“Genesis Reinvented” - The debut gig by Mama at the Pacific Road Arts Centre Birkenhead 23rd March 2012. Review and photographs by Alan Hewitt.
Many of our readers were probably like me, mourning the loss of Face Value who called it a day at the end of last year. Fortunately, a new band, phoenix-like has arisen from the ashes of that band and I had the pleasure of taking in their last day of rehearsal and very first gig at the soon to be closing, Pacific Road Arts Centre one of the North West’s finest concert venues.
The rehearsal gave me every confidence that here was another band which the fans would love and one which was prepared to expand the envelope in some surprising ways! Arriving at the venue in time to catch the tail end of the sound check, the band sounded remarkably composed although they admitted in the intervening time before the show commenced to some understandable first night nerves.
These didn’t show as the band took to the stage and opened the show with the medley of or as Phil used to introduce it “pieces from our album called Duke” which incorporated Duke’s Travels/Duke’s End leading into a thunderous version of Turn It On Again, which got the crowd suitably warmed up. One thing was noticeable from the get go, the addition of new boy Mark “The Beast Of Bengal” Conroy on bass and the phenomenal drumming of James Cooper whom some of you may remember from the short-lived Moonlit Nite band, has turned an already remarkable musical unit into a fully fledged band.
The band wisely kept their surprises for the audience in their ammunition locker until the second half of the show and the first half was taken up with re-establishing their credentials with some top notch performances. Land Of Confusion, Abacab and No Son Of Mine effectively blew away any doubts about the ability of the band to pull this off and the end result was some incredible playing all round. Chris O’Connell and John Comish in conjunction with the new rhythm section made Abacab in particular a balls-to -the-wall rocker and a reinvigorated Mr Wilkinson prowled the stage looking suspiciously like Gabriel circa the Secret World tour in a natty waistcoat.
Taking the pace down a peg or two next, the band gave us, as John introduced it “the greatest Genesis single never to be a hit”, Many Too Many was delivered note perfect with particular credit going here to Chris and John Comish who brought this underrated classic to vivid life. Segueing it into the closing section of Musical Box was an inspired decision and the cheers from the crowd as they recognised this evergreen masterpiece seemed to lift the band to even greater exertions.
Misunderstanding and Jesus He Knows Me aren’t particular favourites of mine, but they seemed to go down well with the crowd nonetheless, especially the latter where Mr Wilkinson hammed up in fine style for the crowd.
Ripples was much more to my liking and also to the crowd’s if the cheer was anything to go. Chris and John’s guitar and keyboards literally sent shivers up and down my spine during this one, and John’s vocals have seldom sounded better than they did here. Follow You Follow Me got the assistance of the enthusiastic crowd in singalong mood before the first half of the show was brought to a sensational close with Mama’s very own explanation of the Domino Principle. Musically tight and vocally excellent this one proved beyond any doubt that Mama had arrived as a band and more importantly, as a worthy tribute to the musicians whose music they were interpreting here tonight.
After a suitable break for both band and audience to regain their breath, the second half of the show got under way with the grinding rhythms of the band’s signature tune; Mama and once again the entire band shone throughout this one and the addition of Mark’s thunderous bass, gave this one even more dramatic effect than usual.
This was followed by the first of this evening’s surprises as the band launched into a ragged but extremely enjoyable version of Solsbury Hill which John had teased the audience with by referring to “those Gabriel songs…” well.. It IS a Gabriel song isn’t it? And a wonderful performance it was too. Squonk took us back to the heady days of 1976 and was incredible here - Chris and Mark took this one by the scruff of the neck aided and abetted by James’ percussion which threatened to lift the roof off the arts centre - magnificent stuff!
Another surprise next as Chris launched into Spectral Mornings, cue certain members of the audience going nuts here - once again, broadening the spectrum to include some of the band’s solo classics is no doubt going to bring them to a wider audience and this one was sublime in its execution and Chris’s smile gave the game away!
Returning to more familiar territory next with what is for me “pee break time”. Sorry folks, Throwing It All Away is a song I have always heartily detested. I can’t say the same for the next track though, the only remaining Collins solo song in the set - a majestic In The Air Tonight replete with dynamo percussion and some incredible playing by Chris and Mark. They nailed this one - nuff said!
In The Cage brought us back to the vintage days of Genesis, although a more up to date version with the accompanying medley culminating in the majestic Afterglow, at last restored to the only place it should ever have - there were some vivid memories going through my mind as the band performed this one I can tell you! Each and every member of the band put their heart and soul into this and it was simply magnificent.
Los Endos brought the show to a suitably dramatic conclusion with the band ripping through it as if their very lives depended on it and with a full-throated audience cheering them on each and every step of the way.
Sadly, with time running on the band opted for only one encore tonight but at least it was a classic. I Know What I Like sent everyone home happy and from the comments I heard from fans throughout the evening and after the gig, I think the jury’s verdict on Mama is that they have well and truly arrived - well done to all involved.
As usual, I would like to take this opportunity to thank a few people so here goes. First of all to John W, John C, Chris, Mark and James for having the perseverance to put this together despite the barbs of the sceptics. To Dave , Kevin and Andrew for helping them band put the show on and to the untiring Julie and Janet merch mistresses supreme for all their efforts. A big thank you too to Neil, Steve and Claire at Moonshooter for bringing so many great gigs to us over the last few years - I have no doubt that there will be many more from Mama!