Some of the great historic and cultural attractions in London are now opening their doors to a more contemporary entertainment form with a summer concert series. Following the likes of Hampton Court, Somerset House and Kew Gardens is now the Old Royal Naval College at Greenwich, with the Greenwich Music Time-themed gigs now in their second year.
On this occasion, forming part of an eclectic mix from Joe Bonamassa to Seal, the headliners were 10cc, though judging by the setting and the clientele, the time referred to is not Greenwich Mean Time but Pimms o’clock. I can’t recall ever seeing a Champagne and Oyster bar at Reading or Donington as I did here.
For many years 10cc were terminally unhip but a whole new generation of bands – from The Feeling to Cats In Space – have been inspired by their clever, quirky arrangements and musicianship. Indeed proof of their renewed credibility came with the honour of a recent BBC4 Friday night progumentary. Recently they performed the ‘Sheet Music’ album in full at the Royal Albert Hall but this was very much a straight down the line greatest hits set for a festival crowd.
A very agreeable warm-up was provided by another of the thinking man’s 70’s pop bands, Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel. Much of their set, with Barry Wickens’ fiddle jousting with the acoustic guitars had a folky feel, with Steve’s white shirt and waistcoat only adding to this ambience.
He still has a unique voice, making no attempt to hide his distinctive rhotacism, and particularly enjoyable was a song written in the seventies but only recently recorded by Rod Stewart in ‘A Friend For Life’. Generally he steered clear of the hits though the inevitable closer of ‘Come Up And See Me’ (Make Me Smile) encouraged a few out of their seats to dance.
10cc wasted no time building momentum in their show with an opening pair of hits in ‘Wall Street Shuffle’ and ‘The Things We Do For Love’ before getting into a satisfyingly funky, swampy groove during ‘Good Morning Judge’.
A trio of ‘I’m Mandy, Fly Me’, ‘Life Is A Minestrone’ and ‘Art For Art’s Sake’ each in their own way showcased the singular talents of the original 10cc, with their elliptical lyrics and progressive arrangements somehow shoehorned into three and a half minute epics with radio friendly melodies.
With the dapper Graham Gouldman the only remaining member of the original quartet of singers and writers, it would be easy to dismiss 10cc as mainstays of the nostalgia circuit of the ‘chicken in a basket’ provincial halls.
However not only have hirsute drummer Paul Burgess and guitarist Rick Fenn been part of the live band since the seventies, but the other main singer Mick Wilson handles the higher parts of Eric Stewart and Lol Creme with some style, with his falsetto singing on the earworm fifties pastiche ‘The Dean And I’ particularly impressive . They are also versatile musicians with Graham, Mick and keyboardist Keith Hayman all regularly swapping instruments during the course of the set, and some great harmonies throughout, notably on ‘Silly Love’.
In among the hits there were a couple of album tracks for the diehards, with ‘Feel The Benefit’ allowing the band to stretch out musically, notably with a long but typically crisp and understated guitar solo from Rick, as well as forming part of a running joke when Graham revealed various song titles were inspired by his parents old Manchester sayings. Meanwhile ’From Rochdale To Ocho Rios’, which I must admit to being a new one on me, had a jaunty calypso beat to it.
At times the atmosphere in a far from sold out lawn was a little flat with some of the yacht club types seeing the music as background to their idle chatter, but on hearing the intro to ‘I’m Not In Love’, suddenly hundreds of camera phones were held aloft while the stage lighting only added to the song’s great atmospherics, then people got to their feet and responded to Graham’s invitation to sing along to the classic ‘Dreadlock Holiday’, with a sign off line of ‘I Don’t like Greenwich – I love it’.
The encores saw them go back to their earliest hits, with all the band members grouped around the front of the stage delivering ‘Donna’ in acapella barber shop style, before rocking out to the third of their No 1’s in ‘Rubber Bullets’, Rick and Keith messing about together as they traded lead lines during an extended version.
The set was a little on the short side at an hour and 20 minutes, but as ‘Wichita Lineman’ boomed out of the PA as we left, the night was a reminder that great music, like the great surroundings this show took place in, will stand the test of time.
Review and Photos by Andy Nathan
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