Empire, Sunderland, 8th November 2003

Set List

Long Cool Woman / Here I Go Again / Jennifer Eccles / Yes I Will / Look Through Any Window / Sandy / Butterfly / I’m Alive / Fire Brigade / We’re Through / On a Carousel / Blowin’ In the Wind

How Will I Survive / Sorry Suzanne / Just One Look / The Baby / Soldier Song / Gasoline Alley Bred / Too Young to be Married / Bus Stop / Blackberry Way / Carrie Ann /  The Air That I Breathe / I Can Hear The Grass Grow / Stop! Stop! Stop! / Tiger Feet / He Ain’t Heavy / It’s In Every One of Us

I was nervous before this show. Having been a Hollies fan for more than 39 years, I had never seen them live before. Every time they have been to Holland there has always been something that stopped me from going. At first I was too young, then I had to either work or play with my own band, or I couldn’t get tickets…only last year they played in Amstelveen, some twenty miles from where I live, but I didn’t know that at the time. And when I decided to go to Bremen in Germany where they were supposed to play on my birthday (27th of December), Carl had to have his operation so that gig was cancelled.

Still, I was determined to go and see them one day, so when I heard they were going to the Empire in Sunderland, about 40 miles from my friend Gary’s house, I decided that now was the time. Especially since I had heard that the Empire is just about the best place in the UK, acoustically speaking. I called Gary and asked him to book a ticket. He said he would do that and book some for him and his wife too. The trip over to Hexham was soon arranged and on the night in question we drove to Sunderland where we arrived a bit too early at the Empire. I was nervous…

I couldn’t wait for those doors to open and let us in. They finally did and we went straight up to the bar near the Dress Circle where our seats were located… after a drink we went and took our seats and the show began: some sort of promenade theme was used as an intro and then they walked on stage.

The band started with "Long Cool Woman." Having heard "How Do I Survive" and knowing Carl’s work with the Move, I expected it to sound rather different from the well-known version on Distant Light, but still I was surprised by the change of sound Carl has invoked. I found that his voice actually blended very well with the others. The show was superb.

"Butterfly" was sung by Alan Coates (his voice more than reminiscent of Graham Nash) with the strings coming from Ian Parker’s keyboards. "Gasoline Alley Bred" and "Listen To Me" were stripped down to acoustic versions, played by Tony, Ray and Alan, as was "Too Young To Be Married." These songs sounded fresh and vibrant. And "Soldier’s Song" with the special red lighting was an experience in itself with Carl’s emotional vocals. Other highlights were "Blowin’ In The Wind" and "Sandy" and of course the Move songs: "Fire Brigade", "I Can Hear The Grass Grow" and "Blackberry Way." Through these, The Hollies showed that they know how to make songs written by others, their own. "How Do I Survive", which opened the second set was started from tape with the band walking on stage. They then effortlessly joined and took over from the track. Just another example of their craftsmanship.

And then "The Baby."

With Tony showing off his skills on the electric sitar (like he would later do with the banjo) Carl explained that the song was back by demand. And when he started to sing the first verse, it struck me that they should maybe do more material from the Rickfors era because  Carl and Mikael’s voices have the same kind of bluesy quality.

"Stop Stop Stop" found Tony hammering away on his banjo. By that time Gary had already told me twice that he wanted to see them again. Of course they did "Air" and "He Ain’t Heavy" too. Not having left the stage, they went straight into the encores, giving Ray the opportunity to do "Tiger Feet."

The end came with Carl, Ray, Tony, Alan and Ian singing the chorus to "It’s In Everyone Of Us" a capella with Bobby standing at the back of the stage.

All in all, I saw a splendid show, even better than I had expected (and I had my standards set very high indeed). I’ll surely go back next year. 

Photo by Helen Macdonald

Review by Ruud Lodder

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