How often do you go to a concert by one of your favourite bands, wishing that they had played more of their hits or included some of their more obscure songs in the set? For a band with as many big hits as Smokie, time restrictions would usually make such a perfect setlist nearly impossible. You either drop a few of the popular classics and risk the ire of ardent fans who miss out on hearing their favourites or you completely neglect some lesser known yet very worthwhile songs and current material that the audience possibly never heard before. Well, Smokie has found the answer. Be your own support band. Yes, that’s right. On this current Australian tour (and the previous one for that matter!) the band not only performs as the main act but also as the support act. As bass plaer Terry Uttley explained to me in a recent interview, ‘It’s an evening with Smokie.” And that’s exactly what the crowd at Sydney’s Enmore Theatre got on Thursday night.
I first saw Smokie on their inaugural Australian tour in 1979. A big fan, I attended not only their Sydney show at the Hordern Pavilion but also made the trip to Newcastle because once just wasn’t enough. I have seen them several times since throughout the years, as they returned to play both the local club circuit and then agin in larger venues as with this tour. No matter what the venue or the lineup, each show has been a treat for the senses from start to finish and this one was no different.
The lineup might have changed considerably over the years from the group responsible for churning out all those classics in the seventies but the sound is still unmistakably Smokie. Of the original band, only bassist Terry Uttley remains. These days, Mick McConnell is on guitar, Martin Bullard on keyboards and Steve Pinnell on drums. Smokie’s current lead singer is Mike Craft whose husky vocals are uncannily reminiscent of original vocalist Chris Norman. After Norman left to pursue a solo career in the mid eighties, the band reformed with singer Alan Barton who was tragically killed when the bus in which the band was travelling crashed in Europe, also leaving both Terry Uttley and then guitarist Alan Silson suffering bad cuts and bruises. After the loss of their friend and colleague, the band continued on, having found Craft to fill the role and his voice is a perfect fit for the band’s songs.
Smokie came on stage early in the evening as their own support band and, with Terry, Mike and Mick all seated on stools, they played an acoustic set, starting with ‘I’ll Meet You at Midnight’ and including some older tracks that would probably not otherwise get an airing amonst their biggest hits.
After a short break, the guys took to the stage for what was essentially a collection of Smokie’s greatest hits and, just in case you need a reminder, the list is extensive and includes such memories as ‘Don’t Play Your Rock ‘n’ Roll To Me’, ‘Oh Carol’, ‘Mexican Girl’, ‘Lay Back in the Arms of Someone’, ‘If You Think You Know How to Love Me’, ‘It’s Your Life’... Well, you get the idea. They were all there so no one could be disappointed - and nobody was! The predominantly over forties crowd was transported back in time by the songs that we all knew and loved. Despite security’s attempts to stop them, people were soon dancing in the aisles.
While I go to a concert for the music, it takes more than just good songs for me to walk away fulfilled and on a high at the end of the night. After all, if that was all I wanted, I would stay home and listen to the record. (Oops... sorry... I meant ‘CD’. .. showing my age here...). I like the friendly banter between songs; the feeling of being a ‘part’ of the whole event, not just a passive bystander. And Smokie definitely made us feel a ‘part’ of it all. For me that is what makes it a fun night out; good humour and interaction with the crowd that makes you feel more like an old friend than a fan.
The band left the stage briefly as fans were on their feet, cheering for more. And, of course, that’s just what they got.
They saved what is undoubtedly their best known hit in this country, ‘Living Next Door to Alice’ for the encore, with the fans loudly and enthusiastically adding their own lyrics to the chorus, from a little parody released some twenty years after the original, endearingly titled ‘Who the F**k is Alice?’
And yes, I did walk away on a ‘high’. It was, as Terry said, ‘an evening with Smokie’ and they can play their rock ‘n’ roll to me any day...
by Sharyn Hamey
To see photos of SMOKIE, click HERE.
To read our interview with TERRY UTTLEY, click HERE.
For remaining tour dates, click HERE