Review by Glenn Raybone with photography by Wayne Fox.
Back in the mid-eighties, the charts were filled with songs from the so called Hit Factory, masterminded by Stock, Aitken and Waterman. They sounded much the same but were very successful and from it spawned two notable stars. The first was a soap actress, who went on to become a global star, and the other, a young white man with the most incredible soul voice, had a similar destiny laid out before him. However, that young man had other ideas, and at his height of fame walked away. That young man was Rick Astley.
Rick remained out of the public eye for many years, decades even, but this changed last year when he turned fifty, maybe it was a mid-life crisis or an epiphany, but he recorded a new album, ‘50’, and did some of his first live dates for a generation. The reaction was very positive and he’s currently doing a full UK tour, tonight the first of two sold-out shows at the majestic Symphony
Opening with ‘Coming home tonight’ Rick sings “I’ve been waiting for this moment all my life”. ‘Together Forever’ follows “c’mon we’re back in the eighties” as the whole audience rise as one, it’s evident he’s having the time of his life, “yeah baby, this is the last Saturday night on this tour and I need every bit of sugar you can squeeze out”, before the first new song, ‘Keep Singing’. This really provides evidence, as if any were needed, that the voice is still there in all its glory, and this new song has very strong gospel undertones. It’s fabulous.
Rick has a wicked sense of humour, and ‘Hold me in your arms’ is dedicated to all those fellas who’ve been dragged here, before doing a mime of their stance, hands in pockets, with a grimace on their face, but one chap at the front says he’s actually dragged his wife here, “…that’s a first”.
The set continues with crowd pleasers, but a poignant moment comes with ‘Cry for Help’, which is tender and thought provoking, and when asked to sit down for the song all oblige (bar one who stands and claps along!). Finally, there is a cover of an Ed Sheeran song, ‘Shape of You’, which I must admit I’m not familiar with, and on reflection I’m unsure why it’s included in the set, but it seems to go down well, as does Rick’s glasses, which he tells us he must wear as the “lyrics are down there” pointing to the front monitor.
We then have a short acoustic section, in a make-shift boat, including the reflective ‘Superman’ which was written after seeing himself in a mirror and saying, “who the bloody hell is that”, but after it’s opening line of ‘I live in my apartment above a high street shop’ he tells us “all I could think of was Mr. Benn”.
The excellent band are described as angels, before appropriately ‘Angels on my side’, with the back-drop featuring angel-wings (also available on a t-shirt if you so wish).
The two-song encore starts with ‘Take me to your heart’ mixed up with Rhianna’s ‘We found love’ and then the inevitable “you know the rules, and so do I”, of course it’s ‘Never gonna give you up’. It is a truly brilliant set, and Rick Astley did get some stick back in the day. One local band wrote a derogatory song about him, and while he’s selling out large venues night after night, where are they? He really has the most wonderful soul voice, and on his new songs it sounds better than ever. Maybe he’s now got the songs to suit his voice??
The support tonight I can’t comment on as I was trying to get my ticket swapped as the original press ticket was up in the Gods, with a view of the speakers and the worst view of the stage possible, however, after some pleading, Victoria in the box office sorted me an exchange, I’m not sure how, but I can’t thank her enough.
The show was being recorded for a future release, but prior to that Rick continues to tour Europe before some US dates. If you’ve got tickets you’re in for a great night.
Coming home again
This old house
Hold me in your arms
It would take a strong strong man
Whenever you need somebody
Cry for help
Shape of you
Angels on my side
Play with me
Take me to you heart (We found love)
Never gonna give you up