“This is a nice little arena” said Rod Stewart approvingly, gazing out over his audience of ten thousand. “This is what we consider an intimate crowd”, he added, by way of explanation. But everything is relative, of course – and for a stadium artist of Rod’s stature, we must have seemed like quite a cosy bunch.
According to Rod, this was his first date in Nottingham since an appearance with the Jeff Beck group in 1967. This might have come as a surprise to anyone who enjoyed his last appearance at the Arena in 2002 – but who could expect a touring veteran of nearly fifty years’ standing to remember all the details?
After four platinum-selling Great American Songbook albums and a collection of rock classics, the 65 year-old superstar’s most recent release (Soulbook) has seen him return to the soul music which first inspired him. Just three cuts from the album were aired, including an energetic version of The O’Jays’ Love Train, which opened the show. These were joined by several more classic soul covers, including two numbers by Sam Cooke (Having A Party and Twistin’ The Night Away) which suited Stewart’s throaty upper register vocals particularly well. To complete the evening’s “soul revue” feel, a trio of excellent divas provided strong backing throughout.
Sixties classics aside, there was still plenty of room for the hits, which spanned from the early Seventies (the evergreen Maggie May) to the early Nineties (a well received Rhythm Of My Heart). The only slight disappointment was a rather lacklustre You Wear It Well, performed before Rod had fully warmed up (the old-timer was understandably pacing himself, holding some of his energies in reserve for later on), and before the initially muddy sound mix had been adjusted (things improved dramatically after the interval).
If the first few numbers were slightly under par, the turning point came after Rod’s first of several costume changes. Returning to the stage for Have I Told You Lately That I Love You, his tender, sincere rendition did Van Morrison’s song full justice. And for all his good-natured goofing and galumphing around during the rockers, perhaps it was on the ballads that his artistry shone the most. Handbags And Gladrags was a particular highlight, its distinctive opening bars greeted with gasps of delight, and by the time we reached The First Cut Is The Deepest and I Don’t Want To Talk About It, Rod had us eating out of the palm of his hand.
As the night wore on, everybody loosened up – as did Rod’s array of smart jackets and shirts, which never seemed to stay securely fastened for long. Supporters of his beloved Celtic FC threw a hat and a scarf onto the stage during You’re In My Heart, which was performed to a video montage of the team’s finest moments. Both were picked up and worn for a while. By the time we got to Hot Legs, Rod was kicking footballs into the crowd. One reached the back of the main floor; another touched one of the VIP boxes at the top; another went so high that it became stuck in the lighting rig. Not bad going, for a man who has just reached the official retirement age.
The two and a quarter hour show climaxed with an unexpectedly moving Sailing, demonstrating once again that Stewart knew when to rein in the showboating, in order to give the much loved anthem the respect it deserved – even after performing it literally thousands of times over the last thirty-five years. It was the mark of a true professional.
Hilariously, the curtains failed to open for the final encore of Baby Jane, leaving Rod and the band stranded and out of sight. Ever the trouper, he ushered his players through a narrow gap at the side of the stage, and corralled them into position in the one remaining strip at the front. It was an enjoyably chaotic end to a superb, memorable show from one of our true national treasures.
Love Train, Tonight’s The Night, Some Guys Have All The Luck, You Wear It Well, Having A Party, This Old Heart Of Mine, Rhythm Of My Heart, You Keep Me Hanging On, Have I Told You Lately That I Love You, Handbags And Gladrags, Have You Ever Seen The Rain, Sweet Little Rock And Roller, Stay With Me, I Was Only Joking, It’s The Same Old Song, Rainy Night In Georgia, Twistin’ The Night Away, D’Ya Think I’m Sexy, Soul Finger, The First Cut Is The Deepest, I Don’t Want To Talk About It, You’re In My Heart, Hot Legs, Maggie May, Sailing, Baby Jane.
You’re playing Nottingham on the penultimate night of the Solid Silver ’60s Show, a 56-date tour which has been on the road since February. Are you a veteran of these kinds of packages?
I wouldn’t say I’m a veteran – but it’s nice to be asked, that’s the main thing. We’ve got The Troggs and the Swinging Blue Jeans as the bands, and four solo artists – Mike Pender, Dave Berry, Brian Poole and myself – all being backed by Vanity Fare. Normally, I play solo. But this time I was offered the band – so I thought, yeah, why not? And it’s working out very well.
