Every time I go to Pizza Express Live I have the best time imaginable – and tonight proved no exception. ‘Live & Personal with Steve Norman’ proved every bit as exuberant, enjoyable and downright entertaining as I’d hoped.
58 years old Steve Norman may be, but unlike certain rock stars I can think of he doesn’t look it and it’s evident that he is just as passionate about music as he ever was. “Family, friends and music get me through life’s tribulations”, he stated at the beginning of the evening, before dedicating the gig to his sister, Dee, who recently passed away from breast cancer.
Introducing his backing singer, Sabrina Winter, and his band, Norman told us “We’re going to play a few tunes, representing the artists I grew up listening to, and who made me the musician I am”. And what tunes they proved to be. Elvis, Al Green and, of course, Spandau Ballet; Nick Cave (a haunting duet with Winter of ‘Where the Wild Roses Grow’) – and, just as enjoyably, some of Norman’s own tracks, including the recently-penned ‘If Looks Could Kill’, the first time tonight that the famous saxophone made an appearance.
It was interesting hearing Norman sing. Spandau Ballet’s vocals were always so closely associated with Tony Hadley that I’d never really thought of any of the other band members as singers. And yet, his vocals are husky and heartfelt, as he showed to particular effect in ‘Let’s Stay Together’.
Throughout the night, there were some fantastic surprises. Norman’s son, Jaco, joining him to play bass guitar – and what a chip off the old block he is, dashingly handsome and wearing a pair of tartan trousers that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Spandau Ballet’s 1980s heyday. Paul McCarrack arriving on stage to sing lead vocals on ‘Only When You Leave’ (and sounding uncannily like Tony Hadley).
And, just before the end of the first half, Norman introducing – to whoops of glee from an already excitable audience – Ross William Wild, Spandau Ballet’s new lead singer. He is PHENOMENAL; together, they performed a spine-tingling performance of ‘Through the Barricades’ which left me with goosebumps and had the entire club on its feet, roaring its approval.
The night just got better and better, with Cutting Crew’s Nick Van Eede appearing to perform ‘I Can’t Live Without You’ (“It’s hard to believe that the two guys who wrote this song committed suicide before its massive success” Van Eede remarked, wistfully) and, of course, ‘I Just Died In Your Arms Tonight’, for which both Norman and Winter joined him.
There was a tribute, too, to Buzzcocks’ Pete Shelley, who died just one week ago. “I remember seeing him perform at Screen on the Green with the Sex Pistols and The Clash”, reminisced Norman, “and watching Pete fall out of a van into the venue: very rock and roll”.
Can I just say: I live a five-minute walk from said venue and believe me: nothing remotely as exciting as that happens there these days. Life’s just not fair.
And then, possibly the best conclusion ever to a gig: a footstomping version of ‘Gold’, followed by Spandau Ballet’s original backing singers, Dee and Shirley Lewis, appearing for ‘True’. It doesn’t get any better than that, does it? What with Rusty Egan popping up to sing ‘Chant No. One’, “helped” by the audience (“I DON’T NEED THAT PRESSURE ON!”) and all of the night’s performers back on stage for ‘We are Family’, we didn’t want this gig to come to an end. It was the most blissful mixture of great music, veteran & new talent and nostalgia: a privilege to witness.