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.

The Best Contemporary Concert DVD?

Today the mail lady brought a much anticipated DVD: A Japanese release of The Prince’s Trust ‘Produced by Trevor Horn‘ showcases the work of my all time favourite producer (hey, I spent my teenage years in the eighties. What do you expect from me? Jack White?). Anyway, in 2004, to celebrate 25 years of his bombast pop, he hosted the annual Prince’s Trust Wembley gig, showcasing some of the artists he worked with. And what a lineup that is:

  • Boggles
  • ABC
  • Grace Jones
  • Art of Noise
  • Yes
  • Propaganda
  • Pet Shop Boys
  • Belle and Sebastian
  • Seal
  • Liza Stansfield
  • Frankie goes to Hollywood

Now I have seen quite a bit of ABC, Frankie, The PetShop Boys and Propaganda live over the last two decades, but I honestly say neither of them ever sounded so perfect. This is a gig of massive proprotions to make Trevor Horn’s rich, orchestral sound possible: I am sure that it I still haven’t got them all, but I counted 8 brass/woodwinds, 8 strings, 8 backup vocalists (some people call that a ‘choir’), 2 drummers, Anne Dudley (the Oscar winning Anne Dudley, who also arranged ABC’s strings on the ‘Lexicon of Love’), numerous other keyboarders and 4 percussionists (including the brillant Louis Jardim), Steve Howe and probably half a dozen musicians I forgot.

This is truly a wall of music. I have seen ABC in various incarnations over the last 20 years, but I can not remember ‘Poisoned Arrow’ and ‘The Look of Love’ ever sounding so luscious on the stage.

Frankie (even in the absence of Holly Johnson) sound glorious, Propaganda, Yes and Seal are magnificent and Seal probably gives the best twenty minutes of his life. Grace Jones is amazingly pitch perfect but outrageous as ever. As a bass player myself it’s fascinating to see FGTH’s bassist to punch himself through ‘Two Tribes”s superfast plectrum based lines. That looks ike amazingly hard work.

All of the musicians look like they’re having an enormous blast. Just look at the face of the drummers. They’re so immersed and enjoying themselves, it’s infecting. I’ve caught myself jumping around the living room with my Macbook in my hands, headphones on head.

This means I have now have two favourite saturday morning DVD’s: Jamiroquai’s ‘LIve in Verona‘ and this. And it looks like there’s a UK release in the pipeline as well.

Get it. It’s worth it.

P.S. And to have a little bit more fun: here’s the world’s grumpiest prog rock band.