I had a choice between Zoetermeer, generally viewed as the least enjoyable city in our part of the country and Hengelo, a cozy little town very close to the middle of nowhere. Because attending my first China Crisis gig in Holland was going to be an ‘in-out’ affair anyway, conviviality lost to accessibility. On the train ride over I wondered if the band’s founding members Gary Daly and Eddie Lundon had a preference for performing in far-out places even back in the eighties. It would explain how a synthpop devotee like myself, who as teenager didn’t miss out on a single show by Tears for Fears, OMD or Depeche Mode was able to grow up without ever seeing China Crisis play live. The fact that the band’s first concert in this country in three decades took place last year in Dalfsen, bang in the geometrical centre of the middle of nowhere, would confirm this suspicion.
I was actually going see China Crisis for the first time in 2002 in Glasgow as part of the Here & Now tour, but I got lit and couldn’t find the venue until China Crisis were allready into the last song of their set. This was on the eve of a eighties revival that has still to subside. It’s a revival that has brought forth great new indie bands, many of which we covered on this blog, and it also put several old eighties bands back into the limeight. Not China Crisis, however. Although Eddie and Gary kept playing small gigs on a regular basis throughout the noughties, news of a new album did not arise until two years ago. Autumn In The Neighbourhood was finally made available on the 6th of June of this year to 946 pledgers, amongst whom undersigned. I will review the album once it becomes more widely available. Last Thursday at Zoetermeer’s De Boerderij Gary Daly and Eddie Lundon seemed to be at odds about when that is going to be. The fact that they only played two songs from their new album suggests that it might still be a while. It’s not much use warming up an audience to an album they are unable to buy. And so the evening became, what Louis van Gaal would call, a feast of recognition.
‘When I think of the most the most humble and unpretentious band in the world I don’t think of China Crisis, simply because I never think of China Crisis.’ I remember this as the opening line of a review of What Price Paradise (1986) in the rather pompous Dutch eighties arts magazine Vinyl. I did a lot of thinking about China Crisis myself in those days, but the reviewer had a point when the band’s disposition was concerned. The synthpop generation weren’t big on showmanship, but they were big on image and China Crisis had none. They lacked provocative hairdos, they weren’t gay or androgynous and they dressed neither like SM-practitioners nor accountants. Their videos were unremarkable and their albums lacked the obligatory Bauhaus inspired artwork. To top things of China Crisis made ‘music for adults’ (from another review) which of course is a mortal sin in the universe of funk pop a roll. It wasn’t entirely true of course. I was thirteen when I bought Working with Fire & Steel (1983) and I relished it with every fibre of my pubescent being. Obviously China Crisis were less about adolescent sex and juvenile vexation and more about golden beach and yellow sand, but for forty minutes each day they had me believing in everything and everyone as only a young person could (and people on GHB).
China Crisis are a romantic pop group, but their affectivity has never been glamorous in a New Romantic of R&B way. Even after Walter Becker had polished off most of the rough edges in the production of Flaunt The Imperfection (1985) there remained a quirkiness to the band’s sound. It may have prevented them from breaking through to a mainstream audience, but it also earned them a loyal and patient following. About 150 of us gathered in de Boerderij thursday evening to see Gary, Eddie and veteran session guitarist Colin Hinds being backed by very young rhythm section and keyboard player. Normally I enjoy seeing some fresh blood on stage when attending a golden oldie gig, but seeing as singer Gary seems to be in the prime of his live and the youngsters behind him cannot spare a smile I would have preferred some other old geezers filling the stage instead. Perhaps that unambiguous electropopsongs like Scream Down At Me, Hanna Hanna and Animals in Jungles would be more fun to play for the youthful musicians, but tonight it doesn’t get more bouncy than King In A Catholic Style. The band play sufficiently, Hinds plays brilliantly and Gary Daly masters the whole ceremony like the front man I never imagined him to be. He reveals a gift for amusing stage banter and a slightly disturbing fixation on reefer.
It’s difficult to imagine two pop personas, brought forth by the eighties, differing more than Morrissey and Gary Daly. Now at middle age the singers show some similarities; not only of dress and coiffure and but also through their flamboyancy and temperament. Only when Daly starts singing the comparison goes awry. His characteristic timbre incites the singing praises of finer things, not so much the burning down of discos or the hanging of DJ’s. This amiable Morrissey Of Mushy sings us through a set that consists band-favourites (before the break) and ‘hit’singles (after). Christian, Black Man Ray and Wishful Thinking do well with the crowd, but I find that they did not stand the test of time as well the hand-picked tracks in the first part of the gig. Highlights of the evening are Diary Of A Hollow Horse (played both in an acoustic and a full band version, thanks to technical difficulties), the reggae songs Strength Of Character and Autumn In The Neigbourhood and a fantastic ‘Christian style’ cover of Carol King’s It’s Too Late. Being a long time fan and pedantic record collector I’m of course obliged to say that I would enjoy hearing some of the band’s fantastic b-sides, but in truth, having finally seen, heard and shaken hands with two of my most elusive musical heroes is enough of a treat for one night. And who knows, it’s never too late.