Sunday, 19 June 2011
The tickets for last night's show* had been on the side of the fridge for what seemed like an eternity. The current Mrs M would often fill a lull in conversation with 'Tony Christie's on in (pick a number between 1 and 6) weeks' - Medd Towers had succumbed to Christie fever. And so we set off for the little Arts Centre where the Steel City belter, known to his mother as Anthony Fitzgerald, and his nine piece band (would there be room for them all on the compact stage?, we were thinking on the way) were playing the 41st night on a grueling 50 date tour; to mark the anniversary of his 50 years in the business.
Parking up and walking to the venue we saw what looked like several Wallace Arnold refugees heading in the same direction: 'Looks like we'll be the youngest ones in tonight' I said to the GLW. I wasn't wrong. In our seats with time to spare whoever was in charge of the sound-system had got it spot on: some laid back Hammond grooves even had the blue rinse brigade tapping their feet in anticipation.
And then the lights dimmed and the dulcet tones of Get Carter emerged; only it was Get Carter with a twist:
The band (a nontet?) took up their positions before Christie entered stage left; sporting a stylish crumpled whistle and with his now trademark shock of silver hair, he clicked his fingers and the band launched into The Protectors Theme - better known as Avenues and Alleyways. Any doubts that the 68 year old wouldn't (or couldn't) hit all the notes were soon dispelled as his masterclass in how to deliver a back catalogue spanning five decades began.
All the hits were dispatched (I Did What I Did For Maria, Las Vegas, Is This The Way To Amarillo - obviously) in a perfunctory manner, but, for me, it was his album tracks that stood out and really showed what the man's made of: when he tackles The Human League's Louise (from his Made In Sheffield album) and strips it down to just voice, piano and acoustic guitar you realise just what a set of lungs he still has. His inter-song banter is very self deprecating and must surely herald an autobiography sometime soon. Christie's wilderness years, spent practising his golf swing in Spain, are described with such pathos that when he gets rediscovered (three times: by Jarvis Cocker, Peter Kay and Richard Hawley) you breath a sigh of relief knowing that he's finally got the recognition he deserves.
Much of the evening was spent plugging, and playing selections from, his new record, Now's The Time, and rightly so: with a bit of luck and some Radio 2 airplay, Tony Christie may well have a contender for Album Of The Year on his hands.
* It was definitely a show, not a gig