Eighties pop legends ABC share the emotion of their classic Lexicon Of Love album backed by a full orchestra, as Getintothis’ Will Neville reports.
A near sell-out crowd packed the Phil in anticipation of seeing all of Martin Fry’s band’s 1982 debut album, undoubtedly their finest moment. However, first there was a set of other 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.
First onto the stage were the Southbank Sinfonia, followed by conductor Ann Dudley, who had orchestrated the original album prior to becoming part of The Art Of Noise.
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 as 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.
Fry introduced many songs by saying “let’s try…”, quickly countered by the slick arrangements as the band reminded us most of Roxy Music. The post-Eno, pre-muzak Roxy that is.
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.
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.
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, Meat Is Murder’s flip and the first half of The Jam’s The Gift. 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.
Pictures by Getintothis’ Martin Waters