“We started out as a punk band,” ABC’s frontman (and, officially, sole member) Martin Fry tells his audience, dressed in a 3-piece suit – a little gold detail on his Jimmy Choos as a hark back to the lamé suit that was once his staple uniform – with a full orchestra sat behind him. “But look at us now.” (For anyone wondering, three suits were made; two were stolen and one left in Japan.)
ABC’s “now” is about as punk as a Sex Pistol churning butter in the jungle, but while the band’s history has seen them taking part in the ‘80s revival tours other acts of the decade actively avoid, tonight is a celebration of Fry’s own comeback; earlier this year ABC returned to the top 5 of the album charts for the first time since their debut in 1982. That album was the iconic The Lexicon Of Love; a collection often considered one of the finest of its decade. 34 years later it’s The Lexicon Of Love II that’s returned the band to the upper end of charts and radio playlists.
As if following up an LP as heralded as Lexicon… wasn’t a bold enough move, the original is being played in its entirety tonight. With original composer Anne Dudley conducting the Southbank Sinfonia, a set of songs that don’t appear on the album is played first, with many coming from The Lexicon Of Love II. Tracks including ‘Viva Love’ and ‘The Flames Of Desire’ are huge numbers, with the dramatic breaks giving the latter the feeling of a Bond theme, while ‘Viva Love’ is the most true to the ’82 predecessor, which is surprising considering it’s been knocking about since the techno influenced Abracadabra sessions in ’91. Collaborator (and opening act) Rob Fusari joins an already full stage for the tracks he worked on, including ‘Singer Not The Song’. Although he’s most known for working with Destiny’s Child and Whitney Houston, his keytar ensures he fits the ‘80s style.
Part two is a performance that’s as true to the original – influenced by Roxy Music and produced by Trevor Horn – as it is grand and fitting to the setting and time of Fry and Dudley. Whereas some of their contemporaries thrive to maintain relevant (Pet Shop Boys, New Order), and in some cases with questionable results, there’s something admirable about embracing a classic, almost crooner-like status instead. Had the gold suit appeared, however, it may have been more lame than lamé. ‘Show Me’ is the grand introduction, followed by ‘Poison Arrow’ and ‘The Look Of Love’ which have the crowd on their feet as expected. While embracing the past (he comments that ‘Valentine’s Day takes him back to his jazz-funk days) Fry is quick to point out that he prefers 2016 to 1982.
“We fought the punk wars, crawled across the rave fields,” the Lancashire born frontman tells the sold out Royal Festival Hall, “We survived The X Factor and we’re still here.” And while their experimentation hasn’t quite covered all of those genres (the aforementioned techno influence is as far as it went), the evening and the welcome The Lexicon Of Love II has received is proof that to continue surviving, all that’s needed is to continue writing and recording quality, classic pop. Had he known that bringing back ABC was as easy as 123 no doubt Martin Fry would have done it years ago. Expect the third part of The Lexicon Of Love trilogy within the next 3-4 years…