The announcement this week of an arena tour by Jeff Lynne’s ELO had me lifting my chin up off the floor. Not only is he playing a full UK/Ireland tour of 11 dates but the first of those shows is at Liverpool’s Echo Arena – exactly the kind of event this regular gig-goer has wanted since that place opened its doors in 2008. Colour me shocked, indeed!
I was a fan of Electric Light Orchestra from a very young age; I had the ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ single (a lengthy, drawn out cover of a Chuck Berry standard) and remember spending my pocket money on their mid-70s albums ‘A New World Record’ and ‘Out Of The Blue’. The latter was a double album on blue vinyl with a very lavish gatefold sleeve featuring some beautiful artwork, and I spent many happy hours listening to that album and looking at the art of the ‘ELO’ spaceship on the inner gatefold. I remained a fan of the group throughout their successful period, even when it was decidedly uncool to like them during the post-punk years. However I was rather too young to see the group at Wembley Arena in 1979, when they played a series of landmark concerts.
Following their 1979 album ‘Discovery’ (dubbed ‘Disco Very’ by keyboardist Richard Tandy because of its musical direction) founder Jeff Lynne decided he no longer required a string section and dismissed violinist Mik Kaminski plus cellists Hugh McDowell and Melvyn Gale. I began to lose touch with the band’s work after this as they worked on a film soundtrack (‘Xanadu’) with Australian singer Olivia Newton-John (then known for her country-tinged ballads) – even my unusually broad taste for a teenager back then couldn’t quite process that one (!)
Lynne did produce a few more albums under the ELO name but by this time they were effectively solo projects, he had parted company with almost all the members of the old band and by the mid-1980s he had started to make his name as a recording producer. Always happier working in the studio than performing live, he found himself working with the likes of George Harrison, producing the successful album ‘Cloud Nine’. He resurfaced in The Traveling Wilburys alongside Harrison, plus Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison and their debut album was a runaway success. Sadly Orbison died in 1988, and after a second album the curtain came down on the project.
Lynne next appeared in the public eye during the 1990s when he agreed to work with the surviving Beatles for two tracks based on demos left by the late John Lennon; these tracks would appear on a new Beatles anthology. Needless to say the lead-off song ‘Free As A Bird’ was a smash, and Lynne (a self-confessed Beatles fanatic) later looked back on this period as his greatest achievement. He would work with Harrison again on another album (‘Brainwashed’) but the death of the former Beatle in late 2001, before the album was finished meant Lynne was obliged to complete it with the assistance of Harrison’s son Dhani to the specifications left behind by Harrison.
The Electric Light Orchestra name had meanwhile been the subject of some dispute between Lynne and original ELO drummer Bev Bevan; the latter had been touring with some of his old colleagues under the name ELO Part II but ultimately, Lynne assumed full control of the ELO name after Bevan decided to retire and sell his own share in the name to his old colleague. He released the ‘Zoom’ album under the ELO name in 2001, but a proposed tour never materialised. Following this, he returned to the producer’s chair.
It wasn’t until 2012 that Lynne resurfaced, announcing that he had been working on not one, but two projects at his home studio and that both were ready for imminent release. The first of these albums was ‘Mr Blue Sky – The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra’; a compilation of ELO hits, completely re-recorded by Lynne who played almost everything on the new versions. He stated at the time that he felt that he could improve on the originals because of his subsequent production experience and also because he now had access to technology unavailable when the songs were first recorded. The other album (‘Long Wave’) was a covers album of songs which Lynne had first heard as a young boy growing up in his home city of Birmingham. With these releases, his profile was raised and he began to appear on television to promote the records. He also featured in a documentary, giving extensive interviews at his home and providing a look at his work in the studio. A few live appearances followed, and he played a huge show at London’s Hyde Park in autumn 2014 with a brand new line-up (the only other member of the classic line-up to appear was long-serving keyboardist Richard Tandy) under the name ‘Jeff Lynne’s ELO’. This concert was broadcast on BBC Radio 2 and filmed for later broadcast on television. With the warm reception of that show, that has possibly persuaded Jeff Lynne into performing live in his home country again.
As someone who grew up listening to this band’s music, I am eagerly looking forward to the show at Liverpool Echo Arena. I am expecting to hear many of the hits, plus some from the new album (Lynne’s first in 14 years under the ELO name) alongside what is sure to be a spectacular stage show. Given that he is a private, reclusive man, this may be the only chance I’ll get to see the man who wrote all those hits perform live and it promises to be an unforgettable night.
Some of Electric Light Orchestra’s greatest hits:
‘Mr Blue Sky’ (original 1977 promo)
‘Livin’ Thing’ (1976)
‘Evil Woman’ (live, from ‘The Early Years’ DVD)