Review: Finley Quaye @ Sound Control, Manchester

Finley Quaye returned to Manchester for an extra long set of classics and gorgeous reggae tunes. If only he'd look at his audience...

Jayne Robinson

Date published: 14th Oct 2010

Reviewed by: Jayne Robinson

Photo by: Steve Campbell

When: 7th October 2010

The air is thick with the smell of anticipation (oh, is that what it was?) at Sound Control Manchester. Having cancelled his last few Manchester shows at short notice, troubled singer Finley Quaye is a bit of an uncertainty. The artist – whose private life has overshadowed his music on numerous occasions - is of course best known for the 1997 album Maverick A Strike that propelled him into Brit-Award stardom. Though a quick look at his impressive discography - and tonight's extra long set list - demonstrates that he's hardly been sat around on his arse since then.

Support comes from local reggae act Extra Love; the growing crowd skanking cheerfully along with the improvised jamming and MC sessions taking place on stage. Extra Love bound charismatically off stage, and Finley’s backing band take their place – launching immediately into the gig with no introduction.

But wait! Why are you playing already? Finley’s not here yet!

And then the vocals begin. What’s going on? Who’s that singing? Oh, it’s Finley. There he is. Stooped so low over his microphone that he’s practically hidden, and turning away from the audience with one side of his face concealed from view.

Seems Finley is a little shy of strangers.

After an opening track that we didn’t know (sorry), ‘The Way of the Explosive’ from That Album  follows. And then, a rare treat for so early on in the set; ‘Even After All’.  And while his stage presence seems a little lacking, his voice is all there - those familiar warm reggae flavoured  tones curling around us like an old friend. Ah, Finley, we’ve missed you.

Four more songs pass before Finley can even bear to acknowledge the audience, the baby faced crooner choosing instead to retreat to the back of the stage in between songs to take refuge in banter with his backing band. Well, it was very dark in there, after all. Perhaps he’d thought that this was just a sound check.

The first moment of recognition comes in the form of a surprised ‘thanks very much everyone’, following a delicious rendition of 1997 hit ‘Sunday Shining’.  Ah, so he does know we’re here.

It’s perhaps only when you witness an artist who’s scared of his audience (or perhaps he just didn’t care?) that you realise the true importance of stage presence. With no connection to the audience, Finley shirked his role of front man for at least the first half of his set, and was inevitably overshadowed by the presence of his tight backing band and exuberant singers.

But still the tunes came thick and fast, virtually flawless in their delivery.  ‘My Love’, ‘Spiritualized’, ‘It’s Great When We’re Together’ and the William Orbit collaboration ‘Dice’ follow, all performed delightfully, with Finley and his band clearly all enjoying themselves and sharing plenty of banter. With eachother.

And then, something magical happened. Almost as though he was being prodded in the back and forced to speak, Finley opened his mouth and addressed the audience. And actually, he was pretty funny. Chatting to the adoring crowd, making jokes and finally looking as though he was pleased to have us there, the previously shy frontman transformed before our eyes.

The gig continued to gather pace, with Quaye commanding the room rather than hiding away from it, and ending in a joyous, swoony performance of ‘Your Love gets Sweeter’. Of course.

An encore in the form of a half-attempted version of Hendrix's 'Cross Town Traffic' would have been stunning, if only our hero could remember the words. Moving on instead to an improv jamming session with the entire band, the gig concluded in carnival style, with Finley having to be practically dragged off the stage by the end of the show.

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