Marc Almond has long thought of Leeds as his musical birthplace. After all, it was here that he saw his first gigs and DJ-ed at taste-making nightclub The Warehouse. It was here too he formed one of synth pop’s most successful duos, Soft Cell, with Dave Ball.
Latterly he’s developed a growing relationship with the city’s College of Music since being awarded a fellowship in 2014. Last year he performed a selection of his own songs with students at the college. On Friday he took things a step further, staging the first of two concerts – the other being two days later at the Royal Festival Hall in London – with the college’s Contemporary Orchestra and Pop Choir.
He might at one point have described this evening of classic torch songs as a present to himself – to mark his 59th birthday – but there was a wider spirit of generosity involved too, allowing his student band and backing singers an equal opportunity to showcase their musical talents.
And grab it they did, especially in the first half of a programme that began with two towering Scott Walker songs, The Big Hurt and In My Room, and progressed through the emotional maestrom of Billy Fury’s I’m Lost Without You to an obscure early Johnny Mathis number, Shadows on My Heart.
Burt Bacharach’s Blue On Blue proved a poppy diversion before it was headlong into the emotional torment of Timi Yuro’s I’m So Hurt and Johnnie Ray’s Lotus Blossom, which featured some notably fruity brass accompaniment from Lara Jones and Tom Hill.
Two Billie Holiday songs, I’m a Fool to Want You and Willow Weep For Me, highlighted the depth of Damian Harron’s arrangements while singer Lily Kerbey excelled in the duet Haunted Heart. The choir – under the direction of Craig Lees – came into its own the Soviet era epic The Sun Will Rise and Almond was at his expressive best in Caterina Valente’s sultry Latin number Kiss Of Fire.
The brooding mood continued into the second half of the evening with Almond’s self-penned Trials of Eyeliner and Life in My Own Way as well as two more Russian songs, Tenderness and A Glance in Your Dark Eyes, before turning celebratory with a run of crowd pleasers that included Torch, Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart and the vivid Jacques Brel number Jacky.
By Tainted Love and Say Hello, Wave Goodbye the audience were up on their feet, dancing and waving their arms in union. Clearly touched, Almond hailed the orchestra and choir as “some of the greatest musicians I’ve ever worked with” before wrapping up proceedings with a genial rendition of The Supremes’ Baby Love.
A triumph of a night, full of great songs brilliantly performed – and hopefully the start of many great things to come from these young musicians and singers from Leeds College of Music.