Andy Howells reviews singer/songwriter, Leo Sayer on his 50th anniversary tour at St David’s Hall, Cardiff.
There’s a lot to be said for a singer/songwriter who carries a lot of charisma, for in a live scenario, you can take your audience on an incredible journey of belonging and musical intimacy over the period of a few hours. That can certainly be said for Leo Sayer who brought his 50th anniversary tour to Cardiff’s St David’s Hall on Friday evening.
Following his four-man band out on to the stage, Leo greeted the Cardiff audience by saying how delighted he was to be back at St David’s Hall. Indeed, it must have been a while, as the audience warmly welcomed him with joyful cheers and applause. Ever the consummate showman, Leo wasted no time in proudly introducing his band (a courtesy I wish more artists would adopt) Richard Hammond on Bass Guitar, Elliott Henshaw on drums, Stephen Reid Williams on Keyboards and Dave Day on acoustic guitar and banjo, before stamping his foot twice to lead into his 1973 debut hit, The Show Must Go On… and it did!
The show wasn’t just a run through of 50 years’ worth of hits. While Leo told the true story that inspired the song Moonlighting, there was also plenty of time to chat with the audience in between songs. In response to some friendly banter, of which Leo jokingly referred to as “heckling” he laughed: “I’d have been a stand-up comedian, but I haven’t got the legs!” while chants of “LEO!” were responded with “ELO? Yes – I love them too!”
Each song was immaculately performed. At 74 (and really, who’s counting?), Leo Sayer still has an incredible vocal range and continues to put his life and soul into those early tracks such as One Man Band, Bedsitter Land, Train, Thunder in My Heart and How Much Love?
Live, blues-soaked renditions of I Can’t Stop Loving You and When I Need You were so much more than a delivery of what was on record, with Leo treating the audience to some fantastic harmonica playing complimenting Dave Day’s intricate guitar work.
Leo didn’t hold back on giving the crowd his own hit interpretations of Buddy Holly’s Raining in My Heart and The Crickets, More than I Can Say. There were also two presentations of Beatles classics from his new album, Northern Songs. While a new dimension was added to Eleanor Rigby (with a bass line borrowed from Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean) the poetic brilliance of Across the Universe was delivered with feeling, making this one of my favourite Beatles covers.
There were plenty of opportunities for the Cardiff crowd to get up, clap, dance and singalong too, of which they did with energy to Long Tall Glasses and You Make Me Feel Like Dancing (which featured soulful nods to Sly & The Family Stone and James Brown in its reprise).
The show wrapped up with an encore of Leo’s interpretations of two tracks he wrote with David Courtney for Roger Daltrey’s eponymous 1974 album debut. Sang with sincerity, it was wonderful to hear It’s a Hard Life and Just a Boy performed from the heart of their composer.
While Leo Sayer’s music has frequently been a constant favourite in the soundtrack of my life during good and bad times, it has frequently remained uplifting and joyful. Personally, it was a delight to soak myself in an evening that matched performance with quality, leaving everyone feeling uplifted and wanting more! Like life, Leo’s show must go on to other venues, and now the memories go on for one of my personal favourite concert experiences!