Review: The Macc Lads
O2 Academy, Newcastle, 9 November 2019
There’s an elephant in the room here, of course: The Macc Lads.
Back in the 80s and 90s when they were doing the rounds originally, they were, let’s say, a touch…controversial., which is one of the reasons that so many places banned them. That and the fact that the gigs themselves were known to get a bit…lairy. They are, on a number of levels, a pretty offensive band, but, like a lot of other things, it depends on the levels you accept them at. I never really bought into the idea that this was entirely at face value, and always saw them as cartoonish caricatures(1), laughing at a certain type of culture at the time they began, and maybe even a precursor of a certain type of “lad” culture before it was co-opted by the type of middle class metropolitan boys who wrote for Loaded . That said, not everybody feels that way about it. They remain, for me though, a signiifcant memory of my teens and early twenties and I wanted to revisit it briefly.
Tonight, as Muttley mentions, it is thirty years, to the night, that The Macc Lads played Zoots in Newcastle, on the night the Berlin Wall came down. I saw them around a month later in Middlesbrough on the same tour. A fair bit has changed since then, but some things haven’t. One of those is the amount of beer being slung around at the front. There’s a lot less jumping around than there used to be, mostly because of the risk of hip dislocations and the lingering smell of deep heat that would inevitably result come the morning; it is by-and-large, a middle-aged crowd, and mostly (but by no means exclusively) male. The merch stall is doing fairly brisk business, with plenty of people wandering round in Tshirts bought on the night(2). I’d not been in the O2 Academy before, but it’s a nicely atmosperic venue. We are downstairs, because upstairs Ferocious Dog are playing: on the face of it, a slightly different proposition, though there’s just the tiniest bit of crossover judging by the queues to get in. The support band are OK, fairly meat and potatoes rock/punk, with some politcal-ish lyrics, and they keep telling us who they are after every bloody song, so that we’ll (and maybe even they) remember. It doesn’t work.
The thing that often got lost in amongst all the previous outrage at the time was that, as a band, they could actually play a bit. Now, of course, thirty years on, they’re a bit older, a bit balder, can even play a bit better, and the sound systems are better too, so it gives them a bit of added beef. They come on in a subtle understated way…
But once that’s done, they get down to the job in hand. The set list is pretty much what you’d expect if you know the band at all, with stuff from across the back catalogue, most of which the audience know pretty much off by heart, and sing along to with gusto. The between songs banter with the audience gives a clue as to just how far in their cheeks they have their tongues rammed, with “letters” to the band, Muttley “cleaning” his bass off with a towel, and exhortations to chuck more piss at them, which of course the crowd love, and obviously obey, because the beer does fly around all night.
But again, the key is that they are a pretty tight band, and a decent sound mix makes them sound good tonight. They even manage to play Fluffy Pup (a song that always makes me laugh), though unfortunately tonight not with the kazoo accompaniment, oddly enough. The pace is pretty much full on all the way through, though it does even manage to wind up slightly as we approach the end, and Blackpool.
Then comes the encore, finishing with what arguably their most famous song: Sweaty Betty, which has the crowd bellowing along, before leaving pretty satisfied with the evening’s enterainment.
(1) Even back then, most of the artwork and the merch was cartoonish, like a very rude version of The Beano, which is another thing that hasn’t changed. The Tshirt I bought was a pretty old-school design.
(2) Slightly bizarrely, the Tshirts are a reasonable £15, but a woolly hat is £20. Uh?
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