When Heart announced their first UK tour in over a decade last December, my own one sank when I found that the nearest show to me was at the dreaded o2 Apollo Manchester. The Apollo is a venue I used to visit frequently but now avoid at all costs, for reasons I won’t divulge here but suffice to say I’m far from the only one with the same opinion of the place.
Looking at the alternative dates, the one which landed on a Saturday was Glasgow, at the Royal Concert Hall. The place sounded more appealing than the crumbling Apollo in any case, so plans were drawn up to make my first-ever trip north of the border and a ticket for this show was booked the first chance I had.
Fast-forward to summer (or what passes for it in this soggy island!) and it was time to decide how to get there. I opted to drive, long distance though it is because with me staying over I thought I’d get caught in an endless spate of railway engineering works if I were to take the train. That may or may not have been the case, but at least driving meant I could pick my own time to head up there. As it turned out, the drive North was straightforward if lengthy, and I found the city and my hotel relatively easily. The venue was about ten minute’s walk from the hotel so things fell into place well.
The Royal Concert Hall is a relatively new build, constructed in the late 1980s and opened in 1990 during Glasgow’s year as European City of Culture. Seating around 2500 people, the interior reminded me a little of Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall (only bigger) , with relatively intimate stalls surrounded by a substantial balcony. Finding myself slap bang in the middle of the stalls, I had barely found my seat when openers FM took to the stage.
The veteran melodic rockers ran through a short set taking in many of their old favourites (including ‘That Girl’ and ‘Bad Luck’ as well as selections from most recent album ‘Heroes and Villains’. Vocalist Steve Overland reminded me a little of Thunder’s Danny Bowes with his short, grey hair, and was almost as good a live performer. I never took to FM back in the 1980s; I found them a bit too glossy, too ‘nice’ with their immaculately coiffured hair, their bright jackets and a sound that had a bit too much emphasis on keyboards for my liking back then (I considered myself a total Metalhead in those days). It didn’t help that their keyboard player in those days (Didge Digital) stuck out with his look being more Numan-esque than hard rock. Didge left the band a long time ago, and although FM have had their ups and downs since (having been inactive for several years prior to their 2007 reformation) they still feature Overland, plus bassist Merv Goldsworthy and drummer Pete Jupp as original members with guitarist Jim Kirkpatrick and keyboardist Jem Davis completing the lineup. They haven’t changed that much sound-wise since those mid-80s days of shoulder pads and hairspray, and their songs sound like they should be on the sort of CD compilation you might find in Asda, but the performance they gave was top-notch. Overland is still in great voice and by rights should be considered one of the best rock singers to come out of this country, but like the aforementioned Bowes he is underrated still. The only slight disappointment for me was that they didn’t play the excellent ‘Crosstown Train’, but if I catch them headline somewhere I’d hope they would do it live.
I’d heard some bad reports from the Manchester show that Heart were disappointing; this mainly stemmed from their set being rather shorter than expected although some had also complained of poor sound. Having come all this way I was hopeful, if not expectant that they’d rectify that tonight. They came on at around 8:40 and opened with ‘Wild Child’ from 1990’s ‘Brigade’ album, then delivered a couple of crowd pleasers in early hit ‘Magic Man’ followed by 1985 smash ‘What About Love’. That had the Glasgow audience (already up on their feet) cheering loudly, as singer Ann Wilson announced that the band had a new album (their first in several years) about to come out and that there’d be some tracks played from it tonight. The first of these was ‘Beautiful Broken’, title track of the new record, but the set delivered was actually a mixture of some hits, a few deep cuts from older albums and several covers. Guitarist/singer Nancy Wilson took the lead vocal for 1985 hit ‘These Dreams’ and new song ‘Two’; these were the mellower moments of the set but there was also some hard-hitting rock performed, Ann Wilson showing that she still has the voice even at 66 years of age. Not to be outdone, Nancy (a mere 62) demonstrated she can still ‘kick’ – quite literally, with the trademark left leg high kick as she belted out the intro to ‘Crazy On You’ on the acoustic guitar.
The main set lasted about an hour and ten minutes by my reckoning which might appear short, but there were no drum solos or guitar jams padding it out, nor were there any lengthy speeches from either Wilson sister. They actually played 15 numbers in the main set and three in the encore, although all three of those were Led Zeppelin covers. That was another controversial choice but their selection went over well with this crowd, even ‘No Quarter’. All in all then it wasn’t quite as poor value as I’d been led to believe, however they elected to perform their best-known hit ‘Alone’ tonight (which was not done at Manchester, further fuelling dissatisfaction at that show) which brought about huge cheers from the audience.
The band backing the sisters is no longer the classic 1980s lineup but current guitarist Craig Bartock does a splendid job on lead, while bassist Dan Rothchild provides additional vocal as well as occasional keyboards alongside regular keyboardist Chris Joyner. Drummer Ben Smith rounds out the group, and can either give it the full Bonham when required or tone it down gently for the quieter moments.
To sum up then, a very good live performance and remarkable to hear how Ann Wilson has retained that power and clarity in her voice. An excellent live performance, albeit with some slightly odd choices of song. I’d have preferred one or two more of their best-loved songs rather than so many covers personally, but it was a solid show and worth the long journey north.