10cc @ Symphony Hall, Birmingham – Monday 16th February 2015


Review by Paul Quinton, photos by Rich Ward

A lot of the stuff that goes by the name of Progressive Rock these days doesn’t really justify the tag, parts of it being too heavily influenced by Yes or early Genesis, with singers who’ve been listening to far too much Fish than is probably healthy. On the other hand, a lot of bands from the past, as featured in Prog Magazine’s ‘Prog or Not Prog’ articles, have made genuinely inventive and ambitious music and are now often overlooked or consigned to the file marked ‘nostalgia’ and are rarely heard other than on oldies radio stations.

One such is 10cc, who had a string of hit singles in the 1970s, with what was on the surface highly commercial music, but underneath was genuinely progressive, often with more vision, ambition and wit in one song than some bands managed on entire albums. If openly admitting their first hit single was heavily influenced by Frank Zappa wasn’t enough, then the fact that their biggest hit single was a six-minute keyboard epic, with a bass solo in the middle, should be enough to put the band firmly in the progressive camp, even if they were clever enough to release their work cunningly disguised as instantly memorable and hook-laden singles. This particular tour is in honour of the 40th anniversary of their second album, Sheet Music, which, typically for this band, is a collection of songs in assorted styles, moving from rock to calypso to dreamy ballad, with smart, witty lyrics, yet commercial enough to generate three Top 30 singles.

While there’s only one of the original foursome in the line-up, bassist Graham Gouldman, drummer Paul Burgess was in the original touring line up of the band in the early 70s, guitarist Ric Fenn has been in the band since the days of ‘Dreadlock Holiday,’ and this line up has been touring since 1999, so it’s hard to argue that this isn’t an authentic version of the band.


There was no support act, as the man on the Merch desk said ‘They’re supporting themselves’, so bang on the advertised start time of 7.30, the intro tape began, although the house lights were still on, and, unusually for Symphony Hall, people were still finding their seats. With no ceremony, the band strolled on stage and went straight into ‘Wall Street Shuffle’, the lead off track from Sheet Music, one of the hit singles and, along with ‘Silly Love’, one of the heaviest things they ever did. After that, it was a straight play through of the album, from the straightforward rock of ‘Wall Street Shuffle’ and ‘Silly Love’ to the reggae/calypso of ‘Hotel’ and ‘Baron Samedi’ via the reflective ballad, ‘Old Wild Men’. For the ballad ‘Somewhere In Hollywood’, the band were joined on video by the original vocalist on the track, Kevin Godley, together with a typically arty and meticulously put together film. It struck me that at least a couple of the songs, or at least the lyrics, sounded out of place in 2015. The mock West Indian accent in ‘Hotel’ and the lyrics of ‘Oh Effendi’ might raise the odd eyebrow, and as singer Mick Wilson pointed out, the lyrics of Clock Work Creep’, about a time bomb being planted on an airliner, were written decades before 9/11, but I can’t imagine a similar song being released today, unless it were a clumsy attempt to shock.

While the whole performance of the album  seemed to go down well, there seemed to be a bit of restlessness in the audience as it went on, as a lot of these songs were probably unfamiliar to all but the most hardcore fans, especially as, for a band that regularly appeared in the Pop Charts, Sheet Music was quite an experimental album, and there was almost a collective sigh of relief when Graham Gouldman announced an interval and that they’d be back in the second half to play ‘the hits’.


True to their word, with the band having changed from the t-shirt casual clothes of the first half into smart dark suits during the interval, the second half began in great style with the friendly, singalong tones of ‘The Things We Do For Love’, which got the crowd onside immediately, and when they followed it with ‘Good Morning Judge’, with some great guitar by Ric Fenn, and then ‘I’m Mandy, Fly Me,’ which got the biggest response of the night so far, the concert really caught fire. ‘Life Is A Minestrone’, which Graham Gouldman claimed was written after a member of the band misheard a radio DJ late at night, actually had some of the crowd up and dancing in one of the balconies. Even then, they felt able to throw something different into the mix, playing ‘Feel The Benefit’, from the Deceptive Bends album, 13 minutes of almost pure prog, at times sounding like Yes and Supertramp. A little self indulgent perhaps, but they then rewarded the crowd for their patience with the big finish, a terrific ‘The Dean and I’, brilliantly sung by the whole band, then the two biggest hits to finish the main set, a lush ‘I’m Not In love’, which, unlike the original recording, which was solely vocal and keyboard, the band played with acoustic guitars and piano, and then a jubilant ‘Dreadlock Holiday’, which seemed to be played twice as fast as the original and which finally had the whole crowd on its feet.

Naturally there was an encore, their first hit single as 10cc, the doo-wop of ‘Donna’, sung a capella tonight, without drummer Burgess until he brought the house down, by entering solely to finish the last line, I Still Love….’ by shouting out ‘Yow!’ in an accent straight out of ‘Peaky Blinders’, and then the show finished with a riotous ‘Rubber Bullets’, with the crowd on their feet, clapping and singing along, and Fenn and keyboardist Keith Hayman indulging in a guitar/piano duel, to bring a great show to a close. The lighting and use of video screens was excellent, the sound was astonishingly good, and both the band and crowd seemed to have a great time. I’m not sure the idea of playing an album in full really worked, when all the crowd really wanted to hear was the hits, but you can’t argue with a sold out Symphony Hall on its feet and buzzing as it left for home.

Set List:
1. Wall Street Shuffle
2. The Worst Band In The World
3. Hotel
4. Old Wild Men
5. Clockwork Creep
6. Silly Love
7. Somewhere In Hollywood
8. Baron Samedi
9. The Sacro-Iliac
10. Oh Effendi
11. The Things We Do For Love
12. Good Morning Judge
13. I’m Mandy, Fly Me
14. Life Is A Minestrone
15. Art For Art’s Sake
16. Feel The Benefit
17. The Dean And I
18. I’m Not In Love
19. Dreadlock Holiday

20. Donna
21. Rubber Bullets

See more of Rich’s photos here