If you had to pick a single word for Blackpool’s North Pier tonight, it would be “windy”. The lighting along the promenade is spectacular, but I can’t imagine the half-term crowds will be doing much in the way of swimming or sandcastles.
I’m not here for the sights or for outdoor fun, fortunately. I’m here to see The Original Bucks Fizz, which comprises three-quarters of the best-known line-up for the Eurovision winners (Cheryl Baker, Mike Nolan and Jay Aston). Until recently, Baker and Nolan toured with Shelley Preston, who had replaced Aston back in 1985; now Aston has replaced her replacement. Her return seems to have given this lineup a new commercial impetus; yes, getting booked on the end of the pier at Blackpool can be a step up even when you’ve had three UK #1 singles. Proof: there’s a souvenir program (a steal at 8 quid, perhaps), a full band (including the spouses of Baker and Aston) rather than taped backup, and even a support act (Plasticine, who were so good I’ll do a separate post on them later).
The reason for the “Original” tag is that the unadorned Bucks Fizz name is still used by the other original member Bobby G, who has been touring continuously as Bucks Fizz all this time. I’ve seen G’s outfit on three occasions at various Butlins gigs, and the only constant has been him.
That show is consistently slick and professional, but has two flaws. Firstly, the age gap between Bobby G and his much younger co-stars is now starting to verge on the embarrassing. Secondly, in a typical production, you get just five actual Bucks Fizz tracks (the three #1s ‘Making Your Mind Up’, ‘Land Of Make Believe’ and ‘My Camera Never Lies’, plus ‘New Beginning’ and ‘Run For Your Life’ last time I checked). The rest is made up of medleys and covers. Even in their commercial heyday, the Fizz pulled this sort of trick (‘Don’t Pay The Ferryman’ used to pop up at gigs, for instance), but here I’m hoping for a more firmly Fizz-centric set list.
The North Pier theatre employs an unusual seating convention: all the seats in my area have odd numbers. A recent Fizz show at Hanley apparently attracted less than 150 people, but tonight does slightly better without actually being a sellout. While we wait, the hits of the early 1980s (‘Bette Davis Eyes’, ‘Kids In America’, ‘More Than I Can Say’, ‘A Good Heart’) play.
There’s an introductory video (complete with annoying typo) that you can see online, and then the band enter to ‘New Beginning’, long-established as the Bucks Fizz opening song. For about two seconds I’m worried this is going to be too close a copy of the “standard” Bucks Fizz routine, but I don’t have to worry for long. Quite simply, the group are in terrific form and they do every track you could want. Unlike Spandau Ballet, there’s not a lingering impression that they’re just doing it for the money (and the lack of a record company dispute means we do get vintage footage from their videos played in the background).
We get pretty much all of the hits I expect (the only obvious omissions being ‘London Town’ and ‘Heart Of Stone’). This is partly due to a lengthy medley, but I’m not complaining, especially as relatively obscure tracks like ‘Magical’ got a full-length airing. If I had to pick a single favourite track, it would be ‘When We Were Young’, which the group performed masterfully.
A couple of songs (‘I Hear Talk’ and ‘If You Can’t Stand The Heat’) get fairly radical rearrangements, and reputedly there’s going to be a whole album of such tunes next year. The handful of cover versions also slot neatly into the set, and the crowd repeatedly stand, scream, applaud and generally go nuts.
Aside from scrutinising the set list, I had wondered how Cheryl and Jay will interact on stage. Cheryl always maintained she got on much better with Shelley than Jay, but you wouldn’t know it tonight. The ladies duet nicely on ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’ (which Bucks Fizz actually demoed and rejected prior to Tina Turner’s hit version, so I’m not counting it as a cover), and their voices blend beautifully. The set list is carefully arranged to vary the vocals, which both makes for a good show and ensures that Mike Nolan doesn’t have to spend the whole show carrying both male vocal parts.
My other big question ahead of time was how the ‘Making Your Mind Up’ skirt-ripping routine would be handled, since the classic approach relies on two girls and two guys. The answer is that the girls each rip off their own skirts. Perhaps that’s why the group don’t replicate the Eurovision costumes, which is probably a wise move: if you can’t copy it completely, why copy it at all?
A final note: the band also get points for not pretending to go off and return for an encore, or for doing a dodgy cover after their biggest hit. There’s no way they can end with anything other than ‘Making Your Mind Up’, and I’d much rather have a definitive finish.