REVIEW: Chris Norman, Wyvern Theatre, Tuesday, June 11

It was time to party at Swindon's Wyvern Theatre for Chris Norman and his band as they played their last show on tour.

The former lead singer of the Americana rock band Smokie, who had a string of hits in the 1980s, unleashed a barrage of singalong favourites with a few new songs sneaked in.

The banter began immediately between the star and his fans as the final chords of the bombastic opener, including Sweet Virginia, Lay Back In The Arms of Someone and Something's Been Making Me Blue, came to a close. Chris good-naturedly batted it back.

Rapturous applause followed one of the stand-out numbers of this beautifully crafted theatre show. It was called Stumblin' In, a duet originally sung between Chris and Suzi Quatro but this time it was guitarist and vocalist Michelle doing the honours.

Sadly the theatre was only about half full but nonetheless Chris and the band turned up the energy for a full two hours of power rock. Favourites for me were his new song The Sun Is Rising and a prog rock anthem with Geoff the lead guitarist giving a stunning solo. Heart of An Angel was power rock at its finest with some atmospheric synth work.

40 Years On, was a song written in 2015 by Chris to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Smokie's first hit, If You Think You Know How To Love Me. The retrospective song reflected the camaraderie of being in a band, touring, playing and having dreams.

That was then this is now, said Chris, having lost none of his front man charisma and distinctive voice that caresses and envigorates at the same time.

An acoustic section included Mexican Girl, Chris' version of The Boxer by Simon and Garfunkel and of course Living Next Door To Alice (and just who .... is Alice?). It reminded me of the last dance at the school disco, which was nearly always a Smokie song.

Back to full electric with Chris' first solo song Midnight Lady which was a huge hit all over Europe. He also played a song that he had put forward as a contender for the Eurovision Song contest. Gipsy Queen was surprisingly turned down flat as it was pure Europop. We might have won!

There was constant clapping along to every song from his die hard fans whose exuberance and enthusiasm struck even the star.

Chris compared the intimacy of the Wyvern crowd to his first gig in his dad's front room in front of aunts, uncles and friends. They were all up close and dancing while we were playing, he said. Alan Silson and Terry Uttley were playing with me. It was the beginning of Smokie, he told us.

He brought everyone down to the front, where they were literally dancing in the aisles to a rock medley including Midnight Cafe, Needles and Pins and Oh Carol, ending with Don't Play Your Rock and Roll For Me with the guitarists doing the Shadows' walk across the stage.

The encore included Wild Angels and saw Geoff and Chris go guitar to guitar as they fenced round the stage in a fast and furious dance.

Chris obviously chooses his support bands with care and Barton, a rocky three-piece, opened for him throughout his UK tour. Two guitars and a bass played a blinder set of their own songs and two covers: Snow Patrol's Chasing Cars and Rod Stewart's Maggie May.

Barton are a solid rock band who have a powerful sound for a three piece. The skilled artisans' own song Deep Down was a poignant tribute to the lead singer's dad, while in total contrast Boozing was a comedy rock song, written after a big night out.

There was no holds barred from either band and together they gave us a corker of a theatre show with all the excitement of a live gig, great lighting and masterly musical magic.

Flicky Harrison