May 16 2009
YES it was competing with Eurovision, and Boy George, though released last week, had been replaced by Rick Astley but an arena at a third of its capacity for a night of eighties nostalgia was an indication of the bite that the recession is taking out of live music.
Seeing so many empty seats -- even after the stage had been pushed in to the middle of the arena -- gave The Here And Now Tour’s visit to Nottingham an air of the pathetic.
Then, when opening act Hazel O’Connor dropped an octave to ruin her best song -- Eighth Day - watching the UK lose another Eurovision seemed a less dispiriting prospect.
But it didn’t take long to turn around.
Any performer will tell you, an audience can make or break a gig. And the few thousand who had invested in the ticket price and a baby-sitter to relive their youth, weren’t about to have anything but a great night.
Despite her vocal fumbling, O’Connor was an enthusiastic performer, her other two songs - Decadent Days and Will You? - buoyed up by an accompanying sax.
The enthusiasm for Brother Beyond pin-up Nathan Moore extended to the slinging of two bras on to the stage. Yes, he’d asked for them to outdo Rick Astley he said but it indicated the mood the largely female audience were in.
Each performer may have been faced with a bank of ‘empty seats on the rear wall but they played their part fully. Clare Grogan skipped around like someone demented, running through four Altered Images’ hits: I Could Be Happy, See Those Eyes, Don’t Talk To Me About Love and Happy Birthday (dedicated to O’Connor), prompting the first singalong of the night.
“I love being an embarrassing mum,” chirped the pop pixie who was given a huge cheer by simply recalling playing Rock City back in the day.
By this point the first half of the floor were standing. That extended to the back for Kid Creole and the Coconuts, the showiest of the night’s performances. I was never much of a fan but the man in the big yellow suit and matching hat, accompanied by his trio of half dressed Coconuts, co-ordinated moves and bombastic patter turned up the atmosphere a notch or three.
“This is from my egotistical period,” he said, by way of introducing one of his three hits. “I woke up one morning and thought Goddamn, I’m a Wonderful Thing.” Add to that Stool Pigeon and Annie - “for all the illegitimate children out there” - and the first hour closed on a party high.
After a 20 minute break, Howard Jones, skittering to and from his synth, revisited No-One Is To Blame, Like To Get To Know You Well, What Is Love? and New Song.
It’s odd that Jones, Kim Wilde and Rick Astley ended with their first hits. It must be frustrating that their debuts were their most famous.
It was ironic that Jones was the night’s only musician -- the rest were backed by a house band - because he was an early purveyor of synthesised pop, a trend that threatened to retire the four-piece band.
“You’re not missing Eurovision then?” asked Jones. Clearly not.
Kim Wilde was joined by her over-enthusiastic niece, Scarlet, on backing vocals and an additional guitarist who was displaying all the cod-rock posing that’d be embarrassing at half his age. But the mood remained high as the pop poster girl-turned-gardening mum relived Chequered Love, You Keep Me Hanging On, You Came, If I Can’t Have You and the closing Kids In America.
Rick Astley sauntered on-stage grasping a mug of (we assume) tea and had the most fun of the night, bantering with everyone.
“Have you lot been drinking?, he asked. “Good.”
He offered to get the first round in after the gig at “that eighties bar in town -- 25 gallons of Malibu pineapple”, he quipped.
Then admitted he’d actually be heading home on the M1 straight after but “it’s the thought that counts.”
Astley has the best voice on the tour, a pity his songs, from the Stock Aitken & Waterman factory, are samey: Together Forever, She Wants To Dance With Me, Need Somebody and Never Gonna Give You Up could be mashed with ease.
There were no video screens, no stage set and few had made an effort to dress up (I did spot a Frankie Says Relax T-shirt and a pair of bright pink leggings) but
after three hours of nostalgia one can’t imagine anyone left in anything but a good mood.
Now then, how about an eighties tour with The Smiths, Stone Roses and The Jam?