Joy it was then to be entertained by a man with a guitar and a heart full of songs. Graham Gouldman, songwriter supreme, delivered a masterclass of technique and performance. Ably assisted by Mike Stevens (the multi- instrumentalist genius who, in his role as Take That’s musical director, can even make the boy/man band sound appear palatable) and Ian Hornal, the former ¼ of 10cc was professionalism itself as he kicked off with the lesser known Pamela, Pamela, a hormonal teen angst piece from 1968 demonstrating a fledgling talent for melody and rhyme.
Soon into his swing, very literally with a re-imagined arrangement of his 1980s hit Bridge to Your Heart, recorded as part of the Wax collaboration with Andrew Gold, Gouldman displayed an easy approach to delivering precisely crafted songs. There are no elaborate chord sequences, just clever ones and this emphasises the power that lay behind 10cc’s approach to 70s pop music. A great example of this was a polished version of The Things We Do For Love, four minutes of clever and infectious pop that wears its influences firmly exposed on its sleeve.
Some of the early highlights of the set came in the form of Gouldman’s 1960s output. Whilst songs such as Look Through Any Window or No Milk Today do not put Graham Gouldman in the same class as Ray Davies as a chronicler of 60s society both songs do convey a Northern sensibility and it is no surprise that acts such as Wayne Fontana and The Hollies delivered these songs with such panache. Indeed it is Bus Stop, a song made famous by The Hollies, that is one of the stand out highlights if the night. In structure and sentiment the song is pure and innocent and it has to be remembered that not everyone had to be a pale imitation of Brian Wilson in the decade of decadence. Gouldman will soon be inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame and, having trawled through his extensive back catalogue, it is Bus Stop that he will play as an example of his craft upon his induction.
At a time when stadium spectacular is increasingly the rage (and Mike Stevens experiences this all too often when touring with Take That and Gary Barlow) it is simply thrilling to encounter these songs in such an intimate venue. Every word is audible, every chord is visible. It is only a shame that there were not more people there to witness the event, because for someone who appreciates great talent this was an event. I’ve done McCartney and Springsteen in mega venues; this was equally thrilling and visceral.
Once the 10cc songs began pouring forth the three talents on stage went into overdrive and it was I’m Not in Love that drew the warmest regards of recognition from the besotted audience. This is quite rightly held in the pantheon of great songwriting. It has always been a song that I’ve carried with me since I first hear it as whipper snapper back in the late 70s and it is a song that I never tire of hearing or investigating.
Now, I’m a sucker for a story of artistic heartbreak and hardship in pursuit of art. When Alexander Burke massacred Hallelujah I vented my spleen in no uncertain terms. Leonard Cohen went through two nervous breakdowns and penned 80 verses during his 8 months in the Royalton Hotel attempting to achieve perfoection. Alexander Burke performed to a karaoke-backing track. Enough said! I’m Not in Love is technically as ambitious as Hallelujah is artistically ambitious. Once again the Northern sensibility of Gouldman, Stewart, Godley and Crème meant that they crafted this sensational piece through sheer inventiveness and hard graft in their own Strawberry Studies in Stockport.
In the process of recording this voice driven masterpiece the band multi-tracked their vocals to create 256 unique voice tracks. This is the driving essence of the song yet here, on a mild May evening in Leeds, three men, with the aid of guitars and keyboard, manage to channel the spine-tingling qualities of the original and we the audience can only look on in awe and appreciation.
Driving towards a conclusion, no evening of Gouldman songs would be complete without a hearty rendition of the Yardbird’s For Your Love. As a parting gift it was immaculate and once again it emphasised Gouldman’s gift as a master of song construction.
It is testament to the wonderful promoter John Keenan that an artist of Gouldman’s stature can be brought to play such an intimate venue. For a promoter like John (who in his time has brought everyone from Joy Division to Nirvana to Oasis to perform in Leeds) tribute bands are the thing that put bread on the table. Such bands can show all the reverence they wish to the original, but there can never be any comparison the experience of seeing a true musical genius at close quarters.
An afterthought of the evening; John Lennon always held ELO as the heirs of the Beatles. Having heard Gouldman’s life’s work as offered here I was left thinking that 10cc might be a band more worthy of that particular accolade and furthermore it left me thinking that the songs Gouldman was writing in the 70s were what Paul McCartney should have been writing, if only he’d stayed in the North West of England rather than disconnecting himself up on his Scottish farm.