Put one hundred Supertramp fans in a room and ask them if they would rather see ‘Supertramp’ or ‘Roger Hodgson – solo artist and the voice of Supertramp’; and I’d be prepared to bet the mortgage that a significant majority would choose the latter. Pink Floyd isn’t Pink Floyd without Waters or Gilmour; Supertramp isn’t Supertramp without Hodgson. And this would explain why a solo performer that’s not a universally acknowledged household name has successfully sold out the Royal Albert Hall tonight. This majestic auditorium is packed full of avid fans of the man who wrote the majority of the best tunes and gave his voice and multi-instrumental skills to the band through their 1970s and 80s heyday.
It’s three years since Hodgson last played here – a night I remember well as I was lucky enough to be in attendance, and he’s in the UK for just two nights (yesterday he filled the London Palladium) – so there’s a real sense of heightened anticipation in advance of the performance this evening. At a little after eight, he emerged with his band and unleashed a beaming smile; a smile that remained a practically permanent fixture for the next two hours and twenty minutes. I’ve my back to the audience, but I sensed a standing ovation and I’d be surprised if he wasn’t met with a wall of enamel in return.
Roger sat down behind the Wurlitzer (actually it’s a synth, but it delivers a mighty fine impression) and the familiar sound pad that heralds the beginning of Take The Long Way Home rang out. We’re off, and what a mighty fine way to start. Hodgson’s Tenor is imperious; this is Supertramp as it’s supposed to be heard and if anything his voice sounds better now than it ever has; effortless, pristine, clear. Of course, the piano sounds wonderful too, but this is not just ‘The Roger Hodgson Show’. Although the ticket bears one name, we’re not hearing a ‘backing band’ of journeyman session musicians. All are exceptional. In the opening number we hear the harmonica and clarinet of Aaron Macdonald – he fills the not inconsiderable shoes of Supertramp’s John Helliwell and he does it so, so well. He also contributes keys, saxophones and a number of percussive effects – most notably in the classic The Logical Song – a tune that Roger dedicates to the significant number of children in attendance. Pianist Kevin Adamson sits atop a riser behind Hodgson and his role appears a little mute; that is until he comes down to play the Grand during the epic Child Of Vision. His solo is immense.
There are plenty of other classic Supertramp songs on offer tonight. School comes early in the set and is a personal highlight. I could listen to the building instrumental break in the second half on indefinite repeat and never get bored. Breakfast In America and Dreamer of course get a wild reception and bring everyone to their feet. Hide In Your Shell is a beautiful tune and gets a moving introduction, as does Lord Is It Mine. However, this is no Supertramp tribute show, for let’s not forget that Hodgson has three solo albums in the back catalogue and he’s very happy to play songs form these too.
Had A Dream (Sleeping With The Enemy) is an out and out rocker that has Roger wielding an electric guitar for the first and only time tonight and is another song that has the audience dancing in the aisles. We also got to hear some tunes that embrace Prog Rock, the end of the spectrum which started the whole thing off. The most notable of these was Death And A Zoo – another song riddled with percussive effects, this time delivered from behind the drums by the excellent Bryan Head.
The main set closed with Fool’s Overture from 1977’s Even In The Quietest Moments, a storming long-form piece in three movements that had the sampler working overtime replaying the fine oratory of Winston Churchill amongst others. For a little while now, nobody has bothered to sit down between songs and from my vantage point I’m able to see ‘air piano’ being played out by punters on the stage apron. Never seen that before.
Give A Little Bit and It’s Raining Again, two sing-a-long, dance-a-long classics finished the encore; the latter bringing out a number of umbrellas from the audience (purely as props – it was pleasantly sunny when we went in). It all added to the undeniable party atmosphere. And that was that; a collective bow from the performers to the audience was met with a standing ovation of ‘party leader speech at conference’ magnitude, and Hodgson and his band left the stage.
I’ve not seen such a warm and engaging performance since…, well since the Roger Hodgson show here last time out. This place and this band are made for each other. Let’s hope we all get to see them all again sometime soon.
Live Review and Concert Photography by Simon Reed who has his own website called Musical Pictures.
Roger Hodgson live at Royal Albert Hall on 29 April 2016