Alfie Boe’s plain speaking 2012 biography Alfie: My Story charts in heart-felt detail Boe’s rather colourful and frustrating relationship with the classical music world, and in many ways this Storyteller Tour illustrates how much Boe wishes to distance himself from his operatic roots.
It was an Alfie acting out his rock star fantasies: hair cropped short and wardrobe updated, bounding across the stage, that greeted the audience in this vast, cavernous auditorium. With songs ranging from rock classics like the Rolling Stones Angie and Elvis’ classic If I Can Dream; pop standards Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood and Bridge Over Troubled Water; to the gospel Rank Strangers and Poor Wayfaring Stranger, this was a vastly different experience to last year’s sell-out musical theatre based Bring Him Home Tour.
I am a huge fan of not only Boe’s sublime voice, but of the man himself who appears genuinely thankful for the place he has in the public’s affections and this was a performance both faultless vocally and musically. Personally I enjoyed the evening immensely and it is laudable for an artist to push the boundaries to discover what their voice can achieve and what they can accomplish as a performer, however, there were many around me who did not agree.
The Glasgow audience has a well deserved reputation as the most vocal and demonstrative in the UK and a trip 40 miles east to our capital city perfectly illustrates the difference, however Boe appeared at times genuinely disappointed in the reactions of this mixed age audience, and ill at ease in his banter. His desire to give the event a more “rock” feel was not well received by the very oldest members of the audience who had doubtless bought tickets on the strength of Boe’s operatic and musical theatre output: there were a few walk-outs; some comments of “stick to what you’re good at” and those who remained stoney-faced throughout the two hour show.
Some blame must be laid at the song choice and the programming. I believe Boe’s aim was to present songs that had personal meaning to him but the unevenness of the scheduling of them in the evening led to a lack of continuity and cohesion. Boe’s appeals to get up and dance were taken up by many (mostly women upwards of 50) however he then proceeded to sing Everybody’s Talkin’ a song not noted for its danceability. If Boe truly wanted people up on their feet there’s a century of popular songs to choose from and when you get them up you need to keep them up by choosing songs that people can truly get involved with, not a country-style ballad.
Blame must also go to the venue choice. This is a beautiful auditorium inside and out with state of the art acoustics, it is also equipped with spacious, comfortable, almost armchair like seating none of which contributes to getting an audience on its feet or encouraging the atmosphere of a rock concert. It also suffers due to the fact that in order to provide the best acoustic experience from the stage the sound proofing in the auditorium deadens any audience noise so reactions seem muted.
The moments of the evening that were best received were an interlude of three Neopolitan songs from the roots of Boe’s career and the always show-stopping Bring Him Home, the audience surging to its feet as the last note rang out, Boe commented on the fact that he knew that was what people had come for and we could all go home now – and my feeling is that the comment was made only half in jest.
Boe is a supremely talented artist, with a voice few could better, and I personally enjoyed myself greatly, appreciating the musical tour through the 20th Century with some stops in the classical world, however a little more thought for the programming of the evening may have resulted in the evening Boe envisaged. I look forward to what comes next.