Tuesday, February 13, 2024

A Ruby Anniversary Celebration for ABC’s Platinum Album

Imagine that the year is 1982, the month is June. War rages in the South Atlantic and the Middle East. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, E.T. and Blade Runner are showing at the cinema. Prince William is born. The US Supreme Court rules that all children are entitled to an education and that US Presidents can not be sued for what they do whilst in office. The Space Shuttle Challenger makes its first appearance. In the UK, it rains a lot.

You lie on your bed, looking up at a poster on your bedroom wall showing four clean cut, smartly dressed young men against a backdrop of plush, theatrical, dramatic red velvet, as smooth as the lead singer’s voice. You hold the 12 inch vinyl LP in your hands, your excited purchase contributing to this album entering the UK album chart at number 1 and staying in the chart for 50 weeks.

Following the lyrics on the album sleeve, you are transported to a world of silk and coffee lace, a world of drama, luxury, romance, a world of cupid hearts and poison arrows, of the extremes of love from soaring, hopeful highs to painful, heart-wrenching lows. A complete A to Z of emotions.

The album is, of course, ‘The Lexicon of Love’, the band is ABC and that smooth, stylish, visionary lead singer is Martin Fry.

Fast forward to today and you find yourself still reaching for Lexicon, perhaps on CD or Spotify. Luckily for you, ABC are still touring and still performing that seminal, era-defining album in its original form to celebrate its 40th anniversary.

Despite releasing 10 studio albums, the one which defines ABC is Lexicon, and it’s the one that the fans obviously want to hear. For anyone experiencing teenage angst during the early 80s, its lyrics are defining and the energy in a sold-out Birmingham Symphony Hall was testament to the intense personal connection that fans feel to the music of ABC.

With over 40 musicians on stage, Fry was accompanied by both a full band and the Southbank Sinfonia, conducted by Anne Dudley. Dudley arranged the strings for Lexicon and has been described by Fry as the unofficial 5th member of the band. The other original members - Mark WhiteStephen Singleton and David Palmer - have long since gone their separate ways leaving Fry to continue writing and performing with a variety of talented session and semi-permanent band members.

The evening opened, quite rightly, with an ‘Overture’, a purely orchestral composition weaving together the over-arching themes of Lexicon and setting the scene for a classy, stylish, virtuoso performance. As the opening theme climaxed, Fry entered the stage and the whole band and orchestra exploded together into the upbeat, joyful celebration of ‘When Smokey Sings’. Ploughing through a selection of older and more recent hits spanning a number of the studio albums, the first half was a crowd-pleasing medley of uplifting symphonic joy and lyrical dexterity, climaxing with ‘Be Near Me’ from the third album, ‘How to Be a Zillionaire’, a song which showcases Fry’s poetically romantic approach to songwriting with the line, “What’s your reputation? Ecstasy! What’s your destination? Next to me!

After an interval and a wardrobe change, the main course was served - ‘Lexicon of Love’ in its entirety, as originally recorded with Anne Dudley arranging and conducting the orchestral canvas upon which Fry’s songwriting shines most brightly. Another orchestral introduction leads directly into ‘Show Me’, a song which fuses ABC’s post-punk roots with soul influences to define the ‘new romantic’ style which ABC are best known for alongside bands such as Roxy MusicDuran Duran and Spandau Ballet.

Without pause, the ten tracks of Lexicon filled the Symphony Hall with a rich, punchy sound, giving the audience the occasional breather between the highest energy songs that had all 2000-odd fans on their feet; ‘Poison Arrow’ and ‘The Look of Love’.

Aptly positioned for a mid-February show, the song ‘Valentine’s Day’ reveals Fry’s songwriting at its best with possibly the best lyric ever written, by any musician, ever; “If you gave me a pound for the moments I missed / And I got dancing lessons for all the lips I shoulda kissed / I’d be a millionaire / I’d be a Fred Astaire”. Certainly, this punchy, bitter, regretful, even resentful song brings side one of the album to a crashing halt, continuing into side two with the song’s spiritual alter-ego, the floating, optimistic, head-in-the-clouds, romantically heartbreaking pop song, ‘The Look of Love’. The song’s memorable, bouncy pop backdrop belies the pain in the lyrics; “When your girl has left you out on the pavement / When your dreams fall apart at the seams / Your reason for living is your reason for leaving / Don’t ask me what it means”.

Swapping the last two tracks of the album placed the heart-tearing ballad ‘All of My Heart’ as the grand finale, gently winding down with the orchestral conclusion ‘The Look of Love (part four)’.

With no more songs for an encore, the audience were more than satisfied with a second airing of ‘The Look of Love’, a song which Fry has said that he was rediscovered a love for, thanks to the support of loyal fans.

The tour is sold out but since this only the latest in a long series of anniversary airings of Lexicon, there’s no doubt that there will be many more to come and by 2032, the golden anniversary will finally match Fry’s trademark golden suit.

Peter Freeth

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Images: Peter Freeth

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