“How about that? Dead posh round here,” says Jeff Lynne in a thick Brummie accent, gesturing towards the BBC Concert Orchestra.
Despite having co-founded (with Roy Wood) the pop-prog behemoth ELO – one of the biggest bands of the 70s and 80s – and the star-loaded Traveling Wilburys, he appears genuinely taken aback by the response of the 50,000-strong crowd.
It’s ELO’s first festival show for 28 years and much like Kate Bush, the self-effacing 66-year-old is welcomed back as a returning messiah. As hit after hit follows, it’s more life‑affirming than nostalgic. These irresistible songs may be beloved by those who like the melodies of the Bee Gees and Abba, but they also display the intricacy and ambition of the epic. With their violin intros, dashing strings, call-and-response vocal lines and curious twists, ELO’s mighty classics tonight land on us like a jukebox from Jupiter.
The sound, right across the park, is immaculate. The fabled spaceship of yore may be a computer-generated backdrop now, but with 30 people onstage, there’s plenty to take in. Richard Tandy is still there on piano and a dash of vocoder (“We’ve been working together now,” says Lynne, “for 42 years… bloody hell!”), while the other musicians, who have rehearsed a month for this event, include everyone from Take That session men – see our Lee Pomeroy (Rick Wakeman, Steve Hackett) there – and Mick Wilson from 10cc.
If that’s a peculiar mix, it’s such all-embracing contradictions that make ELO fly. From dazzling bridges to hypnotic hooks, Lynne has a knack for producing songs that don’t just have ‘a good bit’ but are non-stop ‘good bits’. Seeing as the noted perfectionist clearly enjoyed the experience, and a world tour’s now mooted, ELO might be a smart bet to headline next year’s Glastonbury.
It’s impossible to pick a standout as the 80-minute set layers peaks on peaks. _Livin’ Thing _and _Sweet Talkin’ Woman _defy you not to holler along. _Ma-Ma-Ma Belle _grinds out the best guitar riff this side of T. Rex. _All Over The World _and Strange Magic prove that prog and disco can happily co-exist. _Don’t Bring Me Down _brings that insane I-have-to-hit-something backbeat, while _10538 Overture _and Showdown remind us that Electric Light Orchestra began as a kind of Beatles-Jimmy Webb hybrid. The yearning chords of _Can’t Get It Out Of My Head _and _Telephone Line _offer radiant orbs of Orbison, and the suite-in-a‑song Mr Blue Sky leaves us wondering why Mr Lynne had to hide away for so long.
Some prog purists may dismiss ELO as Primark prog-lite. Maybe you had to see this many people going mental and hear that orchestra swing to be converted, but everybody here made a (re)discovery: an all‑inclusive musical El Dorado.