David Essex, Nottingham Royal Concert Hall, Friday September 29
David Essex last played Nottingham in 2005, on the Once In A Lifetime package tour. Unlike the other former 1970s heartthrobs on the bill, there was nothing of the comeback-chasing faded star about his performance, which was easily the most assured of the night. For despite his long absence from the singles charts, Essex has never really gone away. As well as the string of stage musicals and TV appearances, he is still recording and releasing new music via his web site, for the benefit of his ever-loyal fan base.
And then there are the massive tours, which see Essex filling decent sized venues such as the Royal Concert Hall, year after year. Once again, he has chosen to start this year’s 48 date, three month marathon in Nottingham.
His audience splits into two groups: the nostalgia brigade, rolling back the years and partying like it was 1975, and the die-hards, who are clearly familiar with the newer material. The die-hards were mostly in the stalls, where they remained standing all the way through the show, even during the slower numbers.
At the age of 59, Essex looks every inch the “silver fox”, radiating an easy-going, twinkle-eyed charm which can still get the girls squealing: even the simple act of removing his coat earned him yelps of delight.
In recent years, he has adopted a back-to-basics style, performing with a simple four-piece backing band on an uncluttered stage. The set opened with a couple of songs from the forthcoming Beautiful Day album, before leaping straight into an extended run of hits: the atmospheric Rock On, the quirky Lamplight, the throbbing Silver Dream Machine (complete with vintage motor-biking film footage), the trenchant Imperial Wizard, and the amusingly corny If I Could.
After such a strong, crowd-pleasing start, the second half of the set inevitably came as something of an anti-climax. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the newer stuff – mostly mainstream, middle-of-the-road pop/rock – but equally, there’s little that reaches out to new listeners. Sequencing the show in this way was a bold move – but for the less committed amongst us, it also became something of a slog.
Nevertheless, all was forgotten by the end of the show. Hold Me Close woke everyone up, and the enduringly fantastic Gonna Make You A Star sent us home smiling. Based on the sheer warmth of his reception, you sense that this teen idol turned elder statesman still has plenty of successful years ahead of him.