These men are heroes of the revolution – but they’re heroes of a certain kind, because they’ve been around for a long, long time. So they’re extremely experienced. They know what’s happening. They’ve seen it all before, so they’re very slick. They’ve got their act down immaculately, and the audience are in for a bit of a treat.
How long do they give you to perform on stage?
Each of the solo artists gets fifteen minutes, so it’s about four songs. The man says that he doesn’t want a long show – but it will be a two hour show anyway, plus an interval.
The other acts were linked more to the beat group explosion, but you come from a slightly different tradition. So perhaps you’re there to add a bit of contrast to the line-up.
I like to think so. But I was available, because I don’t do a lot of work. Not as many gigs as the others, who work every night as far as I know. So I hold back a bit, and therefore I’m a little bit of a surprise.
When did you start making music?
My older brother [early 1960s pop star Eden Kane] brought home a guitar in the late Fifties, when he first started. It was around 1957 or 1958, and I’ve been doing it since then, in various disguises. I started off as Pete Lincoln and the Sundowners. I had a band, and we used to play local dance halls. In fact, we used to play for Brian Poole and the Tremeloes.
Did you then have a period when you were doing a lot of busking?
I was travelling around Europe, because if I was going to be a writer, then I needed some experience, and this seemed like a good way. I did a bit of busking, as a street musician. I tried that in Paris, and also in Copenhagen, where I met my other half.
Was it in Copenhagen that you wrote your best known song, Where Do You Go To My Lovely?
Yes – I had recently come from Paris, so I knew a bit about Paris. It was a good night, so after a party I settled down and I wrote the song. I used to write maybe eight songs a day, so this was one of them. She’s an invented character; a mysterious European character.
The references in the song describe a world which does seem rather glamorous and desirable.
It is, but there is a bit of sardonic humour in there: “Where you keep your Rolling Stones records…” Luckily I know Mick Jagger, otherwise I wouldn’t put that in! So it is kind of a satire.
There’s affection in there, but also some cruelty as well, so it’s a blend of different emotions.
Yes, it adds a twist to the tale: “I know where you go to, my lovely”. So he knows. He knows her very well. But it is an invention, of course.
Two or three years later, the song became a huge hit. Did that success give you a taste of the high life which you were describing in the song?
Well, I fought against it, because I wanted to get back to the music. I wanted to write, and I needed the space. But suddenly I was a hit, and it didn’t suit me entirely. It seemed a distraction from the real work. My older brother, who was ideal for this kind of world, would have been happy with the situation. Whereas with me, I don’t know.
As you had witnessed your brother’s earlier success as a pop star, perhaps that left you under no illusions as to what success could bring for you.
I had some illusions of grandeur! But it didn’t work out, because I wanted to emulate the writers of the time.
Who were your heroes?
It was Bob Dylan. I thought he was marvellous, and I still do. He’s a wonderful writer, and he’s unsurpassed. But I wanted some of the things which he had, which was peace and quiet.
You then turned your back on some of the offers that were made to you – such as a prime time TV variety show with Clodagh Rodgers, of all people.
I thought that I was being taken lightly, because I didn’t feel that I was [an] accurate [choice] in any way. Although at the time, fame was a different matter. It wasn’t so much that you could make a fortune out of fame. You had to work at it. And nowadays of course, you can make a fortune out of fame. There seems to be that encouragement.
So you turned your back on the trappings of stardom, and continued to ply your own course in your own way.
Yes, I live quietly now. But I don’t have a manager, and I don’t have an agent – which is difficult, if you haven’t got a publicist. Then you’re on your own.
But you’ve been putting out albums fairly steadily ever since.
Yes, I’ve been working away, of course. I’m a workaholic. I still write. I have a nice house; everything’s fine.
Other arena acts might pad out their line-ups with cheap-to-hire wannabes and never-will-bes – but for Rihanna, only the best will do. Supporting her on Friday night were two recently chart-topping acts: Tinie Tempah, who rapped his way through a well received four-song warm-up slot, and Pixie Lott, who performed a decent-sized set with a full band.
