The Lexicon of Sparkly Pop.

Last night I was sitting in the Royal Albert Hall, surrounded by the bald, the middle aged and the surprisingly badly dressed to listen (again) to Martin Fry and his merry posse of hired musicians. Tonight was nevertheless special, as this motley crew of musical mercenaries played some ABC songs with the BBC Concert Orchestra.

Well, not really ‘some songs’. Last night’s big promise was that these two groups of musicians would attempt to play each and every song of the best album of the eighties, the remarkable ‘Lexicon of Love’. This legendary mixture of northern funk, luscious string arrangements and Fry’s remarkable lyrics has always been a hidden gem in the history of the barren eighties and – being the ABC fan that I am – I obviously had to go.

By the time I arrived at the Royal Albert Hall (unfortunately 15 minutes late) ABC was already into the first half of their gig, a collection of their best loved singles outside Lexicon of Love. Interestingly enough, the ones that worked the best with the enormous orchestra behind the band were the slow traks from the ‘How to be a Zillionaire’ album, ‘Be near me’ and ‘Ocean Blue’. When you have three classic percussionists and a ‘contemporary’ percussionist, you can make a hell of funny noises and pretty much play your tracks picture perfect. The orchestra was led by (oscarwinning) Anne Dudley, who arranged the strings for the album all those years back.

The second set started with a bit of a let down: Trevor Horn might be a brillant producer, but his nervous and rambling introduction, read from a chaotic looking stack of papers was a bit embarassing. He was miles away from his convincing and calm self at his 25 year concert at Wembley. But then, finally, the main event. The orchestral introduction to ‘Show Me’ sounds 2008 just as good as 25 years and still manages to send shivers down my spine.  Steven Palmer, the drummer on The Lexicon of Love, was in top form. With a battery of midi pads and a ‘proper’ drum set, he was able to recreate all thoughs wonderful percussive sounds that made the album so special and groovy. From then on it was a bit like doing Karaoke with 4000 other singers (not that I do Karaoke, but that’s what it felt like). The whole arena obviously new every word to every song and a bizarre singalong developed that obviously culminated in a rousing rendition of ‘The Look of Love’ (played twice. The encore with Gold Lame Suit).

It cost my 75 bloody pounds, but it was the most enjoyable evening of Karaoke I’ve ever had.

Bill Bailey: Mumbler in Chief

I adore Bill Bailey. Who doesn’t? How can you not love a multi instrumental polymath with a anarchic streak and the politic leanings of an European leftie who refuses to swear on stage and still makes you laugh harder than any of the other ‘comedians’ out there. I still insist that Part Troll is the best comedy DVD ever released and by now I think I know it by heart. Last month I went to the Royal Albert Hall to see the man do his thing with Anne Dudley and the BBC Concert Orchestra and last weekend me and the best girlfriend ever watched the newest release of the master, ‘Tinselworm’.

Both in the Royal Albert Hall and on Tinselworm Bill Bailey’s greatest fallacy comes to light: the Master of Comedy is a terrible mumbler! While live in the Royal Albert Hall the best girlfriend and I blamed the crap sound, in Tinselworm it finally became apparent that the man is slurring his gags, especially when they come at the end of an elaborately set up routine: the last, decisive part of the sentence becomes a meaningless ‘snmvrbbsssschnffff’. One routine we had to listen to 5 times before we finally understood the whole thing, and it turned out to be the most brillant aside in the whole show.

It must be the side-effect of repeating your gags again and again that you finally throw them away as unidentifiable asides. Shame, but if you’re motivated enough to listen to the man again and again, the best gags are hidden under layers of mumbling.