David Essex: Royal Albert Hall

Judging by the caterwauling that greets David Essex, you'd think he'd arrived on stage astride his silver dream racer...

The Essex girls are now women. Their idol’s heyday was the mid-’70s, but judging by the caterwauling that greets David Essex, you’d think he’d arrived on stage astride his silver dream racer. Enthusiasm is dampened, however, when Essex opens his account with a faux-dance interpretation of ‘I Still Believe’. You see, tonight’s performance is to promote a re-recorded ‘greatest hits’, ‘Thank You’. Only available at gigs and through the net, natch.

No label and messing with the crowd-pleasers should spell career disaster. Fortunately, a run-through of ‘Hold Me Close’ and ‘Me And My Girl Nightclubbing’ show the old pro at work, giving it some of that old-time magic. Sadly, he chooses to air a few songs from a forthcoming new album. ‘Wonderful’ captures the industrial dance of Depeche Mode and the pomposity of Duran Duran. It is, in every sense, the sound of a seasoned popular songwriter trying to get his head round contemporary dance and totally missing the point. If dance music hadn’t developed for nigh on twenty years, it would sound like David Essex’s next album.

By the time the third and final of the new songs is announced, there is a mass exodus to the toilet. Interval over and it’s back to the classics. Ones that haven’t been messed around with too much. That’s what’s wanted and that’s what’s loved. Even sacrificing The Kinks’ ‘You Really Got Me’ to the altar of soft-rock mass populism is greeted like an old friend. David Essex clearly knows what his audience wants, but he appears to have reached a belated career crossroads. Either rock on or rock off, Dave, just don’t go changing.

Ben Clancy