OK, first things first: it was a great night. And sure, none of the acts on show at Grand West yesterday (and again this evening, incidentally) are cutting edge, but that’s not why anyone was there. So mock all you like. We had a great time reliving days gone by.
You’ll want to do it one day, just like I thought I wouldn’t.
Also, Golden Circle tickets and being right at the front made all the difference. This is the way to do concerts. None of that seated in the sky nonsense.
So, let me take you through it act by act.
First up, Leee John from Imagination. One wonders how many repeated vowels one needs in their forename. Their big hits were in ’81 and ’82 and came from roots of soul, RnB and disco. Thus, looking at the New Wave, Electronic and Pop acts making up the rest of the lineup, he didn’t really fit in here. Still, that didn’t stop him performing with energy and enthusiasm and he was well received. Most importantly, he didn’t take himself too seriously and set the scene for a fun evening. Yeah – nice warm up act, but that’s about all.
And then Nik Kershaw. Shorter than you might imagine, Nik was there to play his music and it was really obvious that playing his music was really important to him, as he fiddled with his distortion pedals and drifted off into professional, faultless guitar solos. After opening with Wide Boy, we got all the hits, which, after all, was what we were there for. The Riddle, Don Quixote and, as he described it “the song that changed my life” Wouldn’t It Be Good. And in the middle of all of this, Chesney Hawkes’ 1991 hit I Am The One And Only. As Kershaw plainly stated: “I wrote it, so I’m going to sing it”. And that really got everyone going.
He ended off with I Won’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me and even as he took his tiny frame off stage to you could hear bucket lists being ticked off all around us. Excellent.
My highlight: Martin Fry of ABC was up next. Three letter bands from the 80s: I just love them. Looking like a washed up TV detective, he wandered on in a 80s style blue suit and promptly banged out some great tunes. Complete with frequent Jonny Vaughan style “point and wink” at apparently random members of the crowd, he duly went through his hits, again demonstrating that you don’t lose a great voice, even thirty years after your first hit. All of My Heart was rudely chatted through by the typically rude SA audience, while more up-tempo numbers like Poison Arrow and When Smokey Sings got people moving.
He signed off with The Look Of Love, nothing unusual, just the straightforward Radio Edit. And that was exactly how it should be - people were craving familiarity and they got it. For me, this was the perfect performance, perfectly executed.
So far, so good. But then the slow motion car crash that was Belinda Carlisle. It was disastrous, but you just couldn’t look away. Don’t make me see anymore! I CAN’T TAKE IT!
Ill-fitting clothes (and they have to have been really bad for me to have noticed – I’m not huge on fashion), facelifts so tight that her chin is still in 1989, and poorly-disguised industrial underwear presumably worn in a forlorn effort to take everything in place. Sure, from a distance, I’m sure it looked ok, but up close it was just horrendous. She kicked off with Runaway Horses (scraping into the 80s by just two months), before greeting the audience with “Do you remember the 80s? Because I don’t.”
I said earlier that the acts don’t take themselves too seriously. Belinda looks like she’s seriously taken everything. She has allegedly been drink and drug free since at least 2007, but if that’s true, then it’s clear that the damage has already been done. Slurred words, missed lyrics, frequent tuneless bellowing. It wasn’t great.
That said, again, the familiarity of continually repeated choruses kept the crowd happy.
And, on the plus side, if you are looking for a walking advertisement for not doing drugs, Belinda Carlisle is it.
But then, there was Tony Hadley.
Tony Hadley was great when he came over with Spandau Ballet in 2010 and the voice, the showmanship, the easy relationship he has with both parties in his role as a channel between the songs and the audience was there again. A different set this time: nothing new to sell, just entertaining us with his amazing talent and his chatty style. We started out with a cover of Feeling Good, before he did True and borrowed Duran Duran’s Rio to move the energy level up again. Through The Barricades and Gold ended the performance.
There’s just something exceptional about his power and stage presence – I noted this back in 2010 as well. Is it that he’s really that good or is it that he carefully engineers his performances to come immediately after something wholly unprofessional (Alphaville that time, Carlisle this)?
OK, let’s be honest – he’s just really, really good at what he does.
It gave Rick Astley a tough act to follow. But bizarrely, the crowd was just so anxious to see him that he could have totally Carlisled and it probably wouldn’t have mattered.
Astley was one of the first “manufactured” pop artists, coming out of the Stock, Aitken and Waterman stable in 1987. If you can look beyond that alleged crime though, he has got a superb voice – even if his hits never really challenged or showcased it. He played to the audience with constant and repetitive jokes about “his effect” on “the ladies”, which grated after the first few times, but – perhaps because of “his effect” on “the ladies” – “the ladies” totally lapped up. He insisted that he and the band (who were absolutely exceptional from start to finish, by the way) got beer delivered to them on stage. He mocked the on-stage camera guy. And in between all of that, he sang his songs and I was reminded that they were rather ordinary songs. As was the performance: nothing exceptional, just standard delivery with apparently minimal effort.
Musically, it was a real disappointment, because that voice could do so much more.
Predictably (but remember that predictability was why we were there last night, so this was a good thing), he finished with Never Going To Give You Up, giving us all a nice feelgood singalong before we headed home.
One note on the venue: Grand West do concerts ever so well. Pre-paid parking, priority lanes out on exiting, Traffic Police organised for the roads outside. It’s really very good and the fact that you don’t notice anything wrong means that they are actually doing things right.
Anyway, if you’re going along to the show tonight or up in Gauteng on the weekend, you’re going to enjoy it. The acts are there to do what you want them to do: sing the hits that you enjoyed back in the 80s. No alarms and no surprises.
Sure, some do it better than others, but the emphasis is on fun and yes, it was fun. Nice work.