His 1994 Gateshead gig was my first stadium concert at the impressionable age of 15. I’ve never forgotten that night. I was head over heels by the end: with watching rock music live, with the intoxicating euphoria of being in a crowd all singing and clapping hands above heads, and, obviously, with Bryan himself.Since then, I’ve seen all his UK tours and was excited to arrive at the Utilita Arena to take in So Happy It Hurts, which is a good summary of how I feel about being able to go to gigs again. I missed it so much.
Feelgood fun was very much the vibe, and as the crowd started to gather in an arena cleverly split into a standing area at the front with more seating than usual at the back part of the floor section – after all, lots of us Bryan aficionados aren’t getting any younger, although the man himself doesn’t seem to age. It was standing all the way for me though – and I was lucky enough, and arrived early enough, to get very close to the front. This turned out to be joyous not just for proximity to the action but because I was able to see the facial expressions of Bryan, who was chatty and engaging throughout, and his band – and they clearly loved their Newcastle reception.
There was plenty of newer material from Bryan’s most recent two albums, but the sense we were in for a treat from the back catalogue was set early on as the opening chords of Can’t Stop This Thing We Started rang out second song in. Third up and the distinctive intro to Run To You had the crowd screaming. Much of 1984 album Reckless got an airing, to my delight as it’s one of my desert island discs. Heaven was a glorious singalong, and mood-boosting anthem Summer of 69 nearly lifted the roof. After playing Somebody in a terrific six-song encore, Bryan noted that the guitar he’d played it on was the same one he’d recorded the song on back in 1984.
Bryan introduced a crowd requests segment of an impressively long two-hour-plus set by saying that with 16 albums to his name and at nearly 63, he tends to forget some of his songs. Romantic relationship ballad I’m Ready was asked for by a loved-up couple first, and was swiftly followed by a request from someone else for One Night Love Affair. I enjoyed this as much for the juxtaposition as for the fact that the latter is a cracking track from Reckless that I’d been hoping to hear. Please Forgive Me was the third and final crowd number after some amusing banter with the audience about why it was being requested. This resulted in Bryan breaking up laughing a couple of bars in and having to restart, at which point I felt very much like the besotted 15-year-old who’d gazed at him in Gateshead nearly 30 – THIRTY! – years ago.
A brief but heartfelt word on Keith Scott. The guy is amazing. He’s the best guitarist I’ve seen perform – if you’ve not watched him and think ‘pfft’ at that remark, I challenge you to watch the absolute dream of his guitar solo during It’s Only Love and not be left with your mouth hanging open in delight. The length of the encore suggested that the band was having as much of a ball as the crowd, and it was a lovely mix of jumping rock (with Somebody making its entrance) and acoustic. Bryan’s cover of Whisky in the Jar was released as a track on the Shine A Light album, which had its tour disrupted by covid. It’s an absolute joy and the crowd lapped it up and accompanied him on every word.