It was with a blast of bagpipes and a flurry of backing singers and musicians clad in gold mini dresses that Rod Stewart arrived on stage at The O2, himself clad in black and gold.
“Thank you for coming out on this miserable night”, Rod beamed. “Tonight’s going to be special…I’ve got 25 songs to sing. Thank you to everyone who’s stuck with me since the 1970s – and for those of you who weren’t there: you don’t know what you missed!”
True to his promise, Rod delivered classic after classic. ‘Some Guys Have All the Luck’, ‘Twisting the Night Away’ and ‘It Takes Two’ formed the introduction, Rod telling us of the latter “This is a song that I sing on my new album with my dear friend Robbie Williams. He couldn’t be here tonight because he has a dodgy back!”
1972’s ‘You Wear It Well’ came next and then, adopting a more sombre tone, Rod told us “I was born just after the war and my generation owes a great debt to those soldiers who died for us on the beaches of Normandy: God bless ‘em.” There followed a moving rendition of ‘Rhythm of My Heart’, accompanied by black & white footage of World War II airmen, mingled with red poppies.
“My brother and sister are here tonight”, continued Rod, adding cheekily: “Rumour has it I was conceived in an air raid shelter. I don’t know if it’s true…but whatever: Stay young!” You’ve guessed it: ‘Forever Young’ followed.
“Way back in the ‘70s I wrote a song that’s had so many repercussions. Guys came up to me and thanked me, saying that they didn’t know they were gay or bi until they heard ‘The Killing of Georgie’.”
The evening then took a more upbeat tone, with ‘Young Hearts’, ‘Stay With Me’ and ‘Tonight’s the Night’ – and a promise: “The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra will be joining us soon.”
There was a different treat in store first, though, with giant photos of Rod’s model railway – “All my own work” – appearing on screens behind him as he sang ‘Downtown Train’. And very impressive it looked, too – right up this self-confessed geek’s street.
“I’m giving you the opportunity to sit down now”, smiled Rod, before beginning ‘Reason to Believe’, one of my all-time favourite songs. In the mood for reminiscing, he continued “I’d just joined The Faces when I was asked to do a solo album. I was going out with a girl and we were at home one evening when she suddenly told me “I must go – my mum’ll have me down Gaslight Alley, otherwise”. I wrote that one down straightaway.” Cue song.
The section of the concert in which Rod was joined by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was perhaps the most enjoyable, elevating ‘The First Cut is the Deepest’, ‘I Don’t Wanna Talk About It’ and ‘You’re In My Heart and Soul’ (“Dedicated to my two sons, who are here tonight”) into something truly special. After Rod had performed ‘Grace’, inspired by the Irish nationalist Joseph Plunkett, the RPO returned to the stage to accompany him on ‘Have I Told You Lately?’
And then: “It’s time to get the party started: it’s nearly Christmas!” roared Rod, as his musicians burst on to the stage, now clad in crimson, to sing Fleetwood Mac’s ‘You Can Go Your Own Way’. Back came Rod (and his wife, Penny), to perform a rousing encore comprising ‘Baby Jane’, ‘Maggie May’, ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy’ and ‘Sailing’, the latter featuring much singing and arm-waving from the audience.
With a “God bless you – and Merry Christmas!” Rod disappeared into the night, leaving a highly contented O2 behind him. What an amazing performer he is: truly, they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.