This was my second chance to see the band live, the first having been a truncated set because of a late start and a curfew before the venue turned into a nightclub. No such worries on this occasion - the band ended up playing until 1.30am! Not only that, but the venue was ideal for this kind of gig.
Essentially, the Renfrew Ferry is just that - a floating boat anchored on the Clyde - with the band playing downstairs, with plenty of seating and good views from all around on the upper deck. It sounds a bit cheesy, but in fact the venue offered the best of both worlds, with seating for those of wanting just to chill and listen, and plenty of space downstairs in front of the band for the more energetic amongst the audience. The bar staff were refreshingly friendly too, and delivered a mean shandy - most places tend to overdo the lemonade (yeah, I know, not exactly rock'n'roll, but with the band not arriving on stage until well after 10.30pm, and the prospect of not getting home until 3.00am……)
Anyway, digression over. We parked ourselves directly above the band, and for the first time I had the novelty of watching the band from the point of view of the roadies, with a birds eye view of the drumming and all the guitar foot pedals being used. In fact, we were so close that we could have reached over and taken plectrums from the top of the amps. Our vantage point also meant that we got the sound coming from the monitors, which allowed me to hear the solos with more clarity than usual.
The band started confidently with Close My Eyes and as they reached the chorus I was struck how similar they sounded to Fleetwood Mac on this songs, and Heather in her gypsy regalia certainly played up the Stevie Nicks hippy chick role to great effect. From our vantage point, it was highly amusing to see so many guys looking stagewards, jaws dropping with lust……..
The opening set had a good mix of mid-paced tunes set against the slower and longer efforts. I was particularly chuffed to hear Half The Mountain, from its hesitant start to its glorious closing section, and Evergreen is exactly that - the closing guitar solo still sends shivers down the spine. Tracks like The Last Climb benefited from different arrangements, with Angela's flute replacing the violin solo that was on the original studio version, and having been so familiar with the albums for so long now, I was impressed at how well the sounds were recreated so fully live. In fact, the mix throughout the evening was very good indeed.
Alas, I don't know why the band took so long to return for the second set - nearly half an hour - but it almost knackered the good atmosphere that they had built up with the crowd by the end of the first set. Certainly I was getting impatient given the late hour, and it was noticeable that some punters gave up and left for the night - it was almost midnight before they finally came back on stage and Ian began the opening notes of The Night Sky.
Fortunately there was still a sizable crowd left, and by the time the band launched into Winter Mountain, things picked up again. Shrinking Violet was a revelation, as I've played the album often and the song hasn't really sunk in, but once again, hearing it live really knocked me for six with Heather giving it her all in her singing. After that, Noise From My Head seemed a bit of anti-climax, although the chorus was catchy enough, but Return of the King was flat and uninspiring and served only as a useful breather for Heather before she returned for a steaming performance of Never The Rainbow.
Perhaps closing the second set with Heroes Never Die was a bit predictable for regular fans, but it's such a great track to round things off. Optimistic and uplifting in spirit, it always moves me, and gives Bryan a chance to let loose on the guitar solo, with his melodic flurries ringing in the ears long after the final echo. This was one song that I would happily have seen go on and on.
Having played all the other 'epic' songs by now, that only left Mother Nature for the encore, but it gave everyone in the band a chance for a final fling before the show ended, and an appreciative crowd gave them a rousing send-off.
I know that some fans are getting impatient for new material instead of rehashed compilations, and I can't say I blame them. But for folk like myself, tonight's gig was a chance to see a full set of all the best material from the first three albums, as the next time they play this far north the set may have changed to include new material. So perhaps the best way to view the current tour is as an opportunity for the band to draw the line under this chapter in their career and give fans a last chance to hear songs that have been in the set for a long time.
Still, whatever the merits of this point of view, fans can rest assured that when the band head down to their neck of the woods they can look forward to a polished performance of old favourites from the band.
John Stout - 13 October 2002