Gig review by Dawn
Photo courtesy of Sean Fitzgerald
Whoever coined the phrase 'you can't teach an old dog new tricks' clearly wasn't aware of Tony Christie – a man who is concrete proof that trying out new ventures and new music genres is the key to success and to keeping things enjoyable and interesting. How else do you explain the joy on his face and the smiles on the faces of the crowd at the Billingham Forum theatre?
This evening's performance comprises two halves, the first of which sees him accompanied by Celtic crossover folk quartet Ranagri who play such intriguing instruments as bodhran, bouzouki, bass flute, tin whistle and electric harp. Songs like On Raglan Road and She Moves Through the Fair (from The Great Irish Songbook- their 2015 collaboration with Tony) are the perfect way to begin the show, while Star of the County Down raises the tempo slightly before Tony leaves the stage to let Ranagri play a few more songs (Never Look Back, Sad Songs and the toe-tapping The Wrong Direction) leading into the interval.
For the second half of the show Tony is joined onstage by a different band of musicians who, between them, play keys, trumpet, sax, bass, drums, acoustic and electric guitar. With the greatest respect to the seven men in question, I'm sure I'm not the only audience member who (save for the odd electric guitar solo) barely focused on them at all – because, even at the age of 73, Tony Christie's performance and charismatic stage presence are simply mesmerising. Belting out hits such as Las Vegas, I Did What I Did for Maria and Don't Go Down to Reno his distinctive voice is note-perfect, while his renditions of Daddy Don't You Walk So Fast and Solitaire are as heartbreaking here as they sound on record. In between songs he regales us with tales from his 50 year career, such as the origins of his songs and his stage name, making us laugh and proving that his wit is as sharp as his three piece suit. The fact that the show still went ahead despite him clearly feeling under the weather is testament to his professionalism and, despite getting through an entire bottle of water during the course of the evening, his vocals remain flawless and the energy level of the show never drops.
Alongside the old favourites, tonight Tony also showcases a handful of new songs recorded in Nashville which feature on his new album 50 Golden Greats - the standout track of these being Just Like Yesterday with its "good times, glass of wine, listen to the radio" chorus. Contemporary musicians would give their left arm to record a song as immediately infectious, let alone to have a back catalogue as vast as Tony's.
It's no surprise that tonight's finale is a glorious singalong of Is This the Way to Amarillo?, with Tony right at the front of the stage encouraging audience participation. It speaks volumes about his talent and personality that he is respected and revered not only by those who've followed his career from the start, but also by the likes of Jarvis Cocker and Richard Hawley whose influence and songwriting brought his music to a whole new generation of listeners such as myself. And as you watch him command the stage with a smile on his face and a mischievous twinkle in his eye you can't help but hope that he doesn't plan on giving it up any time soon.
With thanks to Tony and Sean. For more information on Tony's tour with Ranagri, and on his new album, visit www.tonychristie.com