sun 25/09/2022

Music Reissues Weekly: Ultravox! - Live At The Rainbow 1977 | reviews, news & interviews

Music Reissues Weekly: Ultravox! - Live At The Rainbow 1977

Music Reissues Weekly: Ultravox! - Live At The Rainbow 1977

Before their first album is out, John Foxx & Co are on fire

On stage at The Rainbow, 19 February 1977, John Foxx ignores the 'Hot Rods' chants

Eddie and the Hot Rods played London’s Rainbow on 19 February 1977. A big deal, the Saturday headliner was at the largest venue they’d been booked into to date. Their debut album Teenage Depression had been issued in November 1976 and this confirmed them as an on-the-up band just as punk was asserting itself.

At The Rainbow, the pub rockers debuted a new line-up – former Kursaal Flyers guitarist Graeme Douglas joined them for the first time. Crucial to their future, he would co-write their summer 1977 smash single “Do Anything you Wanna Do.” Their label, Island Records, recognised this as a benchmark show and, in June 1977, released an EP of four tracks from the gig. There were also cameras there – the date was captured in full.

Ultravox! Live At The Rainbow 1977The film of the Hot Rods show catches the nature of their audience. Long-ish hair, denim, male – not punk, not tribal, nothing to do with fashion. The band's set drew heavily from Teenage Depression and their great 1976 EP Live At The Marquee. “We are filming and recording tonight so you gotta go mad,” singer Barrie Masters told the Rainbow crowd.

All this is of great consequence to the Hot Rods and their graduation from pubs, but it is not the end of the 19 February 1977 story. Their support band was also filmed and recorded. Ultravox! was that support band.

Fellow Island signees, they had toured supporting the Hot Rods in December 1976 at dates outside London. It was a curious pairing: the meat-and-potatoes headliner dealt in a souped-up R&B; the lower-billed band were unproven art-rockers who merged an early Roxy Music vibe with the punk ambience in the air. The Rainbow show was important for Ultravox! too as they were also appearing before their biggest audience so far, and their debut single “Dangerous Rhythm” was out the day before the show. Their eponymous first album hit shops a week later. Few in the audience would have been familiar with the band.

In the wake of the Rainbow show, a few tracks recorded there emerged onto record. “Slip Away” was the B-side of the peerless May 1977 single “Young Savage” (the audience is jarringly heard chanting “Hot Rods”); “Modern Love” was one side of a free single with early pressings of second album, October 1977’s Ha! Ha! Ha! and “The Wild, the Beautiful and the Damned” was on the four track, all-live Retro EP in February 1978 (released a full year after the Rainbow show: these were speedy times, a fact Island Records seemed unaware of). As for the Ultravox! footage, the show surfaced on bootleg VHS in the mid-Eighties. The Eddie and the Hot Rods concert film was released on DVD in 2013.

Ultravox! - Live At The Rainbow 1977_posterEarly last year, Universal Records (who hold the rights to the Island catalogue) quietly deposited the Ultravox! Rainbow show onto the internet. There were seven tracks: one chunk of video for each. There was also a download-only audio version with nine tracks. The nine tracks are collected on this year's recent Live At The Rainbow 1977 album.

It’s probable a limited amount of people are aware of the album or that the Ultravox! Rainbow footage can be seen. If this is the case, it’s a pity as what’s on offer is extraordinary – the band is on fire, and had already moved beyond their as-yet unissued first album. Indeed, half the imminent album is ignored.

“Slip Away,” “Wide Boys,” “Satday Night in the City of the Dead,” The Wild, the Beautiful and the Damned” and “Dangerous Rhythm” were on the album. “I Came Back Here to Meet You,” “Modern Love,” “T.V. Orphans” and “I Won’t Play Your Game” were not. The latter four – each melodically instant and edgy – were regularly in their live set at the time but no studio recordings have surfaced. None were included on singles or Ha! Ha! Ha! – although parts of “T.V. Orphans” were repurposed for the album’s “Fear in the Western World.”

Ultravox! - Live At The Rainbow 1977_FoxxDespite being a support band playing before a partisan audience at The Rainbow, Ultravox! are energised and forceful. Frontman and songwriter John Foxx constantly moves – maybe it’s for the cameras, but this is how he was during this period. The music doesn’t have the chilly edge of the first album but is hard, jagged and very direct. Only “Dangerous Rhythm,” the single they were ostensibly promoting, allows breath to be taken. Played at the end of the set, it feels tacked on. While the music is not punk as such, the attitude of moving forward and not playing the promo game is explicitly punk.

Live At The Rainbow 1977 is important to the 1977 jig-saw as it enhances understanding of this crucial year. An innovative band lumped in with punk were saying their first album was already history – even though it was not yet in shops. They were progressing so rapidly that a chunk of their repertoire never made it onto their second album. If they are other live shows and unreleased studio recordings ("Storm of Things" is another early song played live which was never issued) by the John Foxx-period  Ultravox!, they need to be issued.

Unfortunately, little trouble has been taken with this significant release. The sleeve and label do not have the date, just “1977.” The back cover features a photo of the band from October 1977, not the period of the show. There are no liner notes. No one would know what's heard relates to a filmed concert. Evidence of effort or research is lacking. Such inattentiveness demonstrates a regrettable “will-this-do” attitude. Even so, get this – what's in the grooves is terrific.

@MrKieronTyler

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