During the 1980s Paul Young sang the opening line to Band Aid’s ‘Do they know it’s Christmas’. This was because of his glittering pop career. The hits were plentiful – ‘Love of the common people’; ”Where-ever I lay my hat’; ‘Everytime you go away’ among many others. I was a fan. Not a huge fan though – in my pre-teen years I was more besotted with Georgios Panayiotou – better known as Andrew Ridgley’s bandmate in Wham! I enjoyed Young’s music – it seemed sophisticated to my ten year old palette.
When I heard that he was going on tour to commemorate the 35th anniversary of his smash hit album ‘No Parlez’ I was in. He would perform the album in its entirety. This was an album which had sold a million copies on its release in 1983, and contained the most popular songs of this blue-eyed pop-soul singer. I was convinced that this would be an amazing show – largely because of how entertaining the recent spate of concerts by acts from the 1980s have been.
Deacon Blue; Neneh Cherry; Alison Moyet; Erasure; Pet Shop Boys have all performed brilliant concerts in the last few years – and in the case of some them (Moyet in particular) are still releasing fantastic music. Young with his soulful voice and beautiful harmonies seemed like a safe bet.
The venue was the University Concert Hall in Limerick – a fine, thousand seater venue in Castletroy. My last time at this theatre was in 2015 for the execrable ‘Menopause: The Musical’ show. Tonight would be different.
We trooped into the theatre and took our seats. The lights dimmed, the crowd roared, the band came on stage. We were off.
Paul Young looked in good shape – older than I remember from thirty years ago. His unfortunate mauve jacket was was disregarded. I was here for the songs.He began.
I looked in alarm at my sister. Was there a sound problem? Why couldn’t I hear the lyrics? I waited another thirty seconds. The horrific truth dawned on me, Paul Young has lost his vocal ability, He sounded hoarse, rasping and tired. No longer able to reach the high notes. Or even stay in tune.
It was excruciating. The duo of backup singers tried to cover the cracks to no avail. His voice was shot.
He didn’t seem to care. He seemed happy out belting these tuneless versions of classic tunes to the subdued audience. It was most alarming.
He croaked and spluttered his way through the album, oblivious to the confusion of the spectators.
In truth not all the audience was upset. There was a large contingent of audience members who – one could say – would have been the target audience of ‘Menopause: The Musical’ reliving their childhood crush.
My eyes glazed over as the spectacle unfolded. He swaggered about the stage, swaying his mic stand, looking like a drunk uncle at a rural wedding. Actually hang on a moment. Was he staggering? Now I don’t want to draw any conclusions about whether a few snifters of whiskey had been imbibed before the concert, but it appeared there may have been a slight lack of co-ordination in his movement. Was he slurring his words? It sounded like it.
In a way it was quite endearing. Paul Young is a man of the 1980s. The only problem is he is now 63 and watching a man of that vintage bellowing the word ‘Sex’ repeatedly on stage with a knowing leer on his weathered face was a little … unusual. Was I mistaken when I heard him call his backup singers ‘The Vocal Tarts’? Did he really call out to a couple in the audience for having a ‘tongue sandwich’? The raunchy hip-thrust he performed towards the end of the show was disconcerting.
It was all very strange. Maybe he was just tired – this was his fourth concert in a week – having already played in Dublin, Belfast and Cork that week. As he took a sip from a glass containing a clear liquid (which was placed beside the plastic water bottle behind him) he continued on his way.
I feel like I a betraying a pop star from my youth by writing all this. But this is my perception of last night’s gig.
The concert lurched unsteadily to its conclusion. The audience (which remained steadfastly seated throughout) clapped politely at the end. As we exited a woman marched out in front of us. She turned to her friend and made a simple comment.
‘Well that was shocking’.
I must agree. But I can’t help myself. I think I like Paul Young as a person more than I used to. Unimpressive as the show was it brought to mind how many wonderful songs he has actually sung… when he was on top of his game. And who am I to begrudge an icon of the 1980s an opportunity to earn a crust?