Long before girl power was a twinkle in the eyes of the Spice Girls, there was, of course, Madonna. But blazing a trail well before Madonna came two of the most iconic female musicians ever, as well as two of my favourite-ever artists: Debbie Harry and Chrissie Hynde. Debbie Harry I was lucky enough to see perform a few years ago with Blondie; tonight, I finally got to see Chrissie Hynde with her band The Pretenders.
It’s hard to believe that former NME journalist Chrissie is 66 (“Still on the young side”, she cracked). Or, indeed, that she founded The Pretenders all the way back in 1978. She was such an influence on me growing up: always ready to stand up for what she believed in and a fierce advocate of animal rights, Chrissie Hynde was one of the reasons I gave up eating meat.
The Pretenders are touring to promote their latest album ‘Alone’ – but tonight was also liberally sprinkled with classics. Chrissie, and drummer Martin Chambers, have been doing this for nearly 40 years and know as well as anyone that people want to hear the big hits. ‘Back on the Chain Gang’, ‘Talk of the Town’, ‘I’ll Stand by You’ and ‘Stop Your Sobbing’ all made an appearance, to fervent applause.
Along the way, Chrissie regaled us with tales of the famous artists she’s worked or performed with: Kate Bush, Siouxsie Sioux, Neil Young…”but I’m going to try not to name drop tonight. Bob Dylan told me it was bad form!” There’s no doubt that this woman is the consummate rock & roll star: her demeanour and fabulous pink, sequinned jacket say it all. Her voice, always a thing of beauty, remains as pure as ever.
Pausing for a heartfelt rendition of ‘Hymn to Her’, lit gloriously by candlelight, Chrissie mentioned that she’ll soon be touring with Stevie Nicks, who “tells stories about each of her songs longer than the songs themselves”. She’s certainly honest – not to mention forthright, stopping playing half way through ‘Back on the Chain Gang’ to rebuke the stewards for making the audience sit down. “We want people to dance. That’s what music’s all about!”
A formidable lady, Chrissie Hynde. With some formidable friends – she pointed out, much to that poor lady’s embarrassment, the Labour MP Angela Eagle, dancing near the stage. By the time of The Pretenders’ encore, a triumphant trio of ‘Kid’, ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong’ and ‘Brass in Pocket’, the whole audience was up and dancing, despite the best efforts of the stewards – impossible not to be on your feet, for an evening that none of us wanted to end.