The Steel City Tour reached London last night, with Heaven 17, ABC and the Human League playing Hammersmith Apollo, all bands hailing from Sheffield (steel city) in the early '80s. We were in the front row of the balcony so had a perfect view of the stage for a change. After gorging on chips (a carbohydrate meal for the gods) we took the plunge and joined the snaking queue to get inside. Astonishingly, there wasn't a crowd round the merch stall and neither were there huge queues at the bar, very unlike my last trip to the Apollo to see the Sex Pistols. It was with a little thrill that I took my seat and gloried at the view - Heaven 17 were on and played their final song, 'Temptation' (of course). But I wasn't there to see Heaven 17...
I was strangely fascinated watching the roadies dismantle the set and re-build it for ABC, draping red velvet around the podiums and huge red curtains to form the backdrop. I've never seen ABC before, not even back in the day, so it was a great thrill when Martin Fry finally walked on stage, all smart and proper in a grey wool suit - alas, no gold lame suit but hey, you can't have everything. I don't know who the rest of the band were, but ABC is, essentially, Martin, so I was happy.
Martin opened the set with 'The Very First Time' from the latest album, 'Traffic' (with the line, 'I'm not arrogant enough to suffer for my art), which was brave of him but it also signalled that this was a proper set and from a band that had new music to sell as well as doing the crowd-pleasing greatest hits. And that was fine by me since the new album is excellent ('Ride' was played mid-way through the set). The big applause was, of course, reserved for the hits, for 'Poisoned Arrow', 'When Smokey Sings', 'How To Be A Millionnaire' and the glorious 'The Look Of Love', which closed the set. It was great to see and hear ABC live after all these years.
Tension mounted as the roadies dismantled the set again, removed the red velvet, the risers and even the carpet to reveal the white flooring belonging to the Human League... Darkness but no silence greeted the first chords of the overture, and then lights appeared and massive blaring, atmospheric sound, courtesy of the technology pioneered by the original League in the late '70s that helped them create the new sound of pop music in the '80s.
As the seconds ticked across the massive light screens on stage, Phil Oakey appeared in a long coat singing, appropriately, 'Seconds'. What a great opening song. As Phil left the stage on came Susan and Joanne in billowing dry ice (yay for the '80s!) with the opening 'ooo's of 'Mirror Man' and off we go on a journey of discovery and memory and sheer fabness! Hit after hit assaulted us from the stage and we had a perfect view as Phil prowled and ran across the stage and the girls oooed and aahhed and struck poses in their glittering fancy frocks (Susan looks too thin but very striking).
I was forced to sing along and I managed to get the 'Love Action' rap word perfect again so I was pleased with myself. I know it's not difficult but I always get a word wrong somewhere, but not last night. Highlights included ... well, everything really! They played a great set with a great light show, one of the best I've ever seen. I loved '(Keep Feeling) Fascination', 'Louise', 'The Sound Of The Crowd' and the marvellous 'The Lebannon', with an encore of 'Being Boiled' and 'Together In Electric Dreams'. Particular kudos goes to the opener, 'Seconds', the thrill of 'Empire State Human' with Phil singing the first half on his knees and the grandeur of 'Being Boiled'.
Phew! That was some adventure last night! Thank you Martin, thank you Joanne, thank you Susan and thank you ever so much Mr Philip Oakey. Wow!