LIVE REVIEW: Department S, The Cluny, Newcastle, Saturday 2 November 2019

Department S singer Eddie Roxy performing at The Cluny in Newcastle. Pic: Mick Burgess.

To say that this was a long time coming is something of an understatement. It’s been almost 40 years since post-punk legends Department S last graced a stage in Newcastle, so tonight’s show created quite a buzz of excitement amongst their loyal northern following.

To those not in the know, Department S were the ultimate one-hit wonders with Is Vic There?, their shining light among the other great hits of the early ’80s. To those in the know however, that was just one of bunch of killer tunes which could have launched the band onto bigger things if they had not split before their first album was finished. A classic case of unfulfilled potential.

Department S performing at The Cluny in Newcastle. Pic: Mick Burgess.

That album, Sub-Stance, was belatedly released in 2003, revealing an intoxicating collection of dark guitar-powered anthems which could have matched any of their peers, and makes one wonder as to the impact they would have made if the album had been released 20 years earlier.

A new Department S was put together in 2007 without lead singer Vaughn Toulouse, who tragically died in 1991, with original keyboard player Eddie Roxy now handling those lead vocal duties.

Department S performing at The Cluny in Newcastle. Pic: Mick Burgess.

Since reforming Department S, they have recorded and released two more albums, which meant that while tonight’s show was very much a celebration of the past, it was also looking firmly to the future.

Old live favourites I Want, Monte Carlo Or Bust and Going Left Right nestled seamlessly beside the new songs On My Own Again, Kings Of The World and recent single I Believe, showing that the energy and grasp of melodramatic melodies of old run right through the new material.

Dapper frontman Roxy’s deadpan delivery gave the music an air of mystery, while guitarist Phil Thompson provided the rock ‘n’ roll bravado, pulling every guitar hero pose in the book, and then some. With bassist Mike Lee and ex-Eddie and the Hot Rods powerhouse drummer Simon Bowley, locking it all together, this was one tight, exciting band.

Department S drummer Simon Bowley at The Cluny in Newcastle. Pic: Mick Burgess.

Of course, Is Vic There? sounded magnificent, how could it not?  It is, after all, one of the great singles of the `80s and it was an absolute joy to seeit performed with such vigour.

The more recent When All Is Said And Done, a song that matches anything from their past, closed the show looking forward rather than back, and that they can produce a song as potent as this almost 40 years later speaks volumes. Welcome back Department S.

Mick Burgess