Fire Inside My Soul”, “Understanding Jane” and “Clarabella (Come To The Window)”. The latter is the mountainous, emotional blockbuster of a song that closes his new album ‘Star Smile Strong’. Just when you thought things couldn’t get any better, I honestly would have gone home happy at the end of the second set, the band came back to the stage for a heartfelt, soulful and powerful encore of three Icicle Works classics; “Love Is a Wonderful Colour”, “Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream)” and live favourite “Hollow Horse”. McNabb and his and; Matthew Priest on drums, Richard Naiff on keyboards and Roy Corkhill on bass, were on top form and seemed to enjoy the night immensely. The crowd joined in a spirited romp through “Happy Birthday” to celebrate Richard Naiff’s birthday that day. Do not wait as long as I have to see this band, get out to hear them at your earliest opportunity, you will not be disappointed. My thanks to Andy Golborne for his great musical taste and for getting the tickets for this show.
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A fine evening, and brought back lots of memories – and also brought on ringing ears!. Hailing from Liverpool catching on to them early and I’d seen The IW maybe a dozen times in their original form, from a support slot at Larks in the Park (Sefton Park I think 1983, which was televised and is on YouTube) through to their (IMHO) peak with their Blind album and a last show at Manchester Apollo. Despite releasing 4 great albums they never quire cracked it big time and sadly imploded. The second line up on the back of the excellent Permanent Damage album toured round pretty much the same level venues as the original line up left off (Universities and Polytechnics) and my last glimpses of the old Icies were at Bristol Bierkeller and Treforest Poly (I was living in Cardiff at the time) in 1990. They were fabulous – and I still have the T-shirt :-). McNabb has since (often only just) kept his head above water with a long solo career, touring solo or with a small band pretty much constantly and releasing self- financed albums full of great songs and heartfelt playing – occasionally almost breaking out into the big time such as with the aforementioned Head Like a Rock close encounter with Crazy Horse and the Mercury Prize. He unfortunately doesn’t own the rights to the Icicle Works output so Love is a Wonderful Colour will never be a pension for him (the song for instance featured in series 2 of Stranger Things). So buy a ticket or an album and support one of our real British music legends.
Where to start: http://www.ianmcnabb .com and order Star Smile Strong. https://ianmcnabb.bandcamp.com/music for his solo digital downloads.
The Icies 5 album box set for £20 from Amazon is an absolute bargain.