Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre has been a fixture on the British entertainment scene since it opened in 1937. Playing host to music, exhibitions and occasionally sporting events, this famous venue is being knocked down to make way for a set of luxury flats. Despite the backlash towards the idea, it has been passed and the final gig has now taken place. That honour fell to Bombay Bicycle Club on the 13th December and we had the pleasure of being there. When considering the bands that have played this venue, Bombay might have seemed like an anti-climax. However, they turned out to be the perfect band to say goodbye to an iconic venue.
To start this, I believe a few words about Earl’s Court are required to put the gravitas of the gig into perspective. Despite opening in 1937, it didn’t play host to famous bands until 1973 when Pink Floyd took The Dark Side of the Moon there. They returned on numerous occasions (indeed Jamie MacColl of Bombay calculated that David Gilmour had played it more than 27 times – more on him later). Led Zep sold out five nights in 1975, which were widely considered to be the best of their career. Other acts included Slade, Elton John, Queen, Genesis and David Bowie, and that was just in the 1970’s! Since then, the standard has dropped a bit however the venue still boasted the likes of Oasis, Supertramp, Take That, Celine Dion, Morrissey, Muse, Arctic Monkeys and Arcade Fire. Furthermore, between 2000 and 2010, it became the regular host of the Brit Awards. Away from the music, it was the host of Comic Con amongst many other exhibitions. In 2012 it hosted the volleyball competition of the Olympics. All in all, the calibre of quality at Earl’s Court across the years has been as high as any venue in the world.
In the 70’s, Earl’s Court was the best music venue in London to headline, as demonstrated by the quality of acts that performed there. With a capacity of 19,000, including a massive floor space, you can see why. However, the building and transformation of the O2, as well as the move towards stadium gigs has rendered it second-class. Recently, it has been used as a stepping-stone for vaguely famous bands to make the step up to stardom. Muse in 2004 played there as part of their Absolution Tour, and one album later they were headlining Wembley Stadium. Arctic Monkeys played there on the AM tour, which has been their most successful album to date. Despite reportedly bringing in £1bn into the UK economy every year, the plans to redevelop it were signed by Boris Johnson and the curtain has closed on one of the most successful, recognisable and quintessential venues on the London music scene.
The band that were trusted to close the curtain was Bombay Bicycle Club, a London based band. They consist of 4 young men, plus the wonderful Liz Lawrence as a touring member (and un-official fifth member), and in the past 6 years they have released 4 successful albums. They strike me as intelligent people. It wouldn’t surprise me if they’ve planned their rise to this status carefully. After a couple of mildly successful EP’s, they released their debut album I Had The Blues But Shook Them Loose in 2009, an infectious indie album full of catchy guitar riffs and sing-along choruses, which was enough to get them noticed. Their second album, Flaws, was completely acoustic thus proving they were able to adapt to new sounds and their next two releases, A Different Kind of Fix and So Long, See You Tomorrow have seen them experiment with more keyboards and fewer guitars. They have implemented instruments from around the world into their music, throwing together Indian, brass and electronic styles together, in a mix which still retains the catchy appeal of their first album. They started off gaining a solid fan base, increased it by adjusting their style before changing again to a style that they obviously feel more comfortable with. So Long, See You Tomorrow was a well-polished album, which neatly brought together all aspects of their career and probably as a result reached number 1 in the albums chart.
Bombay have never been a chart band, they haven’t had a top 40 single nor are they likely to. However their albums have always been well received, with the last three peaking inside the top 10. The reason for that, and indeed why they make such a good live act, is that they don’t possess a stand out song. Each and every one of their songs is as good as the one before it. They all stand on their own two feet and say potential single, especially evident on So Long in my opinion. I prefer this approach to music, as it makes people buy more than one or two songs at a time. It also means that at gigs you can play album tracks and it is likely that the crowd will still know all the words to them. Upon realising all of this, they went from being a band I like to a band I adore in the space of a few small months. I never get tired of listening to their music, so for me they were the perfect act to close Earl’s Court but I can appreciate why others didn’t share that view.
We had never been to Earl’s Court before, and so were gobsmacked by the realisation of just how big it is inside. It’s tough to compare to anything, my first thought was Olympic sized swimming pool but I’m not sure of the dimensions. The support acts were SiVu and Peace, both of whom were very entertaining. SiVu has a lovely voice whereas Peace are energetic, with some serious talent. They will definitely be a band to watch in the future, especially as they dared to cover Led Zep. Neither was a patch on the main event though, which started with their spoof video looking back upon the Earl’s Court gig 30 years in the future. The video, which has been doing the rounds on Facebook for months now, is a perfect example of how Bombay Bicycle Club don’t take themselves particularly seriously. It used the premise that this Earl’s Court night had gone down in history, propelling the band to immense stardom. Of course, in reality that won’t happen however that tongue-in-cheek nature is another alluring quality of theirs.
There is an argument that with so many styles, Bombay’s gigs can become disjointed, and indeed I’ve seen reviews of this show saying exactly that. Personally, we couldn’t disagree more. They address the differing styles by splitting the gig into sections, starting with the 3rd and 4th albums, having an acoustic break for the 2nd one and then the rockier 1st one before returning to the 3rd and 4th. It’s not disjointed; indeed the differing styles give it character. While bands who make similar songs album after album can be good, changing your style and successfully implementing that into gigs proves you are more talented musicians. Given we had seen them at T in the Park, we knew we were in for a treat, however we didn’t know just how much of one.
