First Look: 10cc Live At The Royal Albert Hall
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
The art-rock masters indulge themselves with Sheet Music and a bevy of hits at the RAH.
Historically speaking there are two 10ccs.
There’s the one with Kevin Godley and Lol Creme that made tonight’s party piece, 1974’s art-rock piece-de-resistance Sheet Music. Then there’s the 10cc led by Graham Gouldman and Eric Stewart, who carried on after Godley and Creme’s departure and scored a huge hit with Dreadlock Holiday.
The glib received wisdom is that Godley and Creme took the art-rock zaniness with them when they left, and that on Gouldman and Stewart’s watch 10cc became a more route-one pop group. Of course, it was never that cut and dried. But with Gouldman as their sole original member, tonight’s performance proves that there’s still two 10ccs: the albums band and the singles band.
This evening’s show is split into two halves: Act One is given over to Sheet Music in its entirety; Act Two to the ‘hits’. Music journalists have been boring on forever about 10cc’s twisted songwriting genius; their clever use of satire and their willingness to poke fun at the absurdity of rock’n’roll (see Sheet Music’s second song, The Worst Band In The World). That’s all well and good, but what’s kept Gouldman’s touring version in brisk business these last few years is their willingness to play the hits. 10cc have been like a travelling jukebox since the 1990s, and have the mainstream audience to prove it. There’s nothing wrong with that. But as Gouldman and co deliver Sheet Music’s agitated, tick-tocking Clockwork Creep, you can’t help noticing the blank expressions on some faces in the crowd. Tellingly, it’s only gentlemen of a certain age who can be seen leaning forward in their seats, heads gently bobbing in appreciation. And even then, you notice that one of those gentlemen is a music journalist.
The rather schoolmasterly Gouldman is the curator of the 10cc museum and adores Sheet Music. Having the chance to play it in full is both a challenge and, possibly, a blessed relief after years of just doing the hits. There’s a bit of a carrot and stick going on here; the message being, “if you listen to this mad stuff, we’ll do Rubber Bullets for you later.”
Gouldman introduces the songs carefully and gives ample credit to his former bandmates. So when a silver-bearded Kevin Godley appears on the overhead screen to sing Somewhere In Hollywood, everyone in the audience beams. Godley’s appearance and the song itself, a wonderful tribute to silver screen days gone by, is tonight’s highlight. Nevertheless, as the audience troop out after Sheet Music’s closing number, Oh Effendi, one woman can be heard wearily asking her male companion, “When are they going to play the hits?”
The answer is: in 20 minutes’ time. Act Two bounces into life with 1976’s The Things We Do For Love, a song in which composers Gouldman and Stewart out-McCartney’d McCartney, and doesn’t let up from there. There’s Good Morning Judge, I’m Mandy Fly Me, Art For Art's Sake, I’m Not In Love (but of course) and an especially deft version of the ‘77 album track Feel The Benefit. 10cc can probably play this stuff in their sleep. But that doesn’t detract from any of it. Yes, there’s the vague whiff of Jim Davidson's Chalky about Dreadlock Holiday (‘different times’, as they say at the BBC), but it’s dispensed with quickly, before the final encore, a rousing Rubber Bullets, coaxes the audience – men, women and music journalists – out of their seats. On the strength of tonight’s performance, there are still two 10ccs, and they’re both doing just fine.