Monday, 13 September 2010

Green Green Grass of Home (well, Hyde Park): Radio 2's Elvis Forever

Part 1: In which young men win over the audience, old men have already won them over, young women rock, Michael Ball undoes his jacket, Craig David wears aviators and Suzi Quatro zips up and unzips...

We weren't on time for Elvis Forever, Radio 2's electric-prom-fiesta-cum-tribute to the King in his 75th birthday year, but that's ok since it wasn't either. The crowd wasn't filling the arena, but there was no need for these four Geordies to set up camp quite so far from the stage. Even though the stage was the biggest outdoor stage ever built in Britain. Any minute it's going to have well over a hundred people on it. And for the next few days you lucky folk can hear them here.

The line-up was promising but I confess I wasn't at all sure it would be worth dragging long-suffering non-fan Elvisiate Clare to, but it just might have been the last Summer evening of the year, as if, I dunno, Elvis himself was shining down in his gold lame suit. 50,000 Elvis fans can't be wrong. Clare and I edged through the crowd as Scouting for Girls did a fairly faithful and perfectly respectable Blue Suede Shoes. Some of the more trad. Elvis crowd could be heard to mutter vague disapprovals of these young folk from South Ruislip. Then the personable Chris Evans, a cheeky and charming host, introduced Elvis' TCB band - Glen Hardin (piano) James Burton (guitar) Jerry Scheff (bass) Ronnie Tutt (drums), you know them, we met them before - in between eliciting Hallelujahs out of the audience. They were joined by Fran Healey, from Travis, I Can't Help Falling In Love With You. The next act, all George Clooney handsome ageing, already had a big fanbase in the crowd. Some of us still can't forgive that 18 week number one, but even Marti Pellow, reinvented as a crooner must have been taken aback at how well received his I Just Can't Help Believing was. Or maybe not given that he has the keys to the city of Memphis and an official Marti Pellow Day in Tennessee; May 9th in case you want to join in. After Marti, Imelda May. She deserves a new paragraph. And a picture. So here:

This Irish Rockabilly dude duetted with husband Darrel Higham at Elvis' actual birthday at the Ace Cafe last time Clare and I saw her, and has a new album, Psycho, out any minute. Here, with her band (including hubby) immaculately rocked out with trademark duochrome quiff, matching black and white stripes and red heels, Imelda brought some proper rock 'n' roll to the evening with My Baby Left Me. The half of the audience who had started to nod off to Marti Pellow woke up and whooped. She left a bit of a gap to fill for the sweet boy from the Guillemots, Fyfe Dangerfield, with a lot of hair and a lonely guitar. "Oh no, who's 'e?" said the fella next to me. I think you probably could quite easily make a mess of Always On My Mind - just you in front of thousands at Hyde Park - oh but he had the BBC Concert Orchaestra to back him up (which reminds me: if they were in Hyde Park being Elvisy, who was recording the Christmas edition of Songs of Praise in the Albert Hall?). Then comes a taxi driver, oh no, it's Tony Hadley. Nothing Spandau Ballety about his taxi-croony You've Lost That Loving Feeling and the Marti Pellow half of the crowd were happy again. Oh wait, who's this? Freddie Flintoff? "I just asked for a free ticket and I ended up standing here". Freddie introduced wee Jon Allen, no we didn't know either, and neither did the naughty element who chanted "Oo are ya? Oo are ya?". But the crumpled lad in his grandad's hat and cord jacket clearly meant that no one had to invite Rod Stewart. Uncanny. A whanged out Burnin' Love won over the unconvinced naughtys. I have to say the atmosphere was fabulous - good humoured Elvis lovers of all ages were very vocal. Perhaps something to do with the lax attitude to drink that the bag-checkers were operating. I suppose after you've tried to wrestle bottles of ros√© from the first 50 nicely dressed 50-somethings form the shires you think you might as well let it go.

There was no mistaking the next dude. Are You Lonesome Tonight, the answer from many was, not anymore. Chris Evans, introducing the song, mentioned that Elvis recorded it because it was Colonel Tom Parker's wife's favourite. This elicited a big boo from the crowd, but it was all screaming and swaying for Craig David sporting big shiny Elvisy shades.

Elio Pace. I didn't know who Elio Pace was. Wikipedia informs me that he was born in Woking in 1968 to Italian parents. His Such A Night was fine. That's all I have to say. Then It's Now Or Never with Tony Christie. I was told to shush during this one by some older ladies. But surely not that much older. And to no avail because the other thousands of folk were singing along too. Then Tim Minchin came on. Unfortunately not to sing. He instead commented on Chris's shirt: "It's beautiful: it's Paisley, it's a shirt, it's everything a shirt should be. I agree. He introduced, autocued as it were, Nell Bryden. Nell Bryden is a trained cellist but realised after ten years at it that she was actually born to rock. She flogged a painting in the attic which happened to be worth a pretty penny and now she is on stage at Hyde Park looking rather fabulous also in Imelda May black and red and bequiffed. Her matching set has lovely big red fake flowers winding up her microphone and she has reclaimed for me the mid-life crisis song. It's much better sung by a fabulous lady. Yes, If I Can Dream, gender neutralised to "As long as I have the strength to dream..." followed by a raucous and rockin' Devil In Disguise with lovely male backing vocals. The rock 'n' roll fans woke up again.

She was followed by some a capella fellas who have apparently been the talk of Edinburgh this year, the Magnets, in all their beatbox glory. Return to Sender with a nice audience participation refrain and She's Not You.

And then Fyfe was back. Anyone he didn't win over in the first half must have found it hard to dislike his Love Me Tender. And if you were wondering whether the ubiquitous Welsh women were going to appear, it was here that one of their number shouted "Fyfe! You're gorgeous". Fyfe went down well. This time he was truly alone on stage apart from a big roady watching him dangerously. Alone? No! We were there. There were tears from the crowd and everything. He was quite pretty and looked ever so pleased with the whole of Hyde Park sweetly singing along with him. He jogged off with a big smile and a grateful wave. And entering stage left was Melanie Sykes. She of the Boddingtons. She won approval from the female crowd with her keen and slightly over-zealous description of Elvis' attractive assets. "And them eyes!" Calm down, says Chris, Priscilla's round there. "I know! She says he was better in the flesh!" Which was followed by the living legend Suzi Quatro. Who, can we say it on the BBC, is gonna kick some ass! She must have been quite pleased with the love. And she sure did rock, with the gents of the TCB band. Clad, as you'd hope, in the flesh, in leather and lace, complete with zip-up bum, the whole nicely set-off with a pink paisley guitar (which kind of matched Chris's shirt). Suzi is very little if you didn't know, but you'd hope her (un-gender reassigned) All Shook Up and Johnny B. Goode make some of the crooning retirees question their career decisions. I think Elvis would have been pleased (remember Suzi was a no-show at Graceland many moons ago). She even said "Play it James [for Suzi] one time!"
Press Association pic from the Daily Mail. It hurts but the pics are good.

Then there was a BBC interlude in which some radio 2 people had to guess the songs in the concert orchaestra's Leiber and Stoller medley. Clare got bored. I don't blame her. And then Jon Allen was back with his Rod Stewart-esque voice, gravelling a rocking Heartbreak Hotel. Clare's too young to remember Mica Paris. Mica Paris has an amazing voice and delivered a gospelly, soulful I've Lost You.

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