Like they had at T, they opened with So Long’s opener Overdone. Bombay have done many riffs in their time, however none match the one which Overdone boasts. Catchy to the extreme, it is a piece of guitar fingering I can listen to over and over again. They extended Overdone by riffing at the end, leading it straight into a genuine goose bumps number, Come To. “It’s hard to see it for all the rust, but I saw it fading and I had some faith in us”. Liz’s and Jack’s (Steadman, the lead singer, Dad dancing all round wonderful guy) voices combine in perfect harmony on what has always been my favourite song from So Long. The high-energy start continued with It’s Alright Now (the first true sing-along from the crowd) and their second biggest single to date, Shuffle. At this point, they brought the first of their collaborators onto the stage to perform Lights Out, Words Gone from A Different Kind of Fix. For years now, Lucy Rose has been an integral part of Bombay. She has provided additional vocals on every album since Flaws, as well as featuring at most live shows. Lights Out, Words Gone is a perfect example of why Bombay works. It possesses a simple structure, with only two verses and then a repeat of the same two lines over and over again at the end, which they somehow manage to turn into an absolute masterpiece. Your Eyes follows, a song that proves they haven’t forgotten their guitar-indie roots completely and not one we had seen at T.
Liz Lawrence took centre stage during Home By Now, and her performance helped it be one of the best songs of the whole evening. It was powerful, it was emotional and the combination was spine tingling. Whenever, Wherever closed the first section, and the acoustic guitars got ready for what we expected to be Rinse Me Down and Ivy & Gold. Both were played, but not before Jamie MacColl (guitarist) dropped the biggest surprise of the night by inviting family friend and legendary musician David Gilmour to join them on stage. Jack was visibly nervous as the band played Rinse with Gilmour before the Pink Floyd guitarist took centre stage to perform Wish You Were Here. Unsurprisingly this got a huge reception, and was certainly one of the highlights. However, it is a massive disrespect to Bombay to say the rest of the gig was an anti-climax, as the crowd reception to Ivy & Gold was huge, proving that this is a band that are capable on big stages and following legends. The upbeat acoustic number about a hung-over morning preceded the acoustic closer of I Had the Blues. The Giantess has the same riff as Emergency Contraception Blues, the heavier album instrumental opener, and for years BBC have combined the two into one song at their gigs. I can certainly see why, as the result is a monster of a song that a few years ago would have been a near perfect closer, now it is a excellent bridge between sections.
Evening/Morning and Dust On the Ground were well received by the crowd (one annoying guy next to me kept proclaiming them as “classsicccc”), particularly bassist’s Ed Nash’s sections during the former. The bass was turned up as loud as possible; leading to a heart-thumping introduction to the chorus we all bellowed out “I am ready to owe you anything”. How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep, another simple structure from A Different Kind of Fix, the dance-party Indian themed Feel, still retaining it’s brilliance live, and Luna, with Rae Morris, are all strong songs meaning the quality wasn’t waning as the gig neared it’s conclusion. Throughout the gig, Bombay were extending songs and riffing, allowing drummer Suren de Saram the chance to showcase his considerable talent with the sticks. Behind the band was a big screen and circles, which were used to show animations during the new songs. For the older ones, animations hadn’t been made and so during these drum solos, they showed a bird eyes view of the drumming, giving a clear impression of how technical it was. As for the animations, they included a skeleton lifting his skull off his shoulder and dancing during Shuffle and a cobra shaking from side to side before bursting during Feel. All done in the style of the album covers, Bombay clearly put a lot of thought into their live shows.
Closing with the incredibly infectious Always Like This, which has always been one of Bombay’s finest moments, and album title track So Long, See You Tomorrow (“when you reign it, down lights come” – they never do simple lyrics), they left the stage as heroes. If anyone in the audience had doubted their ability, they surely couldn’t anymore. Bombay had rocked Earl’s Court, had given it one final goodbye, surprised everyone by bringing out Gilmour and kept the quality and intensity up throughout. Far from being disjointed, this was a band at the top of their game. What other band could play so many songs from their worst charted album and yet still have them all known by the crowd? Indeed, the old songs weren’t finished there as they came back on to play What If, opened by yet another drums solo. Jamie then said we needed to give Earl’s Court a fitting farewell (I already had the title for this blog!) and they finished in the only way they could. Carry Me is built upon a sample of a Lucy Rose song and put together with a football chant–like chorus, therefore making it the perfect sing-along to finish any gig with. These two hours were perfection indeed.
Earl’s Court is steeped in history, Bombay Bicycle Club are rich with potential. The coupling of the two was a stroke of genius from the various promotional and management teams, however unlikely it seemed. The future of Earl’s Court is now murky at best, we don’t know when the bulldozers will set in nor do we know how the flats will turn out. It’s a sad thing to be pulling down a venue so iconic that it deserves protective status. I accept that change happens, and that this gives lesser-known venues bigger bands in London however we should preserve some of our history else we will have nothing left to show off about. If this is the end for Earl’s Court, it is surely merely the beginning for Bombay. As Jamie, Jack and Ed played the end riff to What If in sync, standing on the amps it was clear they were a group, together in perfect harmony. They are at home playing these venues and hence this won’t be the biggest gig of their careers. None of us will see another gig, exhibition or sporting event at Earl’s Court but all of us will hear from Bombay Bicycle Club again and should you get the chance, never pass up the opportunity to see them live. I personally have only seen one band I would consider better live, and even then I’d say Bombay have the potential within themselves to match Muse’s shows. They have the tunes, they have the light show and they have the visual aids. So long Earl’s Court, Bombay will see the world tomorrow.