A near sell-out crowd packed the Phil in anticipation of seeing all of Martin Fry’s band’s 1982 debut album Lexicon Of Love, undoubtedly their finest moment, backed by an orchestra. However, first there was a set of hits and new tracks as a warm-up.
Their status compared to many of their contemporaries can be seen in the fact that the still-active Duran Duran are due to play the Echo Arena later this year, while Go West, Nik Kershaw and T’Pau are all having to share the same bill at the Phil.
Lexicon Of Love was produced by Trevor Horn and released in June 1982, hitting the top spot in the album charts and yielding four Top 20 singles. It was also highly successful in the US and around the world. It has gone on to be critically lauded ever since, being one of the finest releases of the so-called new pop movement of the early eighties.
The “woo” of the audience as the lights went down perhaps indicated their irregular attendance at gigs, with this being a crowd of largely 40- and 50-somethings out to relive one of the most iconic pop albums of their younger days.
After an orchestral intro, the members of ABC took to the stage, followed by the star attraction, singer Martin Fry, who got things off to a great start with the suitably soulful When Smokey Sings. His voice was naturally more at home in the bottom and mid-range of the songs, but he still had his old power and panache.
The music played revealed the influence of classic soundtracks such as South Pacific and The King And I on the band’s output, while Fry’s voice was a smooth as the deep purple lining of his suit jacket.
In fact, the band were all as sharply dressed as the orchestra, in dark three-piece suits. Fry is now the only original member, with most of the rest having joined him in 2008. Guitarist Matt Backer strongly resembled ex-Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini, while bassist Andy Carr had a hint of Tom Cruise about him.
The first set featured a few songs from a promised sequel to Lexicon Of Love, due to be recorded with a full orchestra. Unsurprisingly, none of these were a match for the well-known songs, as the lyrics and music were both less interesting than on the big hits, with Viva Love the pick of the bunch.
After a first ever play of the rather cabaret Flames Of Desire that went down very well with much of the crowd, the first half ended with 1985’s yearning Be Near Me.
Other highlights of that first set were 1987’s The Night They Murdered Love, One Better World from two years later, with its great sax solo, and 1984’s (How To Be A) Millionaire, with some great backing vocals from the two ladies to the right of the stage.
I took a quick trip round the bar at half time, but decided on a rapid dart to the Philharmonic pub to grab a pint of Doom Bar, which went down quickly enough to ensure I was back in my seat well in advance of the band’s return to the stage.
It was straight into Show Me after the break, the opening track from Lexicon Of Love, with the band members noticeably more present in the sound than in the first half, as the orchestra intertwined effectively, as on the original release. This was probably a better fit than when The Lightning Seeds played the same venue with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra last year (see my review here).
The first side of the album is possibly the best side of any number one album in the whole of the 1980’s, perhaps challenged most closely to these ears by both sides of Dare by The Human League, The Smiths’ Meat Is Murder’s flip and the first half of The Jam’s The Gift (although My Beloved Wife would probably put in a shout for Michael Jackson’s Thriller). And it was done justice here.
One of the less well known cuts on the album, Many Happy Returns, was a real highlight, with its clever rhymes (“like the phoenix coming back from the ashes, I know what’s good, and I know what trash is”), while Valentine’s Day was fittingly strident. That’s on top of the big hitters like Poison Arrow and Tears Are Not Enough.
The Look Of Love generated the most love from the crowd as the album was virtually flipped over. The order of the end of the LP was altered so they could end with All Of My Heart, with yet more cleverly-worded lyrics.
The band then left the stage, with the orchestra staying on to give a clue that the inevitable encore would ensue, with this being a second version of The Look Of Love, as on the album itself, with the whole crowd on its feet.
The show was over before 10pm, meaning the audience could avoid mingling with the young and the drunk on late trains back home, so not having to relive all of their youth.
I decided to honour the band’s pop smarts by wearing my Big Star tee, one of the very finest pop bands of all time, though largely (criminally) unknown to the general public. While I fully understand that most people won’t love many of the bands I do (hello, Fallophobes!), there is no reason every single person on the planet shouldn’t enjoy Big Star.
Sadly, I didn’t spot a single other band t-shirt in the crowd at all, despite taking a tour of the bar at half time to investigate.
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Here is most of the set on Spotify: