A bitterly cold night in Glasgow begins with a lively fellow looking trashed but enthusisastic… and carries on in much the same vein.
“Have I done something to you, mate? What’s the matter with you? I’m only singing the blues, man, nothing wrong with that“.
Indeed there isn’t: he may be sorely underdressed for the weather and liberally coated in his own lager but there is no doubt our reveller is fully committed to the joys of Glasgow bus travel.
Always an auspicious beginning to an evening and he may be giving off an air of menacing delirium and have the hue of someone not seen daylight in a good while… but that’s exactly the scenario that greets us from onstage at Stereo.
There’s no doubt about it, A Certain Ratio deliver an absolute barnstormer of a gig tonight.
In a way almost unique to this subterranean venue, their thunderously funky and dubby basslines shake the very alleyway outside: it’s at once slightly frightening but entirely excellent.
And all the while during a set that grooves the packed out venue to pieces and causes utter glee amongst the capacity crowd, you can’t help but notice that lead singer Jez Kerr looks like he went to the Hacienda in 1987 and is only just considering whether to call it a night: it’s the death-glow of the eternal dancer; and why not?
When the band are this tight, when songs like a truly stupendous ’27 Forever’ are this good, there really is no need to call a taxi just yet – even more so when the entire band look like they’re having such a blast.
A Certain Ratio have a sound that mixes disco, funk, house and dub with Mancunian grit; a potent and, now as then (they date back to 1977), rather individual blend.
There’s a true northern soul to the band: it’s made to make you dance, to feel joy, but there’s a slightly grim, rainy tinge to things; you want to shake your arse but you’ll always be aware the land of Lowry is just down the road.
The counterpoint to this are the gloriously soulful vocals provided by Denise Johnson: perhaps best known for work with Primal Scream, she gives a deep sheen and depth and a surprisingly healthy glow next to the funky gravediggers beside her.
Notably, the vocals are relatively sparse: even on raucously received crowd-pleasers like ‘Shack Up’, the words on top of the scratchy guitars are perfunctory in that new wave kind of way; chants and musical punctuation as much as anything.
That almost dour perfunctoriness is what stopped A Certain Ratio ever drifting into the more horrific realms of ’80s dance pop: the band may have ex-members who went on to form Swing Out Sister but that full, wine bar, tight white shorts carry on was and is kept at bay.
That said, the traditionally poorly written notes do at one point say, “Matt Bianco but not shit” – I blame the whistles and enthusiastic cowbells and maracas.
Luckily for them and us, lack of vitamin D and some seriously spacey synths keep any risky behaviour of the menu and the urge to order a new-fangled sauvignon blanc and start dressing like Curiosity Killed the Cat is averted.
Instead, everyone in the heaving venue gets to enjoy a seriously excellent evening: hard-hitting, heavy beats, massively basslines, shards of electronica and the odd growl thrown in – marvellous stuff and a real joy.
Highly recommended indeed if only to hear the outrageous groove, thump and terrifying strings of the aforementioned ’27 Forever’ – worth the price of admission alone.
A Certain Ratio seem rather remarkably to be right at the top of their game.
Words: Vosne Malconsorts