Little Angels@ Newcastle O2 Academy, December 12 2012

Until earlier this year the closest fans could get to the ultimate Little Angels experience was by giving 1994’s A Little Of The Past compilation a whirl and imagining what might have been. Until the summer of 2012 that’s exactly where the Scarborough band belonged: in the past.

It had always looked like they’d stay there too. Despite frontman Toby Jepson’s yearning for a full reunion, his fellow Angels never seemed that bothered – with ‘proper’ jobs and steady incomes the prospect of returning to the road and its various pressures and obvious pitfalls was a wholly unappealing prospect. 

But it’s amazing what a day out at Download can do. Personally invited to play the world’s biggest rock and metal festival, the Angels reformed and their glorious Donington comeback followed hot on the heels of a few rehearsals and a handful of low key warm-up shows. Even then, by all accounts, it was immediately clear the old magic was still there.

In Newcastle the very thought that Jepson and co. could remain a footnote on the page of early 90s British rock history seemed ludicrous. Here was a band still boasting the chemistry, the camaraderie and, crucially, the feelgood hits that captured the imagination first time around.

Leaving any past doubts and well-documented disagreements at the door, the classic line-up (minus the late Michael Lee and Skunk Anansie drummer Mark Richardson) actually looked like they were having the time of their lives. And with a rapturous throng hanging on their every note that could well have been the case.

Jepson and guitar hero Bruce John Dickinson always enjoyed a creative bond forged in rock n roll heaven and few partnerships could better the buoyant singer and his note-perfect sidekick two decades ago.

Twenty years on and the pair breathed new life into old favourites with party starter She’s A Little Angel, the poignant Don’t Prey For Me and ballsy Boneyard executed with sheer brilliance. Womankind was a wonderful reminder of what assured songwriters the Angels became while Radical Your Lover still ranks as one of the finest British rock anthems of a generation.

Following the reinvigorated Skin was never going to be a walk in the park for a band still finding its feet after years spent wandering aimlessly in a self-imposed wilderness. Yet the Little Angels successfully managed to match – and ultimately outshine – the mercurial Neville MacDonald despite the imposing vocalist’s spine tingling rendition of Take Me Down To The River.

Skin (and Myke Gray’s equally vibrant side project Red, White And Blues) have proved that there’s still a demand for classic British guitar bands boasting rousing choruses. When it’s as good as the Little Angels’ brand of singalong soft rock – and it features the Big Bad Horns as a bonus – that demand could become insatiable again.

But whether reviving these national treasures long term is a viable option remains to be seen. Jepson would be game – no doubt about that – but what about his fellow band members?

Little Angels are still right on the money but they’ll never make a fortune. And a desire to revive former glories and recall a golden age of homegrown rock will never pay the bills.

Could there be a happy compromise? Fingers crossed because these Young Gods turned old stagers transcend generations with their addictive blend of power pop and party rock. Absence might have made the heart grow fonder – but losing Little Angels second time around would be a killer blow.

Simon Rushworth