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By Dave Wiggins
(with a big thanks to Julie, for the driving and the company)
Whilst most of Liverpool appeared to be heading to our very own ECHO arena, to duck bottles of urine (allegedly) being hurled towards the Kings of Leon, me and my very attractive associate (the wife of a close friend, in best Carly Simon / Warren Beatty stylee) were headed in the opposite direction to catch a different type of king. Yes, the royal ruler of the mega-ballad, Mr Barry Manilow himself. Bringing his Las Vegas 'Ultimate Manilow' tour to England, Barry was playing three sell-out dates; two at the London 02 Arena, and finishing off in front of 8,000 ecstatic Fanilows at the MEN. We got there dead handy (primarily as I wasn't doing the driving), in order to use our guest-passes for the MEN's new hip hangout, 'View', and it's free posh scran (and very nice it was too). Just before we headed to our seats, I checked with a steward on running times (wanting to make sure we didn't return to find a locked car park). Support act 7.45, followed by headliner at 8.30, apparently. Support act, eh? Some tidy local combo? One of Barry's American 'A-List' mates? Sadly not. It was actually none other than - wait for it - 'veteran' 'comedian' Bobby Davro. Hell, you couldn't make this up. Predictably, he was dire, although 7,998 people didn't seem to think so, and me and my gig-companion sat with our fingers in our ears until, mercifully, he finally left the stage.8.31 pm, and the lights dim, and the glow sticks come out across the arena. It looks an impressive sight, and to a backing track sounding very 80's and very Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Barry himself emerges to mass hysteria. Don't mind admitting that I was trembling, having not seen him in the flesh for 28 years (to the very night, spookily), as he launched into every song that I, and any other Manilow fan, could have wanted to hear. Interestingly, despite being a veteran Manilow-follower, there were a couple I hadn't come across before (in particular, 'Best Seat in the House'), but, other than that, it was hit after hit after hit. 'Copacabana', 'New York City Rhythm', 'Even Now' (which I found particularly poignant, as it reminded me of my first love. Christine, where are you now? Actually, I know where she is, which makes it a bit less romantic), 'Somewhere in the Night', 'Trying to Get the Feeling Again', 'I Write the Songs', 'Can't Smile Without You', 'Weekend in New England', 'Looks Like We Made It', 'Bermuda Triangle' and the wonderful 'Ships'. The best-received number, on the night, seemed to be 'Mandy', on which, with the power of technology', he duetted with the 1978 version of himself from the Royal Albert Hall. Magnificent stuff.The two-hour set flew by, and, with a parting heartfelt thank-you for our thirty years of loyalty, Barry was off, leaving the capacity crowd breathless. Could have stayed there all night long, listening to him sing, in fairness. Never mind this being my favourite gig of the year, it ranks as my favourite concert of all-time. It was almost a religious experience. Could it be magic? I should say so.
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