Pleasant Ally Sunday

A few years ago I was a reluctant seat occupier at a show by Al Stewart at the Liverpool Philharmonic.

I was aware of some of his songs but had long since dismissed any notions of actually listening to his stuff.

It turned out to be a pleasantly entertaining evening – and I don’t mean that to be in any way faint praise.

So this time around I went thinking it would be another pleasantly entertaining evening and, lo and behold, it was.

I still knew no more songs now than I did then but Stewart is an engaging performer with a relaxed style and plenty of tales from more than 50 years in the music business.

Getting in on Sunday proved to be a trial as we arrived at the car park as the WWE wrestling show at the Liverpool Echo Arena was emptying out and hordes swarmed the car park stairs as we tried to get down them, battling against hundreds of foam fingers.

The auditorium alongside the arena wasn’t the most atmospheric of venues, but Stewart lent it an air of geniality and intimacy, helped by the jaunty presence of long-time sideman Dave Nachmanoff and also joined during the evening by Tim Renwick who was lead guitar player on his hugely successful Year of the Cat album.

Taking the opportunity post-gig to look Renwick up I discovered he has quite the storied career having worked with Pink Floyd, David Bowie and Elton John amongst many others.

There was also a multi-instrumentalist adding saxophone, flute and percussion and at one point walking around the audience during his sax solo. Less keen on that, to be honest.

The three principal players couldn’t have looked less alike. Stewart smartly dressed in shirt and trousers like a senior civil servant who has just had time to remove his jacket and tie before being asked to get up on stage, Nachmanoff somewhat crumpled and slightly dishevelled, and Renwick in a classic older muso outfit of shapeless black t-shirt and black jeans.

Instead of having a support, Nachmanoff played three songs of his own at the start of the show’s two halves before being joined by Stewart which I thought was a good way to kick things off.

The show covered a lot of ground from career beginnings like Clifton in the Rain and stories inspired by the life of Admiral Sir John Fisher, as well as the titles tracks to the aforementioned Year of the Cat and Time Passages that were his biggest commercial successes.

If he comes round again, I’m expecting a pleasantly entertaining evening…







He writes the songs…just not all of them

Maybe I should just roll all the Manilow experiences into one.

There have been a few, and there’s at least another one on the way.

It was inconceivable a few years ago for me to think that there would come a time when I would have seen Barry Manilow more times than Morrissey.

Yet, next year, Baz will pass Moz on the chart of gigs I have seen. He’ll actually go third behind Echo and the Bunnymen and Terrorvision.

And it’s all because I met and married a very big fan.

I’ve seen him in London, in Bournemouth, in Manchester, at Blenheim Palace and in Las Vegas – in a couple of those locations, more than once.

At the time of writing there’s a rumour he will be the Sunday afternoon legend at Glastonbury. I have a ticket.

I also have a ticket for his `last ever’ tour.

In Las Vegas, I kid you not, I was actually on stage. In a seat rather than performing, but close enough to shake the great man’s hand and touch the piano he was using.

I also got to see him rehearse. The wife and I had mooched along to the venue as she wanted to pick up her tickets and we thought we’d check out the theatre at the Hilton at the same time.

Finding one of the entrances we just wandered in and could see the band in full swing, so sat down. As the music stopped, from out of the shadows came a familiarly thin figure passing on a few instructions before the band struck up again.

We watched for a while before a  security man came over and said we’d have to leave.

Either side of that show I’ve usually been miles from the stage in some enormodome or other, usually London’s 02 or Manchester Arena.

But the size of the venue doesn’t diminish his old-time showmanship and all-round entertainment craftsmanship.

After a couple of gigs I grudgingly admitted he was better than I thought he would be. Now I think it’s great to see someone with his kind of old school magic.

Not faux old school like Buble, but properly honed songwriting, band-leading and performing skills.

Of the gigs I’ve seen only one – at the 02 – was a bit duff when his voice seemed to be starting to give out. Otherwise he’s been the epitome of star quality.

If he does do Glastonbury, he’ll go down a storm.