CONCERT REVIEW : Holly Johnson – Glasgow Pavilion – 19th October 2023

Welcome To The Pleasure Dome……

With the split of Frankie Goes To Hollywood in 1987 it seemed that the legacy of once of the biggest bands of the 80’s would be consigned to listening to their tracks on CD, and later via download, as opposed to ever hearing them played live again.

After all, FGTH were the band that were famously banned from radio 1 after releasing the track ‘Relax’ when prudish DJ Mike Read worked out what the lyrics were actually about even though everyone else had already worked it out some weeks previously.

Needless to say the track immediately went to Number 1 in the music charts and even kept Radio GaGa by Queen off the top spot.

Moving forward some 35 years since the split and it s cold and wet Glasgow evening that brings us to the Pavilion Theatre, Scotlands only privately run theatre to see and hear the legend that is Holly Johnson.

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The Pavilion, more akin to hosting pantomime and stage theatre than rock and pop events, may appear to some to be a rather strange choice of venue but, once inside, it becomes clear that the theatre is actually perfectly suited.

A large and low stage with clear views for all in the stalls, together with a balcony that some would describe as like the side of a very steep mountain, makes for the perfect viewing arena for tonights show.  Like most theatres, the Pavilion also has a bar which, as expected for this event, is doing a roaring trade from the Glasgow audience who are of a certain age group.

But first, the fire alarm. An unexpected activation empties the audience, staff and crew onto the busy Glasgow streets. Thankfully the rain is off for the time being and the wait outside is short prior to returning to the warmth and to the bar.  Did I mention there was a bar?

For those who may have inadvertently bought a ticket for an evenings entertainment without knowing the act, the plethora of ‘Frankie Says’ and ‘Relax’ t-shirts, all in white of course and generally at least one size too small these days, together with the cheesy 80’s pop tunes played by the onstage DJ, give the Game away as to the era of the music for tonights performance.

The only thing missing is the black and off white check shirts that were so common around that time.  I am sure there will be one somewhere.

As the lights dim and the intro tape plays that distinctive ‘Frankie’ sound that is instantly recognisable to those of us who were there the first time around. The large video screen at the rear of the stage comes alive with imagery from the heyday of FGTH and also the numerous solo endeavours of Holly Johnson and parts of the crowd are already on their feet in readiness and Johnson has not yet set foot on the stage.

When Holly Johnson appears on stage, resplendent in black leather jacket, black leather kilt and accompanying black leather sporran the crowd go wild. Naturally he is also sporting black leather gloves and black Gucci spectacles to finish off the outfit perfectly.

At 63 years of age, Johnson still has the look and the swagger of old even if it is a little less manic than it once was.

Opening his set with ‘Warriors Of The Wasteland’ soon sets the pace for the evening and the crowd know they are going to get exactly what the wanted and paid for.

Followed by an outstanding ‘Welcome To The Pleasure Dome’, the track which was the last public performance of the reformed FGTH for the opening ceremony of Eurovision 2023 in Liverpool, the aisles of the Pavilion Theatre are now awash with people revisiting their youth and the heady days of the 80’s where excess was apparently the best.

Backed by a very accomplished live band, Johnson  unleashes the finest from his solo career and the FTGH back catalogue which’ like the track of the same name, still ‘Rage Hard’.

Of the solo hits it was the obvious choices of ‘Americanos’, ‘Atomic City’ and ‘Love Train’ which get the crowd really moving before the big finale approaches.

As an interesting aside and a return to them keeping Queen off the top spot, it is a little known fact that the guitar solo on the recorded version of ‘Love Train’ is played by none other than Queens own Brian May.

With leather jacket removed and stories about the FTGH gigs at the long demolished Glasgow Apollo delivered, Johnson carries his own smoke machine around the stage before switching it for a very bright torch, shining it through the smoke to great effect just as the opening sounds of ‘Relax’ begin to be played.  How could this song not be part of the show?

Naturally this does signal the impending end of the show but could there still be the possibility of the remaining songs of the holy trinity to complete the show?

Yes is the answer with the beginning siren of ‘Two Tribes’, accompanied by big screen graphics, the crowd are all singing and dancing along and reminiscing of those halcyon days and that incredible video.

A triumphant return to the stage for the sublime and unforgettable ‘Power Of Love’ completes the 3 song section that everyone wanted to hear and also brings the show to a close.

There won’t be many singers of the 80’s era who have been through what Holly Johnson has been through who are still able to perform with such vigour and such passion – he truly is one of the few.

The voice is still there and still instantly recognisable and the show is a superb night of quality entertainment, a trip down memory lane for most of us and, above all, a great performance by a true showman who gives his fans exactly what they want – in spades.

 

Review & Photographs by Gavin Ross

 

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