Pixie’s efficiently crafted, straight-down-the-line pop contained few surprises, other than an ill-advised Kings Of Leon/Killers medley which proved to be a stretch too far. A polished performer with an unshakeably sunny demeanour, she was at her strongest on the soulful, retro-tinged ballad Cry Me Out – but overall, she would have benefited from a little more loosening up and letting go.
Perhaps spurred on by Beyoncé’s ever more elaborate stage productions, Rihanna’s current “Last Girl On Earth” tour represents a major upgrade from the rather basic show that we saw in December 2007. This time around, we were treated to a daring, high-concept visual extravaganza, stuffed full to bursting with eye-catching tricks and surprises.
Rihanna began her show singing Russian Roulette on a rising hydraulic platform, the front of her dress flashing with computerised patterns of red light that resembled moving blood cells. At the climax of the song, a mock assassination was staged. As the shots rang out, the lights drained from the singer’s body.
Seconds later, she reappeared in a flesh coloured swimsuit dress, cut as high around the thighs as decency would allow, cavorting with a troupe of bare-chested male dancers in spiked Prussian army helmets, while images of giant hand grenades flashed up on the screens behind. The action moved across the stage to a pink armoured tank. Donning a pair of Mickey Mouse ears, Rihanna straddled its cannon, which proceeded to fire glitter bombs into the audience. And we were still only two songs into the set.
During the third number (Shut Up And Drive), breakdancing crash test dummies tumbled over an army truck that had appeared from nowhere at the end of a specially constructed spur stage. By the end of the song, Rihanna, her dancers and a member of the audience were attacking the truck with baseball bats. And all of this was before the entrance of the Mad Max-style creatures on giant stilts… yes, it was that kind of show.
At times, this constant barrage of gimmicks did rather overwhelm the music – but at other times, the madness would subside, allowing Rihanna the space to deliver a tender, affecting ballad such as Unfaithful to a hushed crowd.
Compared to the unassuming R&B starlet of two and a half years ago, Rihanna has undergone a remarkable transformation, emerging from last year’s well-documented bust-up with Chris Brown as a stronger, tougher, seemingly invincible character who has assumed full artistic control over every aspect of her work. But you couldn’t help wondering whether, by transforming herself from smiling girl-next-door to imperious Amazonian warrior princess, and by adding so much distracting stage trickery and visual flim-flam, she was subconsciously surrounding herself with extra layers of protective distance. Yes, the technical brilliance of it all was vastly entertaining – not to mention great value for money – but perhaps next time, a little more of the human touch wouldn’t go amiss, either.
Set list – Rihanna.
Shut Up And Drive
Hate That I Love You
Stupid In Love
Don’t Stop The Music
Breakin’ Dishes / The Glamorous Life
Take A Bow
Wait Your Turn
Live Your Life
Run This Town
Set list – Pixie Lott.
Turn It Up
Boys & Girls
Here We Go Again
Use Somebody / When You Were Young
Cry Me Out
Mama Do (Uh Oh, Uh Oh)
Hello! I’m Mike Atkinson, and over the course of the next three or four weeks, I’ll be overseeing an IMPORTANT EXPERIMENT IN PARTICIPATIVE DEMOCRACY, right here on Freaky Trigger. If you’ve ever visited my old blog during the month of February, then you might be familiar with the procedures – but with a new decade underway and the old blog sinking into disrepair, it felt like the right time to move operations to a new home (and arguably its natural home), and to start the process all over again from scratch.
If you’re new to the game, then this is what’s going to happen. I’ll be taking you on a guided, step-by-step excursion through the Top Ten UK singles from this week in 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2010. Today, we’ll be looking at the singles at Number Ten in each chart. In two days’ time (all being well), we’ll examine the Number Nines… and so on, until we reach the Number Ones.
I’ll be providing YouTube links throughout, as well as a brief memory-jogging MP3 medley, containing roughly thirty seconds from each of that day’s six tracks.
At the end of each post, you will be invited to rank the six tracks in descending order of preference. I’ll be totting up your votes (using an inverse points system, but let’s not sweat the details just yet) and providing running totals at regular intervals.
As we step through the chart positions together – day by day, place by place, from the Number Tens to the Number Ones – your scores will be accumulated into running totals for each decade. So when we get to the end of the exercise, we will have SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN which of our six decades – the Sixties, the Seventies, the Eighties, the Nineties, the Noughties or, um, this one – contains the GREATEST POP MUSIC OF ALL TIME.