The Way to Birmarillo

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It was actually my girlfriend Jo that wanted to go and see Tony Christie at The Birnam Arts Centre. We both love the venue and her uncle is a bit of a Christie fanatic and over the years she's developed a bit of a soft spot for his music. I was initially a bit sceptical as I'm really only familiar with '(Is This The Way To) Amarillo', a catchy song with a hilarious video (I love the bit where Ronnie Corbett falls off the treadmill) but I didn't know anything else about him.

Turns out that there is much more to Mr Christie than just 'Amarillo'. He's also a talented songwriter in his own right (in fact one of his first composition was co-written with Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin fame) and he counts snake-hipped pop god Jarvis Cocker and guitarist Richard Hawley among his fans. The former wrote the top-ten hit 'Walk Like A Panther' for him and the later produced one of Christies greatest albums, 2008's 'Made in Sheffield'.

We pull up outside of Birnam Arts half an hour ahead of the show starting, but it's already getting difficult to find a space.  I haven't seen the place this busy since The View played last October, although at that gig I was one of oldest attendees and at this one, I'm definitely one of youngest.  It feels good!

Tony Christie Review- Birnam OutsideThe last time I was in Birnam Scotland was being visited by the infamous 'Beast from the East' but now we are in the midst of a heatwave and everyone is hanging out on patio enjoy a drink while they wait for the gig to start.  Jo's driving so I get to enjoy a bottle of beer in the warmth of the sun, it doesn't get much better than this.

Before Tony hits the stage there is time to check out support from up-and-coming singer/songwriter Calum Mackenzie Jones from Oran, Moray.  Armed only with a guitar, a killer voice and a stomp-box he charms the audience with his blend of fingerpicking and rhythm guitar. 

The touching song 'Sailors Lullabye' is a great showcase for his versatile voice and is unwavering and pure even on the falsetto parts.  The suave, Latin-tinged number 'Home' is a nice change of pace and with its catchy lead guitar lines, it could almost be the theme tune for a sixties tv show.  Calum gets a little bit of help from the audience on the chorus of the 'La La La Song' a charity single that has raised over £3000 for Logan's Fund, Bootstock & Wave Community Radio.  On his final song, Calum's guitar is feeling the heat and all of a sudden goes drastically out of tune.  Calum handles this setback with real aplomb and improvises an acapella version that sounds amazing, in the process displaying some really fast thinking that turned a negative into a positive!

I know, you were expecting somebody older! Tony Christie oozes self-confidence as he struts out on to the stage in a beautifully tailored pale blue suit and launches into a note-perfect performance of 'Early Morning Memphis'.  As the song concludes to rapturous applause the 75-year-old quips "I know, you were expecting somebody older".  After a pretty decent Tom Jones impression his muscular sounding band strike up 'Las Vegas', and Christie yanks the top of his bottle of mineral water and throws it away with a cheeky grin.  The band sound amazing and the backing vocals are among the best I've ever heard.  Things get really groovy next with the amazing 'Key of U' which has a psychedelic 60's pop vibe that almost makes you feel like you are living in an Austin Powers movie.  The cry-baby wah guitar sound is awesome and there are amazing saxophone and piano solos.  

'Don't Go Down to Reno' is where Christie really starts to soar.  He's got a really powerful voice and he's in complete command of it, sustaining notes for ages with seemingly no effort.  It's a pretty geeky thing to notice but his microphone technique is impeccable and throughout the gig, I'm fascinated at how he pulls the mic back as his voice gets bigger to prevent it getting overloaded.  He really is the ultimate showman and he even does a little bit of a soft-shoe shuffle on 'Mr Bojangles' as a little nod of the head to his hero Sammy Davis Jnr.

Tony Christie Review- Calum Mackenzie JonesBefore he sings 'Walk Like A Panther' we get a little bit of an insight into how Pulp Singer Jarvis Cocker sought him out in Spain after he writing the song especially for him.  Christie's rendition of the 1999 top-ten All Seeing I hit is my highlight of the evening and one of my musical highlights of the year so far.  I totally love it!  It's got the pop sensibility and quirky, verging on ridiculous lyrics ('a half-wit in a leotard stands on my stage') you would expect from Cocker but it's delivered with style, panache and verve by Christie who gives's it 100%.  He's even got the original choreography from the video down pat.  The arrangement is exemplary too, I love the burbling synth part and insistent rhythm guitar, it has a real indie 'cool' factor and sounds like Edwynn Collins at the peak of his powers.

'Jezebel' is another highlight, with Dick Dale style surf guitar and Christie's voice at it's very biggest.  This is followed by 'Solitaire' a great Neil Sedaka song which Andy Williams would go on to have a hit with, the harmonies and backing vocals are, once again, exquisite.  Then it's the moment that people have been waiting for, '(Is This The Way To) Amarillo.  By this stage in the evening, Christie has the audience eating out of his hand and he seems happy to take a little bit of a back seat while we belt out the chorus.  It's been a great evening and while I sit in the passenger seat of the car on the way back to Perth I'm already adding Tony Christie albums to my basket on Amazon prime.  Can't wait till they get delivered!


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