Prog-pop's Not Dead! The soft-rock sovereigns come out s(w)inging in Birmingham

10cc were up against it last night… they played in the cosy confines of 2600-seater Symphony Hall, while across the street, in the cavernous Barclaycard Arena, the Who were trotting out “Tommy” just once more. It was pretty easy to tell the audiences apart – the Who fans were resplendent in faded Mod grandeur – all jean jackets, Chelsea boots and receding hair, manipulated into pre-Woodstock hairdos. 10cc fans showed up to the gig, dressed as if they were going to dinner at a friend’s house. Nice, warm raincoats. Nice, normal folks.

Graham Gouldman is now the sole custodian of one of the greatest catalogues of popular music of the 20th century, neatly dodging the bullets fired at him by purists and diehards who are unhappy that he still clings to the 10cc name. None of those people were present at this almost-capacity show tonight, however. You want the hits? They played them all. These are the songs that punk rock couldn’t kill.  In an expansive and diverse 105-minute set, we heard songs about talking bombs (“Clockwork Creep”), music hall pastiche (“The Dean and I”) and even a bit of faux-prog (“Feel the Benefit”). The biggest cheer is reserved for the Grand Poobah of all ballads – “I’m Not in Love”, during which, the lighting guy turned on the mirrorballs and the 50 and 60-somethings in the audience squeezed each other’s hands a little tighter.

Cynics would say that the band are stuck in some musical Groundhog Day, doomed to live out the glory years until they dwindle and fade. If they are prisoners of the past, then they seem very happy in captivity, mustering up the kind of boundless enthusiasm you don’t see in anyone other than overexcited kindergarten teachers. The band are having as much fun as the audience, especially Gouldman, who plays godlike bass guitar and sings like “Dreadlock Holiday” is still number one.

The most poignant moment of the night comes tucked away, seven songs into the show. While across the street in a hail of power chords and bombast, Roger Daltrey was still proclaiming he hopes he dies before he gets old, 10cc were more reflective. From the unabashed classic pop album “Sheet Music” came “Old Wild Men” – written in 1974 by musicians in their twenties who mused on how aging rockers would cope in years to come –

“They’re still gonna play guitar,

On dead strings, and old drums.

They’ll play and play to pass the time…”

Time well spent, I’d say.

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