16th June 2018
Okay, first things first, let’s get the obvious thing out of the way- Blackpool is a dump. If you have never been and are wondering if the reports of its tawdry seafront, seedy pubs and shops revelling in their own warped sense of nostalgia, and endless groups of run-down houses and stag night parties are in any way over-exaggerated, believe me, they’re not.
The morning of the gig, I arrived into Blackpool on a replacement bus service that had rocketed along at the death-defying speed of 35 miles per hour for most of the hour-and-a-half-long journey; ‘you’ll get there at some point, love’, I had been told by the driver.
As we waited outside the stadium, the heavens opened as a numbingly cold wind threw itself at us as it rolled off the North Sea.
The next morning, I woke up, looked out of my hotel window and saw a bloke set someone’s car on fire and then run down the street kicking the dustbins over as he went.
You get the idea.
But for a few hours on the Saturday afternoon at Bloomfield Road football stadium, a little bit of something genuine came to Blackpool- and whilst it couldn’t exactly be referred to as ‘glamorous’, at least the gig’s line-up of Tom Bailey, OMD and A-Ha had something of a sense of class about it.
Tom Bailey, who I had doubts about, opened the show, and his slightly delayed entrance onto the stage in a white suit, followed by the rest of his band (three young women) dressed similarly, and then followed a few songs in by an enormous red balloon, didn’t really do anything to ease those doubts, particularly after I’d been queuing for seven hours and had nearly broken a rib in the animalistic crush that ensued once the doors were actually opened.
What was I saying about class again?
However, about halfway through his set, the realisation hit me that I was actually enjoying myself. He was (generally) hitting all the right notes, there was a clear show of musicianship within the band itself, they had a brilliant amount of energy, and of course the songs are very, very well-written. ‘Love On Your Side’, ‘Doctor! Doctor!’, new track ‘What Kind Of World’ and the classic ‘Hold Me Now’ were highlights of the set, which sufficiently warmed up the audience and proved that Bailey is a far better performer than most of us were expecting.
Next up was OMD, and whilst the crowd applauded Bailey for his set, they positively went absolutely crazy for Andy McCluskey’s windmill dancing (‘is he made of elastic?!’ was one comment I heard), Stuart Kershaw’s off-the-scale drumming, Martin Cooper’s effortlessly cool keyboard and sax playing, and Paul Humphreys’s sweet sense of humour and keyboard lines.
It was the energy and ‘banter’ in between songs that made it; ‘now I know the ladies in the audience are waiting for three sexy Vikings’, McCluskey crooned, ‘but let me introduce you to a nominee for NME Thinking Woman’s Crumpet Of The Year 1979...Mr Humphreys, get your wiggle on!’
As if that wasn’t enough, as Mr Thinking Woman’s Crumpet was at the front of the stage working his way through a passionate rendition of the band’s 1986 hit ‘(Forever) Live and Die’, about five large bras flew over the heads of the audience towards him, sending the women around me, and very nearly Paul himself, into absolute hysterics.
At the end of the song, Andy leaned over the stage where the lingerie in question had landed. ‘Christ that’s a big one...that’s bigger than my head! And I’ve got a f****** massive head!!’ He grinned cheekily.
Their stellar performance was reflected in the audience’s reaction at the end of their last song ‘Electricity’; people around me who, only an hour and fifteen minutes ago had been claiming they hadn’t even heard of OMD, were cheering themselves hoarse, having clapped and jumped along to the set at McCluskey’s eager request.
As other reviewers have said of these gigs, it is here that we find the problem. OMD have such energy, such passion when they perform, that when A-Ha finally strolled casually out onto the stage at around 9pm, and proceeded to deliver a less-than-satisfactory first few songs, it all fell a little flat.
Again, as others have said, technically as a band A-Ha are very good. The issue is that Morten Harket seems to have a very high opinion of himself (perhaps understandable considering that virtually every time he so much as blinked, someone fainted), and actually doesn’t do a great deal of singing. Yes, they were one or two technical issues, but you would think that someone who is paid to sing would improvise to some extent, and not just stand there for the entirety of three songs looking dazed, whilst the audience sang for him.
On the other hand, once they got into their stride a little, some of the tracks sounded great- ‘The Sun Always Shines On TV’, a U.K. number 1, went down a storm, for instance, as well as the obvious ‘Take On Me’, and great versions of ‘Train of Thought’ and ‘Analogue’.
‘Mellow’ is the primary word that came to mind during A-Ha’s set, and whilst that might have been okay with a similar-style support band, having OMD play before them made them seem, in a word, boring.
But of course, the dedicated fans, as dedicated fans do, gave a rapturous applause as the ‘three sexy Vikings’ and the rest of their entourage departed the stage, with one more gig to go on the UK leg of their ‘Electric Summer’ tour.
The rest of us, meanwhile, were left with the late-night delights of Blackpool, which for our little group amounted to a 24-Hour McDonalds (closed), a ‘brisk’ walk along the seafront, and a trip to the Wetherspoons by the south pier, which we were eventually kicked out of.
P.S. It probably doesn’t sound like it in this review, but I really did enjoy the gig! I also ended up with Mr Kershaw’s drumstick (thank you again Marilyn!), Andy McCluskey’s water bottle (again) (don’t ask), and memories of a fairly enjoyable day or so- aside from the painful rib, which I discovered was in fact, bruised, rather than broken. We must be thankful for the small things, I suppose...