Gary Barlow – Live Review – Scarborough Open Air Theatre
By Rachel Crow, June 2018
It’s Friday night. It’s the height of British summer and the sun is beaming down on Yorkshire. So where better to start the weekend than the seaside?
I’m in Scarborough, at the Open Air Theatre, to see Gary Barlow on the penultimate night of his solo UK tour. Having caught the show at Hull City Hall earlier in the year I’m keen to see how it translates to an outdoor venue.
Inside, my friend Alix and I make our way towards the stage. It’s a fairly long walk from the entrance to the main arena floor and as women hurtle past us at the speed of light, I’m reminded of those scenes from the 1990s with hoards of teenage fans chasing Take That tour buses. My hurtling days are long behind me so we take up position behind the die-hard fans with their colourful (in more ways than one) banners, all jostling for prime position.
There’s a brief set by Jason Brock who looks at ease in front of the 6,500 capacity crowd. Despite his penchant for channelling the late Michael Jackson, Brock actually proves to be quite the revelation with a beautiful rendition of Whitney Houston’s ‘Run To You’. However, the audience is here for one man only and they get their wish when Gary bursts onto the stage at 8:30pm with a rousing version of his 2013 hit ‘Since I Saw You Last’ to get the evening off to an electric start.
The next two hours are jam packed with hit after hit, and let’s face it there’s no shortage of material to choose from, as Gary reflects on over a quarter of a century in the music business. There are traditional versions of Barlow classics such as ‘Forever Love’ and ‘Open Road’ intermingled with new arrangements of old favourites, one in particular, a swing version of ‘Everything Changes’, feels like it was always intended to be this way.
With such a masterful performance its difficult to single out one moment, but a new song penned especially for the tour called ‘Live Those Years Again’ is certainly a contender. A tongue in cheek look back at Gary’s own career, it’s a real departure from his usual style. Full of self-deprecating wit and clever and defiant lyrics, it’s almost a battle cry to his fans (who he calls his Army) – and they respond with deafening cheers.
Mid-way through the show Gary takes his one and only break of the evening. He’s gone for no more than a couple of minutes, just long enough for a quick change before he’s back and belting out some of those beautiful ballads for which he’s well known. His version of Take That’s ‘Said It All’ is simply breathtaking.
Make no mistake though, this is not one man and his piano. While there are more intimate moments where Gary shows off his softer side, songs like ‘Cry’, ‘Relight My Fire’ and ‘These Days’ have the crowd dancing and jumping around like jack-in-the-boxes, as Gary takes command of the stage with all the exuberance and grace of a twenty-year-old.
As the evening draws to a close ‘The Captain’ orders his troops to “light up the sky” for ‘Rule the World’, naturally they oblige and the resulting sea of mobile phone torches waving rhythmically in time with the music is a sight to behold.
In Hull, there were confetti cannons for a couple of the numbers, but concern about the environmental impact of these at outdoor venues mean they are notably absent from Scarborough. While they’re not integral to the show I can’t help feeling that anyone attending the open air concerts is missing out a little. There’s something quite magical about dancing among the falling paper.
That said, it’s a knockout performance from one of British pop’s most prominent figures made possible by one of the most accomplished bands in the business. And judging by the beaming smiles all around (myself and Alix included) Gary Barlow is indeed ‘Back for Good’.
images: Cuffe and Taylor