Since I first heard Alfie Boe sing two Classic Quadrophenia (CQ) songs on his UK Winter Tour, I have been keenly anticipating hearing the whole album live on stage. The album is tremendous, made more so by the live sounding vocals from Alfie. Alfie’s set list on his current mini UK tour has included more and more CQ songs and so the anticipation leading up to the world premiere at the Royal Albert Hall last night has been building to explosive levels.
The announcement of a classical version of a much loved rock work is always going to cause some fans to scratch their heads and wonder why someone is messing with perfection. CQ was no exception and many Who fans took to social media in their thousands to bemoan this project, despite not having heard a note. As the album release date got nearer and the promotional schedule ramped up, those voices of dissent became less and less, dwindling to a trickle when the album was released and the full glory of Rachel Fuller’s orchestration was heard in its entirety for the first time. After last night’s world premiere of the live staging, the rapturous audience reaction leads me to think that the Who fans were completely won over (at least those who were there).
The audience was mainly a mixture of Who fans and Alfie Boe fans – it was easy to spot the Who fans as they stood up en masse when Pete Townshend first came on to the stage – and right from the start, there was a buzz and energy between performers and audience. Robert Ziegler conducted the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with passion (even donning a parka for the finale) and the London Oriana Choir was wonderful but the night belonged to Alfie, being rarely off stage. Hearing the songs on tour with a small band and a small orchestra is magnificent but in no way prepared me for hearing Alfie’s sublime voice in harmony with a full orchestra. Just think of every superlative you’ve ever heard and you’ll be half way there. Pete Townshend was great (better than I expected if I’m honest), Phil Daniels’s characterisation of the Dad role was brilliant but the biggest surprise for me was how good Billy Idol was. I admit I’m not very aware of Billy’s music and if I admitted to concerns about the show beforehand, Billy Idol’s part concerned me most. I needn’t have worried as his voice perfectly suited the material and blended superbly with Alfie. Their shared moments on stage were amongst the highlights – they were obviously having the time of their lives.
When I reviewed the album a few weeks ago, I said that I loved all the songs, there wasn’t one that I wanted to skip. Having seen the show live, I stand by that; the music flowed effortlessly and the vocal harmonies were joyful to hear but the star of the show, musically, comes right at the end. Love Reign O’er Me has become a staple of Alfie’s live shows and amongst his fans this was the song that caused the most excitement. He didn’t disappoint. The power of the orchestra complemented exactly the powerhouse vocal performance Alfie gave, leading to the spine tingling last note when the entire audience rose to its feet as one…and stayed there for a good five to ten minutes (forgive me on this point, I wasn’t looking at my watch!) with rapturous applause throughout.
Numerous curtain calls followed and an encore with all the singers again brought the house down. Rachel Fuller also received a fabulous welcome when she came to the stage and although all the performers (orchestra excepted) went off stage it was plain that the audience were not ready to see them go and they all trooped out again, Billy Idol minus his shirt.
Pete Townshend is taking the show to Vienna, Cologne and Munich (click here for dates) plus another unconfirmed date and those who see the show there are in for a treat. For those not so lucky, Sky Arts will be showing the performance tonight at 8pm – and anyone else needs to start praying for a DVD release at the end of the year when all the live dates are over.
Classic Quadrophenia is available here:
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