For two and a half hours on Saturday night, Roger Hodgson encouraged a sell-out Royal Albert Hall crowd to momentarily park the bad stuff taking place in the world and concentrate instead on a collected shared love for music and humanity. It’s a speech he gives at every gig. At the time, I interpreted it as a sideswipe at the current incumbent in the White House – it’s a popular observation after all. Forty-eight hours later, Hodgson’s remarks now seem more prescient than ever.
Roger Hodgson was the major song writing force of 1970s/1980s prog/rock/pop megastars Supertramp. He can probably now walk down most streets without being recognised (not bad for a man whose band has sold upwards of sixty million albums) but his voice remains unmistakable – a beautiful pure tenor matched in contemporary circles perhaps only by Jon Anderson.
Since leaving Supertramp in 1983, he has released three studio albums under his own name and has continued to tour. He has a semi-permanent residency at the Royal Albert Hall every spring and we were lucky enough to be in attendance this time.
Seated from behind a synthesiser that emulated the classic Wurlitzer sound so synonymous with his former band, Hodgson opened the show with Take The Long Way Home, a classic from 1979’s Breakfast In America. Hodgson doesn’t tour with any of his former colleagues but he has surrounded himself with a band of exceptional quality. From stage left, we hear the harmonica of Aaron Macdonald.
Before the song is out, Macdonald will have also contributed keyboards and an exquisite clarinet solo. Before the night is out, he will have played soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, a tin whistle, more keys, a plethora of percussion instruments and provided multiple vocal harmony parts. Aaron must be one of the most cost-effective touring musicians on earth.
Before I leave the photo pit, I get the privilege of School (the instantly recognisable instrumental break of which is one of my all-time favourite pieces of music) and In Jeopardy, a track from Hodgson’s debut solo album In The Eye Of The Storm. I retired to my seat and sat back to enjoy the rest of the show. The wonderful thing about a Roger Hodgson performance is that you don’t only get great songs played by exceptional musicians. You can get that elsewhere and still come away feeling a little unmoved if the vibe isn’t right. A night with Hodgson lifts the soul and the spirit, you’ll simply not find a warmer and more engaging performer anywhere.
He dedicates Hide In Your Shell to audience member Verity. Her parents were also in the audience and had asked him to do it. At the end of Breakfast In America he comments that when he wrote it, he never played it to his girlfriend of the time (“Take a look at my girlfriend, she’s the only one I’ve got. Not much of a girlfriend, I never seem to get a lot”). “I think it would have been terminal for the relationship if I had”.
The first set closed with another classic from Breakfast in America, The Logical Song, an autobiographical account of how it felt to be packed off to private boarding school in the 1960’s. There was a short intermission and the band returned with Child Of Vision, a further personal favourite. To this point, second keys man Kevin Adamson had appeared to be playing a supporting role – the odd string sound here, the odd Hammond organ part there. Mid way through Child Of Vision, he descended from his riser and took a seat at a hitherto unused grand piano. His solo to close out the song was mind blowing.
Lord Is It Mine (another moving tune), Death And A Zoo and Dreamer were further highlights in the second half. By the time the latter tune came along, all initial attempts by the stewards to maintain seat discipline had been dispensed with and I’m pleased to say the punters were dancing in the aisles. The main set closed with Fool’s Overture, an eleven-minute song in three movements found on the 1977 Supertramp album Even In The Quietest Moments – from a time when the band was more prog than pop.
The encores included Give A Little Bit and It’s Raining Again – from a time when the band was more pop than prog. Audience members in the know opened their brollies and span them above their heads. An umbrella is an essential prop for a Roger Hodgson show, regardless of what the weather is doing outside.
With that, Hodgson and his impeccable band were gone. We all streamed out of the venue, happy and relaxed, reveling in our enjoyment of a couple of hours of wonderful live music. Two days later, audience members did exactly that leaving the Manchester Arena and twenty-two people died.
Writing a subjective review about a piece of art feels a somewhat facile activity when young lives have been taken and extended families destroyed by a disgusting act of pointless terror. The only comfort is knowing that this understanding and appreciation of art and culture is just one of the things that bonds us; that separates us from the crazed fanatics who seek to try and plant fear in our lives. Perhaps if ever there was a time to focus on that, it is now.
There is one more performance from Roger Hodgson in the UK this year and it is at Stowe School (a return to the place that partly inspired The Logical Song) on Friday 26 May. Tickets are available here:
To get an idea of what you can expect at one of Hodgson’s shows, here is three minutes of window shopping:
Review & Photography by Simon Reed. Roger Hodgson at the Royal Albert Hall on 20th May 2017.
Simon has his own music photography site here: http://www.musicalpictures.co.uk