This McAlmont and Butler article was written by Fraisia Dunn, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Macon Oxley
Without Suede, there is no way that a generation of indie kids would have found out about McAlmont and Butler. Their only true chart success came in 1995 with ‘Yes’ – a joyous, soulful break-up song that featured soaring strings, beautifully-composed guitar and soulful vocals with strong lyrics. With its carefully constructed composition and nods to Northern soul, along with all things flamboyant and queer, it was an oddity in the 1995 scene. However, the strong fanbase of Bernard Butler, former guitarist in Suede, knew no bounds and, when coupled with the vocal talents of McAlmont, ‘Yes’ became a firm sing-along favourite, despite being very different from the generic Britpop of the time.
On a dingy Friday night in Bristol, McAlmont and Butler delivered the goods and lit up the atmosphere of the generally sterile O2 Academy. It helped that their support and backing band were none other than three members of gorgeous group, The Magic Numbers – another band that have few hits, but boast a loyal following due, in the main, to their wonderful harmonising and excellent guitar skills. So, the audience were nicely warmed up by ‘Forever Lost’, The Magic Numbers announced their last song and, to the audience’s delight, McAlmont and Butler joined them.
This was to return the favour of The Magic Numbers backing them for the headline set. McAlmont was dressed casually in a fleece and jeans and Butler was sporting a similarly casual style, but the audience didn’t care; the magic they added to ‘Love’s a Game’ was worth it, and the audience was ready for the main act.
After the customary break and trip to the bar to pay for overpriced generic pints, the headliners entered the stage, dressed to impress with a local string quartet, drums, keyboard, bass and backing singers. The O2 stage is rarely this full. These two have not lost any of their ability. In fact, David McAlmont’s multi-octave voice may even be stronger than it was in the nineties. This bijou tour of six dates is in honour of a timely reissue of their debut album, ‘The Sound of McAlmont and Butler’, and it is clear that the audience remembers it well. An early highlight in their hour-and-a-half long set was ‘Where R U Now?’ from their 2002 album ‘Bring it Back’.
McAlmont reminded everyone of old fashioned romance in ‘How About You’ – a song about dating a man in the days when you didn’t just download an app for your phone – and ‘Blue’, a poignant tune about walking in London, saw some shed a tear.
The musicianship of both men and the band is evident; Butler’s job is simply to play sublime guitar. That’s all there is to it, but time and again he drew us down into a pit of joyous, tuneful wailing as his guitar soared through scales, or pulled our heartstrings with an elegant descent into a minor key. With the songs borrowing from soul, jazz and pop, the audience had little choice but to submit to the fun, tears and feistiness of the music.
The encore section was built up, too, with a rendition of ‘You’ll Lose a Good Thing’ – an organ-backed tune featuring the duo, showing off their mastery of the guitar and voice to perfection. ‘Yes’ exploded rapturously, and the big sound filled the room with that soulful tone that Britain was first introduced to twenty years ago. What a treat to have known such a great and accomplished band in 1995. The future is an exciting place for McAlmont and Butler.
The reissue of ‘The Sound of McAlmont and Butler’ is out now via Edsel.