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Barry Manilow - London Palladium

Jimmy Tarbuck’s warm-up act was best summarised as, “Be still my beating heart! Oh. It is.” His light humour hasn’t changed over the decades and is therefore so ridiculously out of touch it’s strangely refreshing, and at the same time his charming rapport with the audience made a significant contrast from the angry and expletive-hidden stuff that passes for comedy these days. So I wasn’t, in an acronym rarely seen these days, ROTFLMAO (that is, rolling on the floor laughing my head off) but it was the sort of corny and feather-light humour that proved, in the end, to be the perfect setup for the rest of the evening.


I hadn’t seen Barry Manilow perform live: seeing the 2004 BBC programme One Night with Barry Manilow is absolutely not the same as actually going to a gig, and neither does watching him being interviewed by Michael Parkinson on BBC1 in 1998. This was, however, his ‘last, last’ London concerts, and as a fellow Bat Out of Hell the Musical fan is also a massive ‘Fanilow’, I figured I should indulge myself and pay far too much to see what Manilow’s enduring appeal is all about.


It was only when I got there that I discovered this might not be the ‘last, last’ London concerts after all: he’s done at least one farewell tour before, I’m reliably told, speaking to some hardcore ‘Fanilows’ (goodness me, the queue at the bar before the show was long!). Personal circumstances meant my Fanilow friend wasn’t at the Palladium herself the night I went. The merch stand was given the brush by a lot of the Fanilows, mostly because there wasn’t anything there that they didn’t already have or otherwise didn’t want. Tarbuck had a programme (he has a tour of his own this year) but Manilow didn’t, and it’s been literally decades since I’ve had a vinyl player…


With backing singers and a band who kept themselves to themselves and let the main man take the limelight, Barry Manilow took to the stage at around 8:30pm and finished up just after 10pm, ensuring the Palladium crowd managed to get home at a perfectly reasonable hour. There’s one sure-fire way to get ‘everyone’ singing along – put the words on the screen, which Manilow’s team did for ‘Can’t Smile Without You’. Everyone was given a light green glow stick on entry, which in the dark meant the audience looked like participants in an aircraft marshaller training course. I had managed to bag an aisle seat, because on the off chance that it was utterly abominable, I could at least pop out to the loo and then just not come back.


It was the chap next to me, who had been brought along by his other half, who proved to be my saving grace. We had only exchanged the most basic of pleasantries during the evening, but his calm and reserved applause meant I didn’t have someone yelling and screaming right next to me – the yelling and screaming was definitely coming from somewhere. I was also pleased with my Royal Circle vantage point – looking down at the Stalls, the hardcores had risen to their feet at the start of the first number, while we were sitting back and enjoying proceedings, which, doddery old fart that I am, was what I thought you were supposed to do when attending a concert at the London Palladium.


But even we got up eventually: I think it was after Manilow had explained how ‘Could It Be Magic?’ became a hit (short version – Donna Summer (1948-2012) recorded a disco version of it in 1976). There was, as far as I could tell, a good mix of familiar and more obscure songs from Manilow’s extensive back catalogue – on three occasions, a ‘Wheel of Barry’ was spun, containing some lesser-known songs. But there was no endless plugging of a new album, and the audience wasn’t sitting there patiently waiting for the more familiar songs to come along.


The older ballad version of ‘Could It Be Magic?’ was heard, tacked on to the end of a mashup with ‘Mandy’, perhaps Manilow’s most famous song. ‘I Write The Songs’ seemed popular with the audience. Somewhat ironically, it was written by Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys. ‘Copacabana’ was the big showstopping finale, though Manilow is fully aware that much of his repertoire is easy listening stuff, hoping his songs live on forever in elevators and dentist waiting rooms. Look, it was a lovely and agreeable night out, I’ve become a Fanilow, and only God can judge me.


Four stars

Photo credit: Me and my temperamental iPhone 14

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