In Concert - ABC`s The Lexicon of Love Review
10th April 2019
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1980`s pop legends ABC played their only West Midlands concert at The Symphony Hall 9th April.  The concert was by popular demand as part of a major tour across the UK.  The band performed their iconic The Lexicon of Love album from 1982 in it`s entirety plus all their greatest hits.

 

  ABC were joined by the Southbank Sinfonia and longtime collaborator Anne Dudley of the Art of Noise who scored the original Lexicon of Love and conducted the evening.  The Lexicon of Love went straight to number 1 and spawned timeless classics such as Poison Arrow, All of My Heart, Tears Are Not Enough and The Look of Love.  The album sold in excess of 1 million records and, in 2016 following a successful performance at The Royal Albert Hall with Anne Dudley and the BBC Orchestra, it was decided to return to form and release their 9th studio album - The Lexicon of Love 2 - which immediately entered the Top 5 - their first chart entry in 26 years.  

 

  This reviewer last saw ABC at the Robin 2 in Bilston in 2008 when they released the album Traffic which failed to trouble the top 100 music charts.  This reviewer even went to the lengths of waiting at the back doors of the gig to ask ABC lead singer Martin Fry for an autograph on the CD version of The Lexicon of Love, to shake his hand and thank him for the soundtrack of his life during the 1980s when he was at school and university.  Martin Fry, who is 6`2 tall, hails from Sheffield and a gentleman, cheerfully obliged.   

 Nostalgia is a dangerous commodity and the past is sometimes left in the past.  "Why make the past your sacred cow?  I guess you`ve changed, you`ve changed and how" sang Martin on That Was Then This Is Now from 1983`s album Beauty Stab, a protest album that eschewed the lame suits and hallmark`s of Lexicon`s success with producer Trevor Horn.  Gone was the romantic and glossy and in was the dour college rock.  It was one of the greatest career sabotage LPS in pop history. 

1985`s How To Be A Zillionaire  was a slightly confusing satire about money in which ABC were trying to style themselves as Hana-Barbara cartoon characters.  In the UK The Lexicon of Love was regarded as the benchmark for music in that decade but in the USA How To Be A Zillionaire was ABC`s biggest commercial success.  ABC have always been about change and if 2008`s Traffic could be described as trans-Atlantic disguise then Lexicon of Love 2 is Hollywood 1950`s B movie film noir.  

  Change has become ABC`s philosophy, attitude , motto and secret for success.  Out of the original quartet only Martin Fry remains.  Mark White is a reiki master, Stephen Singleton is a club DJ and David Palmer drums for someone called Rod Stewart.  Gone, also, is Trevor Horn`s production alongside Martin Fry`s former bandmates so this does not inspire confidence at first blush.  However, Horn`s punchy dynamics have been replaced on the new album by a more mature, more lushly orchestrated style by composer Anne Dudley with the Southbank Sinfonia. 

The new music from The Lexicon of Love 2 is an eerie experience, grabbing you by the throat for songs straight from a time capsule of New Romantic songwriting.  It`s all big emotive lyrics and luxuriant chord-changes with the plushest strings you`ve heard since ELO courtesy of Anne Dudley.   Tonight an audience of the over 50s are ready to party like it`s 1982.  The Southbank Sinfonia come on stage, the lights dim and we hear a medley  of music from The Lexicon of Love by the orchestra as we remain in our seats.  The Symphony Hall is packed by middle aged music lovers. 

The whole audience roars a welcome and stands as one to greet Martin Fry as he enters the stage to begin two hours of live performance with 1987`s hit single When Smokey Sings.  Martin Fry has aged well and sings with genuine New Romantic swoon and swagger "facing defeat but somehow love survives". 

The song When Smokey Sings was a chart success on both sides of the Atlantic from ABC`s album Alphabet City and a tribute to R&B and soul singer Smokey Robinson.  The bass line of the song is a homage to Smokey`s composition The Tears of a Clown. 

  The release of The Lexicon of Love 2 in 2016 was followed by a lengthy tour of festival shows and scheduled ABC tours including The Royal Albert Hall with the Southbank Sinfonia conducted by Anne Dudley.  "You are too young to remember the 1980s!" joked Martin Fry on stage to the audience and pointing to various members of the audience dancing in the front rows.  "You, you, you - all of you are too young!  Have you been watching Top of the Pops 2?  We were very flamboyant in the 1980s!  Blancmange, Flock of Seagulls and Spandau Ballet" before singing Viva Love, one of the new songs on Lexicon of Love 2 as the audience of middle aged men and women sang and danced their hearts out.  There was no point in this reviewer remaining seated while he took notes - he wouldn`t be able to see the stage - so he had to get up and dance with the best of them in the audience.  Viva Love?  More like Viva ABC at The Symphony Hall.   "It`s hot on stage tonight" joked Martin Fry. 

"Do you think I should wear cut-off shorts and flip flops like Red Hot Chilli Peppers?"  The crowds screamed a definite negative.  "Right", decided Martin Fry, chewing the words over slowly, "the tuxedo stays on for another 36 years"  and the party continued with wild applause with ABC`s greatest hits from their 9 studio albums interspersed with new songs from The Lexicon of Love 2 like I Believe in Love and The Love Inside the Love as swirls of delicious strings and orchestral arrangements mix with smooth bass like the start of a Disney movie.  Up on stage Martin Fry is having a ball dancing, joking with the audience: the consummate New Romantic enjoying the melodrama and comedy.  

"The first time ABC came to Birmingham" joked Martin Fry "we only played to 7 people.  It was at the Rum Runner and 4 members of that audience were in Duran Duran."  More loud cheers from the audience and banter.  The audience were clearly loving it.  After 1 hour (where did the time go?) it was the interval before The Lexicon of Love in the second half of the show and played in it`s entirety. 

The Lexicon of Love has been picked as one of the best albums of all time.  It has been reissued, expanded and performed in full numerous times with full orchestra and to hear it always hits the jackpot.  

  The second half began with the Southbank Sinfonia playing the opening chords to the opening track on the LP`s side one called Show Me.  Once more, as the familiar notes filled the audience jumped up as one, howled their appreciation  and began dancing.  Should anyone in their 5Os be really having  this much fun? 

"This is track 1, side 1 of the original vinyl" declared Martin Fry "and you are too young to remember vinyl.  Have you all downloaded it last week on Spotify?  Or did you all buy the album?  Do people still buy music these days?  Why would anyone want to make an album these days?  Or is it a pretty good time to be making albums after all?  Is the art form coming back?  People do care, don`t they?" he asks and the audience roar their affirmative and laughter.

    ABC worked their way through the track list of side 1 of The Lexicon of Love with Poison Arrow and, as Martin announced, "track 3 on side 1 Many Happy returns".  The audience sang "many happy returns"  back to ABC for their return gig to the West Midlands.  Tears Are Not Enough and Valentine`s Day followed before Martin Fry announced that it was the end of side 1 of the vinyl record. 

The crowd moaned but brightened when he announced "let`s turn the record over to track 1 on side 2!" and the party resumed with the audience singing all the lyrics to The Look of Love (part one) complete with the yippee-yi-yippee-yi-yays and infamous spoken word breaks.  

  All too soon we had Date Stamp, All of My Heart , 4 Ever 2 Gether and the orchestral The Look of Love (part four) which was Bruno Brooke`s signature tune on his BBC Radio 1 Show.  What about an encore?  The orchestra remained on stage while Martin Fry and his band left to hear the chanting for one final song. 

What else could it be to conclude "many happy returns" to the West Midlands but The Look of Love (part one) and the end of 2 hours of live musical professionalism?  

 

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Ian Henery

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