Although Paddington’s Porchester Hall is best known as a venue for large scale record company soirees (several Iron Maiden bashes and last year’s impressive launch party for Pink Floyd’s The Endless River), gigs here seem less frequent – in fact, this is the first gig your correspondent has actually ever attended here.
But as a one-off intimate show as promotion builds for the release of the first ELO album in 14 years – there’s also TV shows being recorded, a BBC Radio 2 In Concert and a Royal Variety Performance before the band head to America – the setting is perfect.
Given that the show sold out in a mere 30 seconds, the venue isn’t as packed as we expected, but nevertheless we have fun celeb spotting – that’s definitely Trevor Francis, and Dr. Brian Cox, and that bloke over there looks like John Lodge from the Moody Blues. And is that Jasper Carrott? The Brum mafia out in force for Birmingham’s favourite son.
And suddenly there he is, all hair, beard and shades: Jeff Lynne leads his band (featuring Headspace bassist Lee Pomeroy and long-standing keyboard player Richard Tandy) through All Over The World and everyone is singing along at the top of their voices. Although a scaled-down version of what one might expect from the now sold-out April arena dates next year, the stage is still decorated with various ELO spaceships and there’s an impressive array of electric light bulbs hanging at the front of the stage (oh yes, we saw what they did there!). A trio of 70s classics, Evil Woman, Showdown and Turn To Stone, have everyone in raptures, delivering instant recognition and beaming grins, before Lynne announces the first track from brand new album Alone In The Universe, namely lead single and warm nostalgia fest that is When I Was A Boy.
He strikes a curious character, Lynne. Known the world over for both ELO’s musical legacy as well as his production work, largely with fellow Traveling Wilburys, he’s as humble as can be, his lack of recent live performances, one assumes, the reason for his chuckling anecdotes ahead of each song delivered while they’re being drowned out by rapturous applause. And yet his genuine delight at the crowd reaction is as warming as many of the songs played tonight.
One Step At A Time, When The Night Comes and the jaunty Ain’t It A Drag from Alone In The Universe all get an airing tonight, the reaction enthusiastically polite but slightly muted as one might expect, as the album has not been released yet. But it’s the hits that people really want to hear, and the engaging and obliging Lynne does not disappoint. Livin’ Thing, a delightfully dreamy Strange Magic and Can’t Get It Out Of My Head, a suitably euphoric Don’t Bring Me Down and a playful Sweet Talkin’ Woman are all included.
There are not many songs from ELO’s repertoire that the audience wouldn’t delight in hearing. One cry for Battle Of Marston Moor was pushing things, given original drummer Bev Bevan wouldn’t even play on it so little did he think of it! But if there was one gripe, perhaps Rock’n’Roll Is King was the one track this writer could have done without. Then again, I’d also have been happy just hearing the whole of Time, so it’s each to their own.
A final run of Telephone Line, Mr Blue Sky and Roll Over Beethoven leaves all savouring a performance from a man whose cultural renaissance seems complete. I wouldn’t miss those arena shows, if I were you…