Gig Review: ‘Roy Wood’s Rockmas’ at the Birmingham Symphony Hall
Saturday 16th December 2017
Although often forgotten amongst the likes of Lennon and McCartney, Paul Weller, and even ex-ELO bandmate Jeff Lynne, Roy Wood is undoubtedly one of the greatest songwriters this country has ever seen. Armed with more top ten hits that you can shake a stick at (more often than not, it was not a question of whether the next song he was going to play had got into the charts, but how many weeks it had remained in the charts for), his live performances are also not to be sniffed at- as we discovered at Wood’s home gig yesterday evening. Before the main event, two support acts took to the stage, both as zany and off the wall as each other. First up was ‘Galleon Blast’ (Radio 6 Music DJ Mark Radcliffe’s band) who, with their pirate-themed sea shanties, gave us all a forty minute lesson in how not to take yourselves seriously. Novelty value aside however (take note of their album titles: ‘Band On The Rum’ and ‘A Band On Ship’), their set made for a surprisingly enjoyable and delightfully chaotic start to the night.
Next was Armenian-English funnyman Kev Orkian. I presumed he was some sort of up-and-coming entertainer, but after some quick research I discovered he is in fact an accomplished comedian and musician who has previously supported big names in comedy like Michael McIntyre, and has performed for members of the Royal Family. Almost as soon as he began his set, however, none of that mattered- most of us were laughing too much to care. He was incredibly funny, and the incorporation of music into his set is something which could easily be referred to as a stroke of genius.
Finally we arrived at the main event. Roy Wood burst onto the stage (complete with partially red hair, straggling beard and instantly recognisable rose-tinted glasses, and immediately burst into a rendition of The Move’s ‘California Man’, followed by songs the audience knew and clearly loved and one or two lesser known tracks (both received just as well as each other, I might add). In order to define Wood as a performer, the phrase ‘mad professor’ springs to mind, and for all the right reasons; the man is clearly a musical genius, and although his dialogue to the audience started off as quite nervy and unsure, he was soon put at ease by the raucous applause he received at the end of every song. At one point he made a seemingly unplanned dash off stage, only to return playing a set of bagpipes- eyes wide with delight like a child on Christmas morning- with accompaniment from the ‘Birmingham Irish Pipes and Drums’ Group.
About two thirds of the way through his set, he was joined by ‘special guest’ Paul Young, who, with his instantly recognisable voice, has hits throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s with songs like ‘Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home’, ‘Love Of The Common People’ and ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’. Young performed four songs (three of which were his hits that had been reworked to the advantage of the four-piece brass section Wood had brought with him) with vim and vigour, his presence a welcome one in terms of keeping up the energy on stage.
At this point, yet more ‘special guests’ took the stage (see what I mean about ‘mad professor’?), this time in the form of the Enigma String section- their entrance marked with some immortal words from Wood: ‘Oh! Some girls have arrived!’ Between some fabulous playing, encouragements to his audience (‘We love it when you join in!’), bagpipes, string sections, changes of guitars, the appearances of 80s pop stars, and of course, great music, it is safe to say that a terrific time was had by everyone involved.
The night ended with a joyful singalong of Wood’s perhaps best known hit- Wizzard’s ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day’, and even that was after he had mischievously turned his nose up and going off stage and returning again for the encore. ‘We can’t be bothered with all that’, he told us gleefully. ‘Once we’re on, we’re on!’ And although it was that immortal Christmas hit that was received the best by the audience, one thing is for sure. Roy Wood is for life...not just for Christmas.