Saturday, 30 April 2022

Spotlight: ELO @ Wembley 05/07/86

#1,662: Over the years, this writer has taken great pride in covering the live exploits of all things Electric Light Orchestra and the performance of Jeff Lynne's hit laden songbook. From eyewitness accounts of their debut at Croydon in April 1972 to being joined on stage by Marc Bolan at Watford Town Hall in April 1973 to ELO Part II dates alongside the Moscow Symphony Orchestra in 1991 to the more recent Jeff Lynne's ELO gigs starting with their debut at Liverpool from April 2016 onwards, Yours Truly KJS/ELOBF has always been fascinated with certain iconic ELO moments on stage mostly due to the fact that (believe it or not) I never got to see (for various reasons) the classic line-up of my fave band in the flesh (so to speak) - be it the Out Of The Blue tour, the Time tour or their final appearances (including Heartbeat) in the UK during 1986. For the aforementioned reasons, I wanted to construct a special article covering ELO's final UK concert at the old Wembley Stadium on Saturday 5th July 1986 in support of Rod Stewart alongside Feargal Sharkey and The Blow Monkeys.
ELO @ Wembley 05/07/86. Photo courtesy Steve Williams. Used with permission.
Despite the controversial comments in the press by Rod Stewart feigning offence about having ELO as his support act, it's clear that that a fair proportion of the 62,000 audience went to Wembley that day primarily to see Birmingham's finest for the first time in four years perceiving that their days were numbered despite their Balance of Power album hitting UK: #9 and Calling America becoming their final hit single. To get a full picture of these events some 36 years or so later, I wanted to gather the memories of not only the fans but also some of those on stage and even behind the scenes hence this article. Read on you'll find the Wembley '86 recollections of ELO members Bev Bevan and Dave Scott-Morgan, fans Mick Anyon, Andrew Bamber and Gazza Pattinson, soundman Colin Owen and an exclusive interiview with Robert Howard (a.k.a. Dr. Robert) of The Blow Monkeys not forgetting the photographic records of Robert Porter from the Jeff Lynne Song Database. ELO Beatles Forever (ELOBF) wish to extend our thanx to the above roll call of contributors for their valued participation.
Photos courtesy Robert Porter @ Jeff Lynne Song Database. Used with permission.
Three Fans Recall Saturday 5th July 1986
"For two 22 year old Rod Stewart and ELO fans, the opportunity to go the Wembley Stadium, London in 1986 was just too good to miss! The week previous to this gig, Wham! had performed to a sell-out 72,000 capacity there. In all fairness it was George and Andrew’s final gig and both Rod and ELO weren’t selling records by the shed load at this point although both acts were still very successful and Feargal Sharkey (solo) and The Blow Monkeys were new successful acts of the day. My memories of the day are quite vague to say the least but here goes for want of a better term! The tickets and travel were purchased from Cavendish Travel based in Sheffield city centre (who I used quite often in the eighties for concerts). I vividly remember reading one of the tabloid papers on the coach on the way down and interview with Rod Stewart. He asked why he had only got ELO as a support act when Queen had got Status Quo which I found quite amusing although a little too critical! I've very little recollection of The Blow Monkeys from the day. What I do recall though, is hearing Feargal Sharkey do a fantastic rendition of "When A Man Loves A Woman". This is a song that I’d never ever heard but have loved ever since. After Feargal had done his set we wandered off for refreshments. On entering the steps down to the pitch from the gangway, one vivid memory is that of hearing the opening bars to the awesome "Twilight" and that ELO had taken the stage. I remember them performing the hit of the day and arguably my favourite ELO 45, "Calling America". My pal Andy York and I were singing it to each other face to face! Another memory is of someone in the crowd holding up a flag saying 'ELO Tour?' I hope they got their wish! We both thoroughly enjoyed Rod that day. He wore a red and white striped shirt and kicked footballs into the crowd saying, "Sorry about the pass, Dad … slippery pitch!" as his dad was at the gig. We can still hear the audience in full voice for "You're In My Heart" and "I Don't Want To Talk About It"! Towards the end of the gig, Rod brought on The Faces for "(I Know) I'm Losing You", "Twisting The Night Away" and "Stay With Me". Bill Wyman was on bass standing in for the not-too-well Ronnie Lane who was also there. I remember Rod's performance being broadcast shortly after, possibly as a special for 'The Tube'. Not sure as to whether the other three acts were recorded on the day." ~ Mick Anyon, Sheffield

"ELO at Wembley was the second time I ever saw them, the first being the Heartbeat charity event in Birmingham a few months before. I think I was a little disappointed when I found they were playing second fiddle to Rod Stewart but irrespective of that it was Jeff and the band that I was going to see! For this holiest of events, my mum knitted me a sweater on her machine of the Balance Of Power album cover for the 19 year old me! Trying to reacquaint myself with the gig, I did Google it and was surprised to find that they only actually played six songs? It felt much more than that. Either way I’m pretty sure I enjoyed it at the time. Thinking this was probably the last time I’d ever see them which I suppose wasn’t far from the truth. It was ELO with the most complete and original core line up that I would experience … that alone makes the memories sweeter!" ~ Andy Bamber, Stafford

