Stackridge - The Forbidden City [Live 2CD/DVD Box Set]

Stackridge – The Forbidden City [Live 2CD/DVD Box Set]

In hindsight, 2007 was a great time to be alive. Social media was barely a thing, Trump was only bothering people on The Apprentice and there was still hope that everything would make sense at the end of Lost. Everything was much simpler back then. I can’t help but revisit those times in my head as I peer at Stackridge playing to an enthusiastic audience at the Rondo Theatre in Bath.

I thought that Mr. Mick had drawn my Stackridge journey to a conclusion but Esoteric’s series of reissues continues with the release of 2007’s 2CD and DVD collection The Forbidden City, now lovingly compiled into one package with new liner notes. The concert might have taken place well past the band’s classic era, but it’s still 17 years ago, and probably time for an update.

Unfortunately, the footage has not been remastered into HD; the DVD seems to be completely unedited from the original, including the spelling error “Venuzuela” and even the Angel Air logo at the end. As HDTV has become the norm, it was a little challenging to sit through two hours of 480p, but I suppose the pixelated footage has a certain nostalgic quality to it. I also found that I had to delay the audio by 0.1 seconds to have the footage synchronised with the sound; I did this by watching the drummer. While this issue was easy to correct with an MP4 file, I hope it doesn’t plague the actual DVD.

The band step out onto a stage that seems too small to fit nine members. This is a cosy venue with no special lighting. The camera set-up involves several static cameras and one bloke who moves around the set, providing close-ups of the group, but is distractingly obvious in all the other shots. In short, this is not a swish affair but, coming from Stackridge, would you expect it to be?

The music, on the other hand, is glorious. Many of the group’s classic songs are presented without any loss in vigor and musicianship. With so many musicians on stage, the group have gathered enough members to perform their eclectic canon rather effectively. The core four, Andy Cresswell-Davis, Mutter Slater, Crun Walter and James Warren, take centre stage; it’s unclear why none of Stackridge’s former drummers join these ‘classic’ members, but Andy Marsden is very competent behind the kit. Among the other musicians, there are two violinists, Rachel Hall and Sarah Mitchell, the latter also providing backing vocals; I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Hall would go on to join Big Big Train between 2014 and 2020. When Warren introduces her between songs, he says she is aged 11. I’m quite sure this is a joke, but it’s really hard to say for sure.

The DVD opens with some interview footage with fans of the group who are waiting outside the venue to see them play. It’s a curious addition but it does add something unique to the proceedings. The band open their set with Fundamentally Yours which is coincidentally the first Stackridge song I ever heard. It made for a great introduction to the band and makes a great introduction here too. The band wheel through some older and newer tracks before arriving at Syracuse the Elephant, their symphonic epic that sees them at their most prog. It’s certainly a track I wouldn’t want to have gone home without seeing them play. Disappointingly, there are no embellishments or notable changes to any of the tracks played live; the band keep things faithful to the studio versions, which means you aren’t in for any surprises here.

On the other hand, I could tell the band still had all the chops they needed to play through the set when Anyone for Tennis was introduced. As Warren himself says: “This song contains some unfeasibly high notes which I could sing when I was 18.” Being a Dream Theater fan, I’m all too used to singers who can’t perform the songs from earlier in their career without a few wobbly notes. To my astonishment, however, Warren delivers an utterly pitch-perfect rendition of his music hall-inspired tune, nailing the lyrics too before almost sarcastically saying “That wasn’t too bad, was it?” This might honestly be the highlight of the show for me.

The ageing rockers stop for a break in the middle of their twenty-five-song set. Every album from their catalogue is represented, including their 1999 album Something for the Weekend – which I have yet to hear – as well as their rare fan-club-only EP Lemon 2002. It’s only proper that some of their newer songs are featured in this set, but they are unquestionably more pedestrian than the adventurousness of the 70s output. It also figures that Friendliness and The Man in the Bowler Hat are the albums that are referenced the most – 11 out of 25 songs, nearly half the setlist – as these were the most popular albums that featured the ‘classic’ line-up. The debut Stackridge and my personal favourite Extravaganza only get two songs each while Fish in a Glass is the only Mr. Mick you’ll hear, closing the first half of the set.

Fortunately enough, one of the songs they picked from Extravaganza is the track that sent me down a rabbit hole last year which ended with me speaking to the author of the track himself, Phil Welton. It is, of course, the gleefully tongue-in-cheek Happy in the Lord, which Warren casually admits to learning six hours prior. Reading the lyrics off a sheet of paper, Mutter laughs “If I get this right, it’ll be a miracle.” Clearly, the band haven’t thought as heavily as I have about this song; I wonder what on Earth inspired them to choose it for the setlist. My only guess is that it’s a rather easy song for everybody to learn, with only a few simple chord changes. Mutter, to his credit, does get it all right, except for one part: I noted in my interview with Welton that “Kiss my sister” is softened to “Bless my sister”. Perhaps the band weren’t comfortable with incestuous vibes three decades on. Even if it was a throwaway track for Stackridge at this concert, I’m so glad that they recorded it anyway as it gives the song even more exposure with a video that is readily available on YouTube.

