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  • Jack Starr

Blancmange & Stephen Mallinder Review – Synth Legends Light Up the Leadmill

In a world of nostalgia bait and half-hearted cash-grabs, Blancmange is a breath of fresh air. Frontman and founder Neil Arthur has once again successfully resurrected his 1980s synthpop act, treating fans at the Leadmill to a healthy mix of classic hits and new material.

Promoting their latest album, Private View, Blancmange have found a healthy balance between fan-service and pushing the envelope. All the classic hits were played, from ‘Feel Me’, ‘Waves’, ‘Blind Vision’, to a finale of ‘Living on the Ceiling’ and an encore of ‘Don’t Tell Me’. These songs went unheard for decades during the group’s post-1986 hiatus, and have been retooled with modern instrumentation to keep them timeless. These songs still produce a visible reaction from older fans, who are rediscovering the band in their revived form.

While many are there just to hear the songs from their youth, the new singles still impress, and don’t feel out-of-place in the setlist. ‘Some Times These’ and ‘Reduce the Voltage’ are particularly catchy earworms, with synth riffs right out of their heyday.

For a duo that originally only lasted half a decade, they have certainly amassed a legacy. ‘I travelled all the way from Belgium for this show,’ one audience member said, carrying two signed vinyl records of Private View and waiting eagerly in the front row. ‘The UK is one of the only places where you can still hear this kind of music!’

Arthur still performs with high energy and infectious enthusiasm, even four decades on. He dances and jigs around on stage effortlessly – though he has to go easy on his knees, as he joked at one point. His voice remains strong, and he still knows how to capture his audience.

As one song starts, fans in the front row begin to take out their phones to record him. Arthur walks to the front of the stage, and beckons audience members to pass their phones to him, collecting them up. He begins to sing ‘Mindset’, with the lyrics: “there will be / no distractions…” The audience laughs, and obediently put away their phones, enjoying the moment without recording.

‘Living on the Ceiling’ was Blancmange’s biggest hit in the ‘80s, and certainly the track that made them synthesiser superstars. Introducing it, Arthur invites the audience to sing it for him – he has played it so many times, he knows the audience will sing along to every word and vocalise the main instrumentation with loud ‘na-na-nas’, that he just lets the audience have fun with it. With the audience still cheering the tune after the song has ended, he laughs and thanks everyone, beaming ear-to-ear and loving every second.

It’s hard to find a retro-pop act still performing that can do it as gracefully as Blancmange. Neil Arthur is as full of energy, talent and infectious charisma as he’s ever been, and is beyond humble and gracious – to his bandmates, and to his fans, who he seems to adore as much as they adore him.

A big highlight of the show for many was the opening act, Stephen Mallinder. Mal came to fame decades ago as the frontman of the Sheffield-based post-punk industrial group Cabaret Voltaire, before leaving and pursuing solo projects in 1994.

‘It’s good to be back in Sheffield, back at the Leadmill,’ he exclaimed onstage. ‘We built this place! Not Richard Hawley!’ he joked, referencing Hawley’s much-hyped Leadmill appearances, before backtracking: ‘no offence to him’. Cabaret Voltaire were long-time frequent headliners at the Leadmill during their heyday.

The Cabs ardently refused to be any kind of nostalgia act, going as far as to never even play songs from their previous records, only playing what was new and cutting-edge. Mallinder continues to abide by this, playing only compositions from his latest record, Tick Tick Tick. He was joined on stage by fellow synth musician Benge, providing electronic percussion.

‘This is for Richard,’ Mallinder said before the set – dedicating the performance to his late bandmate, Richard H. Kirk, who died in 2021. The pair had performed as a duo for much of their careers. Though the two hadn’t performed together for many years, it is clear they remained on the same musical wavelength – Mallinder’s robotic electro-industrial grooves retain the same influences of techno, house and funk that remained apparent on later Cabaret Voltaire records. It remains impressive that the music still sounds fresh and catchy – though it can’t quite match the energy of the Cabs’ heyday, it instead feels somewhat meditative, absorbing some of the dreamy elements of deep house.

Having been a musician for almost half a century, Mallinder has spent his later years on other pursuits – as a music writer, and teaching Digital Music and Sound Art at the University of Brighton. Being back on tour – particularly being back in his hometown, at the iconic Leadmill – was a big event for him, and he seemed to enjoy it a lot.

Blancmange’s Private View is now available, on London Records. Stephen Mallinder’s Tick Tick Tick is available on Dais Records.


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