Wrecking Ball tourOn Tuesday Hampden Park was blessed with one of the most gorgeously sunny days seen all year and a fittingly spectacular concert. For three and a half hours, Bruce Springsteen used his usual magic to turn Scotland’s national stadium into the most intimate of gig venues through a mixture of well-known hits, lesser-known wild cards, sing-alongs and a masterful command of the art of audience participation.

This concert was particularly notable for being on the two-year anniversary of Springsteen’s long-running saxophonist, Clarence Clemons’, death. This occasion was marked by “My City of Ruins” returning to the setlist after being  in semi-retirement for some months. The singer told the crowd to dedicate it to anyone they might be missing in their life and once he began singing the line “when the change was made uptown…” over and over, a line lifted from “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”, a song which details the first meeting of Bruce and Clarence, it was clear where the sentiment was coming from.

As surprising as the return of “My City of Ruins” was, the fact that this was one of the lesser shocks of the evening illustrates just how unpredictable and consistently wild Springsteen shows have always been. After the opening “We Take Care of Our Own” and an unexpected “The Ties That Bind”, Bruce immediately dove into the audience fetching sign requests that have become so standard in the touring process. After collecting what seemed to be at least six (including this reviewer’s own!) he called upon the band to play the almost unknown “Jole Blon”, a cajun traditional which he had recorded with golden oldies singer Gary U.S. Bonds. He described it beforehand as a “band stumper” but given the level of performance the E Street Band gave it was hard to tell and any fans left unknowing of the track were singing the “sha-la-la” chorus by the time it was over. From here, two more requests took place in the form of the early-career “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City” and post-2000 “Radio Nowhere”. It was as if Bruce was trying to show how any request no matter how old or unexpected could be pulled off with a great deal of ease.

One might think that with a show as unpredictable and career-sprawling as this, it could end up feeling directionless and inconsistent but watching, it seemed that every step of the way seemed to be very carefully calculated. The request of “I’m on Fire” into “Tougher Than the Rest” flowed perfectly and when “Atlantic City” and “Murder Incorporated” followed, the thematic and musical fluency was so astounding it was as if this setlist had been planned and rehearsed for weeks.

Throughout the night, the New Jersey singer seemed to be in great spirits, copying the dance moves of anyone who seemed to have a particularly visible groove in the audience and sharing banter with anyone who seemed to have something to offer. At least four fans managed to get up onstage: two women were pulled up for a dance during “Dancing in the Dark” as well as a younger girl getting to play guitar and sing backing vocals on the same track (but not without taking a few pictures while up there). During “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day” Bruce performed the usual ritual of letting a small child sing the chorus through a few times before shouting “come on, E Street Band!” and kicking the song off again. A boogie-woogie version of “Open All Night” showed  Springsteen promising to have everyone in the stadium on their feet within thirty seconds, a promise which was very easily kept.

The night seemed to go on forever and in the least tedious way possible. And just when it seemed it was all over after the poignant tribute to Clarence Clemons in the form of “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”, Bruce let everyone know that this was far from true. “Oh, we ain’t done yet!” came the cry and so the house party was extended through the devices of covering both “Twist and Shout” and “Shout”, especially meaningful given Scottish singer Lulu’s successful version. No party, including the band, seemed to want the marathon gig to end. Even following this and the exit of the band from the stage there was one more surprise for the still eager Glasgow audience: a “rock and roll lullaby” as Bruce put it in the form of a solo acoustic “Thunder Road”, one final heartfelt sing-along before the stadium collapsed with exhaustion and satisfaction.

On a more personal note, walking out of the venue myself and those I had attended it with were literally speechless. Watching a Springsteen concert feels less like being at a gig sometimes and more like some sort of religious enlightenment. To think nights like this happen up to 100 times a year and have been occurring for around 40 years is extraordinary. I whole-heartedly pray more than anything else to do with the music industry that these sort of shows remain a constant for a good while longer.

Some of my Closet Classics are there mainly on musical merit, some mainly on the strength of memories they evoke, but this earns its place on both counts.  I first heard the songs on this EP during my Freshers’ Week at the University of Dundee and I still say that “September”, featured on this EP, is one of the finest pieces of guitar-playing I’ve ever heard live.