I was a little perplexed when James Warren began crooning Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime; I’d heard the song many times before but it seemed like a rather random cover for the band to play. I decided to look into the original version and was stunned to see a very familiar face peering from the 1980 music video. It couldn’t be… But it was! It turns out that James Warren and Andy Cresswell-Davis formed a new group after Stackridge had dissolved, called the Korgis. With this group, Warren finally wrote a hit single. Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime was eventually covered by Beck (and other artists) and used in the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I was so pleased to learn that he actually had a hit record in him after all! Warren’s and Davis’s post-Stackridge career was not covered in any of the previous Esoteric liner notes, so this was certainly the most educational part of the live album for me.

The band finish the set with a string of great numbers, beginning with the gloriously progressive The Last Plimsoll which places them temporarily in a Genesis-adjacent camp. Their latter-day Something About the Beatles, which Warren recorded with both Stackridge and later with the Korgis, makes it abundantly clear which artist he is influenced by. The band begin their folk epic Slark which clocked in at 14 minutes on the first album; to my relief, they decide to play a heavily abridged version that keeps only the essentials and runs for about five minutes. After that, it’s time for a hearty rendition of Do the Stanley before the surprising encore: Dora the Female Explorer. It’s an okay song but is it special enough for an encore? Or is it the kind of song that Stackridge don’t believe is essential enough for their main set but works as an added bonus? We may never know.

Esoteric’s package comes with a booklet featuring some photos from the night and a cringe-worthy essay that reads like a hagiography penned by Mike Tobin, who barely introduces himself. Some Googling informed me that he was the longtime band manager of Stackridge, but I had never seen his name before this point. I’m sure he’s biased, but how is anyone supposed to take the following sentence seriously:

“You may well be one of the elect group of people who, like me, has (sic) long since recognised that Stackridge are one of the only true great bands to have emerged from the United Kingdom in the history of popular music.” (That HAS to be irony, surely?! – Ed)

I’m speechless. It would be one thing if he said “Stackridge is the best band ever”; after all, everyone can have their preferences. But he somehow managed to diminish the entirety of the British music scene in the last century, as if there haven’t been hundreds, if not thousands of great British artists in the previous half-century. I found myself severely missing Mike Barnes, who penned the informative booklets for Esoteric’s other Stackridge reissues.

This was Stackridge’s first concert since 2000, and the only one they played in 2007. They would go on to play more concerts from 2008 through to December 2015 with their aptly-titled The Final Bow tour, where their final date was also recorded as a DVD. Warren hasn’t hung up his hat, however, reforming the Korgis without Davis in 2017 and recording new albums such as 2021’s concept piece Kartoon World.

I would have liked to know why this release was titled The Forbidden City, but sadly, there are no clues to be found. While not essential, this live release does contain a plethora of Stackridge’s best-loved tracks, all of them played with the same gusto as on the studio albums some three decades previously. As such, it acts as a decent starting point for newcomers to Stackridge; people who might want to hear a ‘Best of…’ but would prefer not to pick up the same songs twice. It’s a delight to see them in such strong form here and learn more about what happened after the group split in the late 70s.


01. Fundamentally Yours (3:00)
02. Dangerous Bacon (2:50)
03. Grooving Along the Highway on a Monday Morning Once (2:46)
04. The Volunteer (5:22)
05. Syracuse the Elephant (7:42)
06. Anyone for Tennis? (2:58)
07. Wonderful Day (4:25)
08. Ruth Did You Read My Mind? (3:32)
09. Friendliness (4:45)
10. Dancing on Air (4:46)
11. Fish in a Glass (7:38)

Time – 49:40

01. Lummy Days (3:52)
02. If I Had You (3:44)
03. Teatime (5:25)
04. Happy in the Lord (3:41)
05. Help Under Doors (4:07)
06. Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime (3:34)
07. The Road to Venezuela (4:57)
08. Can Inspiration Save the Nation? (3:36)
09. The Galloping Gaucho (3:38)
10. The Last Plimsoll (4:51)
11. Something About the Beatles (3:47)
12. Slark (5:53)
13. Do the Stanley (3:14)
14. Dora the Female Explorer (3:11)

Time – 57:24

Total time – 107:04

01. Fundamentally Yours
02. Dangerous Bacon
03. Grooving Along the Highway On a Monday Morning Once
04. The Volunteer
05. Syracuse the Elephant
06. Anyone for Tennis?
07. Wonderful Day
08. Ruth Did You Read My Mind?
09. Friendliness
10. Dancing On Air
11. Fish in a Glass
12. Lummy Days
13. If I Had You
14. Teatime
15. Happy in the Lord
16. Help Under Doors
17. Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime
18. The Road to Venezuela
19. Can Inspiration Save the Nation?
20. The Galloping Gaucho
21. The Last Plimsoll
22. Something About the Beatles
23. Slark
24. Do the Stanley
25. Dora the Female Explorer

Time – 112:21

Andy Cresswell-Davis – Guitar, Keyboard, Vocals
Michael “Mutter” Slater – Flute, Vocals
Jim “Crun” Walter – Bass Guitar
James Warren – Rhythm Guitar, Vocals
Glenn Tommey – Keyboards, Trombone
Nigel Newton – Lead Guitar
Rachel Hall – Violin
Sarah Mitchell – 2nd Violin, Vocals
Andy Marsden – Drums

Record Label: Esoteric Recordings | Cherry Red Records
Catalogue#: ECLEC 32869
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 26th April 2024

Stackridge – Website | Facebook | Twitter | Cherry Red page for The Forbidden City ~ Live