"I made two visits to Wembley in the summer of ‘86, to see Queen and ELO. The ELO show was of course well polished but my memory of it was that the audience were mostly Rod Stewart fans. There seemed to be a very muted response to ELO’s appearance, which was a real shame. I had travelled down by car and left as Rod Stewart started. Good memories of what turned out to be ELO’s final live show of the 20th century." ~ Gazza Pattinson, Northampton
Photo courtesy Sir Mick Anyon. Used with permission. 
Interview: Robert Howard (The Blow Monkeys)
Whilst fans are aware of ELO's final UK date at Wembley Stadium in July 1986, some will also recall that The Blow Monkeys were also on the bill in support of Rod Stewart. Many folks will recall their iconic hit singles "Digging Your Scene" (UK #12; March 1986) and "It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way" (UK #5; February 1987) but perhaps will not know that they enjoyed a total of five UK Top 40 singles and almost a year on the chart as well as three Top 40 albums not forgetting "Wait" - Dr. Robert's Top 10 collaboration with Kym Mazelle (UK #7; February 1989). Yours Truly KJS caught up with Dr. Robert alias Robert Howard recently to talk about those days and more.

KJS: With a hit single under your belt and a debut album having peaked at #21, life for you and The Blow Monkeys was already on the up in 1986 before the aforementioned Wembley gig. How did that opportunity come about?
RH: "We were asked to do it by the promoter and The Tube were filming it. We were an up and coming act at the time with a hit in the US although I doubt whether Rod had heard of us at that point. It was exciting to be playing Wembley Stadium. How could we refuse?"
KJS: July 1986 was a long time ago but what are your recollections of that day?
RH: "My recollection was that we were booed off by 60,000 angry Rod fans. He had played in Sun City during the apartheid era and broken the cultural boycott and I thought we'd do our version of "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy" but change a few lyrics to illustrate our different point of view. Also, they wouldn’t let us wear our 'anti-apartheid' T-shirts so I guess we made our point. We were young, headstrong ... and right."
KJS: Did you cross paths with ELO backstage at all?
RH: "No. They got us out of there sharpish."
KJS: The Blow Monkeys split in 1990 and thankfully reunited in 2007. What kept Dr. Robert busy in those intervening years?
RH: "Having a family and making ten solo albums. As well as writing, producing and playing for people such as Paul Weller, Terry Callier, Beth Orton etc."
KJS: Fast forwarding to the present day, The Blow Monkeys are touring again having released their most recent album "Journey To You" last year. What else are you and the band up to in 2022 and beyond?
RH: "Well ... we will get out and play our songs to as many people as possible in the knowledge that all things must pass and our time is finite. As for 'beyond'... it's somewhat out of my hands."
KJS: Finally a question I always ask my interviewees: What would be your fave ELO/Beatles tunes?
RH: "My fave Jeff Lynne tune is actually from his early band The Idle Race and it’s called "Morning Sunshine" https://youtu.be/S6LJPrHoAc4 ... The Beatles? Dr Robert! X"
Photo courtesy Dave Scott-Morgan. Used with permission.
"A long and wonderful day" ~ Bev Bevan
"Checked out of Mayfair Hotel. Wagon train of cars set off to Wembley Stadium about 4pm. Got there and watched bit of Feargal Sharkey's set. Got changed in Portakabin and on stage on time at 6.15PM. Good tight one hour show with the 60,000 crowd joining in on all the songs, particularly "Don't Bring Me Down". If, as likely, that this is our last ever British gig, then it was not a bad way to go. Just before Rod Stewart took the stage the heavens well and truly opened, drenching the crowd. Back to VIP area, bumping into Kelly Groucutt, who I hardly recognised as (he was) wearing a wig. Left around 9pm, stopping for dinner and more celebratory champagne on the way home at the Opium Den restaurant in Oxford. Eventually home in the early hours after a long and wonderful day."
Diary extract courtesy Bev Bevan. Used with permission.
 
"I was front of house PA mixer ... No pressure!" ~ Colin Owen
As I recall, it was an all day gig, lots of artists on. ELO were number two before Rod Stewart. I was front of house PA mixer ... No pressure! We were in London several days early to rehearse. I remember taking copious notes for bits of the songs, like repeat echoes on various words. Whilst setting up in the rehearsal room, Jeff came to me and said, "He's using my mic!" The monitor mix engineer was testing the mics and naturally, tested Jeff's. It seemed that Jeff had a thing about others using his mic. I had to go rescue it for him! Another Jeff 'thing' was, before he went on, he had his roadie test for current between his guitar and the mic. The roadie used a test meter. If all was well, Jeff would do his thing, as only he can!

The day before the Wembley gig was set-up day. You can imagine what that was like with all the various artists sound checking. They did it in order up until Rod got on the stage. He rehearsed with his band, who were brilliant, and then he rehearsed with 'The Faces' who had reformed just for that gig. I remember Ronnie 'Plonk’ Lane in a wheelchair ... he stood for the actual gig but with a hidden helper ready to catch him if he fell. He was very ill. The thing was that Rod took almost all the allotted sound check time leaving less than an hour for ELO.