Cado Belle was one of 3 bands I saw in a hectic week (the other 2 were Frankie Miller’s Full House and Skeets Boliver, if you must know) that set the scene for 4 years of watching great bands, DJing and generally having a good time.  I did a bit of studying as well, when I had to.  I went along to the gig with my new mate Steve J (still my mate now and a bloody good bloke) in his yellow ex-GPO Morris van, which was great if you were in the passenger seat, but a bit agricultural otherwise.  It had the added advantage of being absolutely impossible to lose in a car park.

We knew nothing about the band, but it was Freshers’ Week and we were determined to do everything that was on offer, especially if it also involved having a few beers.  We discovered that Cado Belle, fronted by singer Maggie Reilly, was a great Scottish soul band with a line-up of drums, bass, keyboards, guitar and sax.  Blue-eyed soul was huge in Scotland in the mid-70s; it was actually a criminal offence to have a band in Scotland without at least 1 sax player at that time.

It’s fair to say that it wasn’t a capacity audience, but we were enthusiastic and the band was exceptional, playing material from their first (and only) album and the eponymous EP.  The set was packed with superb playing and singing from a very accomplished band (we all said “tight” in those days) and we were all having a great time.  And then the band started to play “September”.

Anyone in the audience who had ever picked up a guitar was absolutely speechless as Alan Darby’s guitar gently wept its way through the beautiful extended intro using perfectly controlled feedback over a wash of electric piano to lead the song into Maggie Reilly’s ethereal vocal.  You expected recordings of guitarists to be this good, but it was incredible to see it live.  I won’t say that it changed my life, but it was one of the events that made me realise guitar-playing was only ever going to be a hobby.  When you analyse it, it’s not really much of song because it’s only really one verse but it’s an incredibly evocative piece of music; if you were pretentious, you might even call it a tone poem.

Obviously, I bought the EP as soon as I could get my hands on it and it’s a perfect little mini album.  The other 3 songs are “It’s Over” (a Boz Scaggs classic), “Play it Once for Me” (written by Stuart MacKillop, the band’s keyboard player) and “Gimme Little Sign” (as made famous by Brenton Wood and covered by many others since, including Peter Andre).  All 4 tracks on this EP stand up on their own merits and my vinyl 12” copy has been played to death since I bought it.  I’ve played it to many people including some very gifted musicians and it always gets the same response; stunned silence followed by queries about the band and then the inevitable “Why haven’t I heard this before?”

The band split up in 1979, but maintained loose ties and worked together occasionally.  Colin Tully (saxophone and woodwind) composed the music for the Bill Forsyth film “Gregory’s Girl”, Stuart MacKillop worked with ABBA and continues to work regularly with Maggie Reilly, along with bass player Gavin Hodgson.  Maggie Reilly went on to have hits with Mike Oldfield (including “Moonlight Shadow”) and is still recording and performing.

As for Alan Darby, he’s currently working on the Queen musical “We Will Rock You” in London, but if you run a quick search, you’ll be amazed at what he’s done and the artists he’s worked with.  Strangely enough, Alan Darby’s name has cropped up in conversations decades apart with various people.  In the early 80s, a friend of mine managed a cocktail bar in Covent Garden and told me that Alan worked there as a doorman for a while, which may or may not be true.  Twenty years later, in the early Noughties, during one of many late-night chats with the late Allan Mawn, the subject of Cado Belle came up again.  Allan (who genuinely seemed to know every musician in Scotland) told me that he’d recently spoken to Alan Darby just after his return from a tour in Japan with the Bay City Rollers and that he was currently working with Lulu’s band.  It’s a long way from playing to 150 students at Dundee University Students’ Association and, no doubt, a fascinating journey.  Normally, I would fill a piece like this with links to the music but, unfortunately it just isn’t out there.  If you want to hear a little more Cado Belle, try their MySpace page.

These 4 tracks, and “September” in particular, have been favourites of mine for over 30 years.  They still sound fresh even now and they’ve created a whole set of memories and associations years after they were initially released.  Great songs and playing never get old.