Monday, 29 June 2015

Boyzone Live at Newton Abbot Racecourse (a review)

Cassette.  Because I'm retro.

Let me set the scene for you.  There's a girl aged thirteen years old.  She's being badly bullied at school.  She's shy.  She's not particularly happy.  But she has a few things in her life that make her smile.  One of those things - the biggest thing - is music.  Every night, before falling asleep, she pops one of her favourite cassettes into her Sony Walkman and listens to boybands, singing songs of love and happiness.  It's not much, but it makes her feel better.

I don't have to do the dramatic "that girl was me" reveal, because well, it should be massively obvious that it was.  And the two cassettes that I listened to far and above all others, were Take That's Nobody Else or Greatest Hits and Boyzone's debut album, Said And Done (pictured above: my very well-loved copy).

Said And Done is a fantastic pop album, perfectly filled with a mix of up-tempo numbers that make you want to dance and swooning ballads that teenagers fell for in their millions.  Of course, all of those young listeners had a favourite member of the band.  Mine was - and despite his death in 2009, remains - Stephen Gately.

Sleep soundly, Steo. xxx

On more nights than I care to count, I lay awake, with my headphones on, listening to Stephen's sweet vocals in my ears.

For many reasons, I never got around to seeing Boyzone live.  By the time they split, I was a Manics fan and going through a rather pathetic "I only listen to rock now" phase.  When Boyzone got back together and went on tour in 2008, I didn't go.  I don't even really know why, because I loved their comeback single and I loved the idea of seeing the band.  But I never went.  

In October 2009, Stephen died suddenly as a result of a pulmonary oedema, brought on by a heart attack caused by an undetected, congential heart defect.  He was just 33 years old.  I vividly remember hearing the news and being moved to tears that night as I lay in bed, listening to those same songs from my youth and bitterly regretting that I'd never seen the band live.  My best friend recalls travelling to London with me and sitting on the tube, opposite a man reading a newspaper report about Stephen's death, listening to me say over and over how sad I felt and how utterly tragic it was.

Fast forward more than five and a half years and you'll find that same girl who once lay in bed listening to Boyzone's debut album, delightedly heading to Newton Abbot Racecourse to see the now four-piece Boyzone appear live in concert.  Better late than never...

I was a bit excited.

Before the boys appeared on stage, we were treated to an opening spot by Alesha Dixon (perhaps better known for her TV judging roles, these days).  She got the crowd jumping and cheering and I freely admit that I was really impressed with her set.  So often, you spend the time that a support act is on stage, wishing they'd hurry up and finish so you can skip to the main event.  Not so, here.  As excited as I was to see Boyzone, Alesha was a fun opener and I didn't feel that quiet urge to fast forward to the bit I was really there to see.

Whilst waiting for Boyzone, my friend Tracey and I tried to decide on which song the band would open with.  We settled on the classic When The Going Gets Tough (The Tough Get Going), but we were wrong - the boys came on stage shortly after 8:30pm and immediately launched into a much more recent hit - Love Is A Hurricane.  The up-tempo mood continued with Love You Anyway, which remains a firm favourite of mine.

Despite missing Stephen, the boys were a solid vocal unit and had a fantastic stage presence.  The lads talked about how close they've become in the wake of Stephen's death and it certainly showed in their interactions last night.  The banter, the encouraging smiles and the tight harmonies were testament to their genuine friendship and their professionalism.

Stephen may have been absent in person, but he was absolutely there in spirit.  The band included him in several different, beautiful ways.  The first came in the form of a heartbreaking version of Bread's Everything I Own, which didn't even need a dedication for the fans around us to realise who the band were singing it for.  Later, during Words, Stephen's image was flashed up on a giant screen, with the song's opening lyrics, "Smile an everlasting smile..." written beneath his beaming face.  It was almost enough to cause the tears to fall.  But those were saved for later.

After a few up-tempo tracks, including the fabulous When The Going Gets Tough, the band left the stage and the screen once again filled with images of their lost friend.  After a few VT clips of each remaining band member discussing their thoughts on Stephen's passing, the opening chords of Gave It All Away, the final Boyzone single to feature Stephen's vocals (which was released posthumously), began to fill the air.  Before long, we heard Stephen's voice, singing those most poignant of opening lines: "I will learn to live before I die..."

The band arrived back on stage to sing along with their friend, whilst the tear-jerking music video that accompanies the single played on the big screen.  Just the sound of those sweet vocals would have been enough; the images of Stephen tipped me over the edge and the tears fell to the point that I briefly worried that they might never stop.

After Stephen's final refrain rang out amongst the crowd, the band spent time toasting his memory (albeit with no drinks!) and talking about their lost brother.  To round off the tribute, the band sang the beautiful Every Day I Love You, once again using Stephen's recorded vocals with their own live ones.  The result was stunning and there were many moist-eyes amongst the 7,000-strong audience.  Mine included!

Gave It All Away.

Every Day I Love You.

Once the tribute was complete and the tears had dried, the band continued with a cracking pop show, fusing much-loved Boyzone tracks with fresh-sounding versions of classic Motown tunes.  The live band were absolutely on point and the boys sounded brilliant, with their harmonies standing up to scrutiny, despite having lost the member most known for them!

The concert seemed to be over far too soon, as the band exited the stage with the audience frantically cheering for more.  Those fans were rewarded with an encore that saw the band wow the crowd with an empassioned rendition of their 1996 song, A Different Beat, followed by their first big hit in the UK, Love Me For A Reason.  The group ended the pop spectacular with a rousing version of Ronan Keating's solo smash, Life Is A Roller Coaster, which left fans bouncing up and down and singing their hearts out.

Life really has been a roller coaster for these four pop veterans, especially in the last six years.  But with a powerful, polished performace, Boyzone have shown that whatever life throws at them, they're able to come back fighting.  One star may be sadly lost, but this band still have their sparkle.

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