Can you imagine the panic trying to set up a band like ELO in 30 minutes? I just got started opening the mics to sound check when two very 'jobsworth' council men came and demanded I shut the PA system down due to a 9PM curfew on the noise. This meant I couldn't set up the mixing desk through the main PA system. I had to use some small speakers ... not ideal but what can you do? So, when they announced ELO and 60,000 people went wild, I was frantically setting up the mixer. Basically, I had to set it up whilst ELO were performing ... No pressure! I remember it took me 20 minutes to pick my way through the crowd to get to the fenced off island where the PA desks were. Then I had to climb up over said fence ... I couldn't do it now!"

"If Jeff were nervous, it didn't show" ~ Dave Scott-Morgan
"We had played Wembley before – for six days in December 1981. But that was in the Arena, the indoor concert hall that seats about four thousand. Wembley Stadium was a different beast – the football pitch, together with the stands, were host to a crowd of sixty thousand people that day, by far the biggest crowd I had ever stood before.

We struck up with "Twilight" as we had done so many times before ... A short bit where Jeff sings the verse, and then it was time for me to move forward to help with harmonies on the chorus: Shock, horror! For a full second my legs would not work! – I was rooted to the spot! For one long instant, like a toad caught in the stare of a snake, I was paralysed before the avid gaze of thousands of eyes. I willed my feet one at a time to break their bond with the decking, and then issued mental threats to my legs, before they finally transported me over to the microphone at stage front. It was a shock – I didn’t realise how nervous I was until I tried to move! But as soon as the set was underway, I was fine.

If Jeff were nervous, it didn’t show. There was just the customary fake panic before going on, when he whispered to me: "What comes after 'The visions dancing in my mind'?" (the first line to the first song of the show). It was totally normal for Jeff to forget words. It never seemed to faze him, he would just make some more up as he went along. Once I went to the trouble of writing out the words to John Lennon's "Across The Universe" and pasting them to his foldback speaker so that he could sing the right lyrics for a change. It didn’t make a blind bit of difference. That night as I listened with special attention, I heard yet another meandering prose vaguely based upon the original.

Before the mammoth congregation at Wembley, Jeff seemed uncommonly relaxed speaking to the audience between songs. It was something he usually avoided doing, but that afternoon he was mustard at it, talking to them naturally in his down-at-the-pub vernacular."
Quoted from the book "Patterns In The Chaos" by David Scott-Morgan. © Lifeware Publishing 2012 (ISBN 9781291374667). Used with permission.

Set list: Intro ~ Twilight ~ Evil Woman ~ Livin' Thing ~ Medley #1: 10538 Overture / Showdown / Sweet Talkin' Woman / Confusion / Telephone Line ~ Medley #2: Ma-Ma-Ma Belle / Do Ya / Rockaria! ~ Calling America ~ Rock 'n' Roll Is King ~ Mr. Blue Sky ~ Hold On Tight ~ Don't Bring Me Down ~ Roll Over Beethoven / Telstar

ELO were: Jeff Lynne ~ Bev Bevan ~ Richard Tandy ~ Louis Clark ~ Mik Kaminski ~ Dave Morgan (now Scott-Morgan) ~ Martin Smith

9 comments:

  1. Hoping that ELOBF regulars and ELO fans in general enjoy this article! KJS@ELOBF

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    1. Always wanted more info on this gig, so thanks for covering it with so much detail KJS! Fantastic!
      I remember seeing old footage of Rod Stewart on Countdown(Australian Top Of The Pops) saying something about ELO not being his "kind of thing" when asked about the tour dates. I couldn't stand him back then, so that just made me want to physically assault him! LOL!

      Thanks for this as always KJS.
      Jib.

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  2. It seems like I haven't been conquered by the ADD craze yet, can still read this whole thing.

    Oh, and someone needs to tell Mik Kaminski to write some more original music before be stops being alive. 2 full songs, some help in writing maybe 10 more, and minor arrangement assistance....... he can do better.

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  3. I was there too so thanks for the great article and refreshing my memory. I just went for ELO but couldn't stand Rod Stewart so I left after they'd finished.

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  4. Excellent Keith!

    Would love to hear more about Kelly’s presence back-stage: being an ex- (and presumably undesirable) ELO member, how did he get on the VIP list? And was the wig to avoid being identified by, and embroiled in conflict with, Jeff, or was it due to his encroaching baldness?

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  5. Thankyou Keith for this wonderful article..It’s been a lovely and interesting read my friend..Long may ELO’s music drench the world’s airway’s,and May their music live on forever..😎

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  6. I was aware of the gig but having just got married around that time, sadly attending gigs was not something on the priority list :( great to read these accounts Keith - many thanks my friend x

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  7. Nice article Keith! thanks! certainly brings back pleasant memories of ELO

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  8. If "The Tube" was recording video that day, I wonder if they also recorded ELO. Someone should track down the producer of that show and ask. Would love to see that.

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