Of all the acts big on American radio in the eighties who were no more than cult figures over here, Rick Springfield has been one of the most elusive. Despite the odd trip to Europe for the likes of Sweden Rock, this was his first UK show since a one-off gig down the road at Hammersmith in 1985. The attendance was rather disappointing with the Empire less than half full, but what it lacked in numbers was compensated for by a very special atmosphere of diehard fans including many who had travelled from mainland Europe.
It has been said so often to become a cliché, but the Australian-American defies the 63 years on his birth certificate, retaining his youthful looks but more importantly playing with an energy and vitality of a man half his age. He tore into the punky opener and new song Wide Awake, before racing across the stage during I’ve Done Everything For You, leaving crowd and band to fill in the gaps on the chorus.
His four piece band were kept away from the front of the stage, leaving no doubt whose show this was, but were a tight unit sensitively recreating the sounds of his classics which were recorded by the cream of American AOR players back in the day.
Perhaps my favourite song of his, I was delighted to hear Living in Oz which had been omitted from recent shows, while they whizzed through in lively style some of the other pop rock classics that wowed the Americans, if not sadly UK radio programmers, like Affair of the Heart and Love Somebody.
It was also noticeable that some of the later 1980’s material, Celebrate Youth and Rock of Life in particular, were revitalised, sounding much more guitar heavy than from the time when his music began to introduce more programmed sounds.
New material also went down well, with Our Ship’s Sinking- described as a ‘song for the end of the world’ which is the new album title- an instant classic and I Hate Myself, with its classic ‘I’m a one man wrecking crew’ simple enough for everyone to instantly join in.
He fairly tore through the material, and the pace increased further when one oldie after another was delivered in medley format, before another singalong classic in Affair of the Heart. There was then a surprise when after telling us he was inspired to play guitar when based in England as a boy, he cranked out a surprisingly good version of Crossroads.
During Don’t Talk to Strangers, he indulged in a lengthy call and response with the whole crowd and even brought a 10 year old girl on stage and put her enough at ease to join in, but the best was yet to come. Saying he wanted to get to know us better, during Human Touch (his only UK top 40 hit, no less) he dived into the crowd and headed for those of us who were dead central on the floor.
The resulting pogo as people crowded around to get a piece of him as he jumped around, dripping with sweat, was a 30 second highlight of my long gigging career (although the unknown person whose trampled glasses were then found on the floor may beg to differ). Not to be outdone, he sprinted through the rest of the crowd, up into the Empire balcony and virtually seemed to be greeting everyone there individually.
Barely stopping to catch his breath, he raced back through the audience and played the unmistakable staccato riff to Jessie’s Girl. He had previously teased with a snatch of it, but this time it was for real, and as the audience rocked out it was great to hear the authentic version of a song that seems to be a contractual obligation for the many covers bands I have seen in the States.
The main gig had whizzed through in little over an hour, but the encores were a relative disappointment- a cover of All My Loving (all rockers of a certain age seem to feel the need to pay tribute to the Beatles especially when they tour the UK) and another sixties inspired song in I’ll Make You Happy. The likes of Alyson or Souls would instead have rounded out my evening nicely.
Nevertheless the atmosphere, the rarity factor and his incredible energy, allied to a great set of catchy songs, made this one of the gigs of the year. I hope he doesn’t leave it another 28 years to come back, but if he does he will be the world’s youngest 91 year old rocker.
Review and Photos by Andy Nathan
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Pete Feenstra celebrated his 300th show in October 2019. Pete heads up a five-hour blues rock marathon when “Tuesday is Bluesday” from 19:00 GMT. Listen out also for his interview-based Feature show on Sundays (20:00 GMT)
Power Plays w/c 11 November (Mon-Fri)
MILES NIELSEN AND THE RUSTED HEARTS Hands Up (indie)
THE FARGO RAILROAD COMPANY Something In The Water (indie)
THE DARK ELEMENT If I Had A Heart (Frontiers)
LIBERTY LIES A Thousand People (indie)
DIRTY SHIRLEY Here Comes The King (Frontiers)
CARRY THE CROWN Runaway (indie)
Featured Albums w/c 11 November (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 WORK OF ART Exhibits (Frontiers)
12:00-13:00 SIGN X Like A Fire (Pride & Joy Music)
14:00-16:00 JACK BROADBENT Moonshine Blue (Creature Records)
Albums That Time Forgot (Mon-Fri)
CADO BELLE (1975)
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