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The Big O is in town

Updated: Jul 30

Friday 16th July 2021. Grimsby Auditorium.


LMS Theatrical Productions presents

Barry Steele and Friends in “The Roy Orbison Story”.


Tonight, marked a return in many ways. For Review Culture it was a return to doing what we love, reviewing live arts. For Barry Steele and Friends, it marked a return to performing their stage show to live audiences. As the man himself said during the show “the last time I went home after a show, it took me 18 months to get back to the stage”. But here we all were, at Grimsby Auditorium following the most severe health crisis in our lifetime enjoying the music of a performer who epitomised what it was to feel lost and alone in a world experiencing heartbreak, the late, great Roy Orbison – The Big O.


Many of the audience were returning to see a live show for the first time since COVID struck in 2020 and understandably were trepidatious about the return but the staff at Grimsby Auditorium did everything within their power to instill confidence and ensure a safe return to enjoying live performances. Social distancing was stipulated, and mask-wearing is still mandatory unless medically exempt, eating or drinking. Numerous hand-sanitising stations were to be found around the venue and staff were re-assuring and efficient. Audiences have nothing to fear in returning to Grimsby’s premier venue for live arts.


The stage was set and ready as the audience entered. It brought to mind the staging from Orbison’s 1988 TV special “A Black and White Night”. Ceiling to floor banners suggested classical Doric columns and short, colour-changing plinths provided a base for the swiveling stage lighting mounted atop, providing a concert feel to the performance. A central drum-riser was adorned with floor standing spots and a white baby grand piano stood stage left. The rear wall was employed to provide a rolling multi-media offering as film clip and factoids scrolled across the screen keeping the audience abreast of key events in Orbison’s life.

The band entered the stage, lead guitarist, Shane O’Borne, bassist Alan Whitham, acoustic guitarist Rob Grove, drummer Liam Bridgen and keyboard player Barney “Boogie” Williams. As the band struck up the opening to Roy Orbison’s “Claudette”, the main man Barry Steele made his way onto the stage looking every inch a fitting tribute to the man behind the hits.

Roy Orbison led a life beset by tragedy. His first wife, the afore-mentioned Claudette, died in a motorcycle accident in 1966, two years later his home burned down killing two of their three children. Orbison himself was only 52 when, in 1988, he died of a heart attack just as his career was enjoying a resurgence The show was really more of a tribute concert than a stage show. In 1995, I saw Larry Branson provide a staged re-telling of Orbison’s life in “Only the Lonely” and it provided far more of an insight into the man and his career. That is not to say that tonight’s show failed, but the level of tragedy endured by Orbison was not as noticeable in this show.


Elvis Presley once described Roy Orbison of having the greatest singing voice in the world and showered his entourage with copies of Orbison’s records. He famously had a singing voice with an extraordinary four-octave range and his songs were often described as “operatic” by those who understood, indeed “Running Scared”, inspired by Ravel’s “Bolero”, as performed by Steele tonight reminded us that it requires a special singer to recreate the sound of the sixties effortlessly.

A

personal favourite from Orbison’s back catalogue is “Crying”, a hit twice over thanks to a version featuring himself and K.D. Lang that charted in 1988. Barry Steele stood immovable, centre stage emoting as he delivered the song and had the audience eating out of his hand as he did so. The band perfectly recreated each song from Orbison’s enormous back catalogue from the 50s through to the posthumous releases of the early 90s. It would be impossible to please every fan when choosing the repertoire for the show and still to cover Orbison’s hugely eventful life.


I heard punters saying that they missed hearing songs such as “Blue Angel” and “Mean Woman Blues”, but most fan-favourites were there. They managed to cover his early career as a rocker in the 50s providing hits for The Everly Brothers through to his late career in The Travelling Willburys with Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and George Harrison. No style seemed to throw such consummate musicians and they even posed a huge “What I?” by asking “What if Roy Orbison had covered the work of superfan Chris Isaak?” They played “Roy’s version” of both “Blue Hotel and “Wicked Game” and the inspiration was clear to all.


Though the task of whipping up a small, socially distanced audience is a tough ask, Barry Steele and Friends did so with aplomb and fans rose to their feet to grant an ovation at the show’s end where the long-awaited encore of “Oh Pretty Woman” cheered every Orbison fan in the house.


The Big O was never a flamboyant performer and was not given to animated performances darting about the stage. Thus, neither did Steele but his pitch perfect tribute was more than a mere recreation, he inhabited the character of the man himself and led the audience through a life of heartbreak and tragedy in a convincing manner. It is little wonder fans flock to see Steele’s show on multiple occasions.


If you want to find out more about Barry Steel and Friends "The Roy Orbison Story" please visit www.barrysteele.com


Andy Evans


All photos supplied by LMS Productions. No copyright infringement intended. If you own the copyright and wish to have a photo removed, please contact us directly and we will comply.

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