It was time to dig out my gold lamé suit, polish my shiny black winklepickers, slick back my hair and get myself along to the Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank on Tuesday 25 October for an evening of cultured pop with ABC, accompanied by the Southbank Sinfonia Orchestra, conducted by the ever youthful Anne Dudley (looking no different from 30 years ago when she was in synthpop act ‘The Art of Noise’).
ABC’s debut Lexicon of Love album, pairing silky melodies and Chic funk with Fry’s wry reflections on romance, proved a chart-topping landmark which they struggled to match. But 34 years on Fry is back and presenting a rarity in popular music – an album “sequel”.
Opening with a sweeping When Smokey Sings “I hear violins” they set the scene for an outstanding evening of contemporary music at its finest. I saw a similar concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 2007 when they celebrated 25 years of the seminal 1982 album Lexicon of Love and knew they were going to play it in its entirety but what I hadn’t expected was that the first half of the show would also see them performing their Lexicon of Love II album in its entirety too. I was expecting a selection of greatest hits with a few newbie’s thrown into the mix.
I have to be honest and say there are a few weak songs on Lexicon of Love II which I often skip when listening to it. However, a full orchestra brought these weaker tracks such as Singer Not the Song to life in a wonderful way. The Lexicon of Love II is a softer, more reflective work than its predecessor, but songs like Viva Love and Flames of Desire are clearly crafted from the Lexicon template, but with romantic meditations now crooned from the perspective of a middle-aged man rather than from the aspirations and naivety of youth.
The exuberant crowd was made up of people of a certain age but, right from ‘the off’ it was clear they were there to enjoy themselves. Of course, everyone was on their feet for the most of the second set which was dominated by blockbusters such as Poison Arrow, Valentine’s Day, The Look of Love and All of My Heart. Each song was belted out with great gusto and greeted with rapturous applause. Thankfully, I’m pleased to say we had no Justin Beiberish tantrums with Fry throwing down his microphone and walking off the stage in disgust! Fry knows he has the crowd eating out of his hand and he’s loving every minute.
Fry’s voice still sounds as good as it ever did and his self-effacing Sheffield charm was both disarming and infectious: “We’ve survived the punk wars and The X Factor era. We’re still here,” Declares Fry after a triumphant encore of The Look of Love. The only murmurings of discontent arrive when Fry says whilst it’s fun to revisit 1982, he prefers living in 2016. However, there’s no doubt this album will stand the test of time and is undoubtedly one of those ‘classic’ albums that everyone should own.
I have to say that a crowd enthusiastically singing “Heavens above, Hip Hip Hooray, Yippie aiy yippee yaye” did seem more than a little cheesy. But hey …
The ABC songbook lives on and, I for one, can’t wait for Lexicon of Love III to hit the shelves.