10cc deliver an irresistibly tuneful reminder of how weird 1970s pop music really was

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10CC at the London Palladium - Lorne Thomson/Redferns
10CC at the London Palladium - Lorne Thomson/Redferns

This wasn’t exactly the full 10cc. With only one original member on stage, it was arguably more like 2.5cc. But veteran songwriter Graham Gouldman’s note-perfect facsimile of the arch Seventies prog pop studio wizards offered a dazzling reminder of just how audaciously odd the Seventies music scene really was.

That was the decade in which 10cc scored five hit albums, a dozen top-10 singles and three UK chart toppers with music that crossed the progressive experimentalism of Pink Floyd, the melodic and harmonic sweep of the Beach Boys and the theatrical audaciousness of Stephen Sondheim with a sense of humour pitched somewhere between Monty Python and Benny Hill. And that is just on I’m Mandy, Fly Me.

In a criss-cross of old-school overhead spotlights, long-serving guitarist Richard Fenn (recruited in 1976) fired fleet-fingered solos over Gouldman’s mobile basslines, while drummer Paul Burgess (a touring member since 1973) executed dynamic tone and tempo shifts from dreamy ballad to bombastic epic on a sleazy sexual fantasy about an air stewardess. Number six in the hit parade in 1976, folks!

Some of 10cc’s more extravagantly ambitious album tracks haven’t aged well, so weighed down with silly jokes and incongruous styles that it takes the best efforts of a band of virtuoso musicians just to keep them afloat. Does the world really need to be reminded of Clockwork Creep, a frantically agitated dialogue between a bomb and the aeroplane it is trying to blow up? “Tick a tick time bomb” was arguably never a particularly good idea for a chorus refrain.

Back in their glory days, 10cc may have seemed an impertinent riposte to progressive rock’s more pompous conceits, but a lot of it now sounds like overblown student humour. The element that sustains this material is its sheer melodic panache, which ensures that Fifties pastiche The Things We Do for Love sounded considerably less dated than multi-part folk-prog epic Feel the Benefit. And while there may be an underpinning of irony on I’m Not In Love, its gorgeous melodiousness still delivered considerable emotional punch. Of course, when they recorded it in 1975, it famously took three weeks to layer up the beautifully textured multi-tracked backing sighs. Now a hired hand just has to press a synthesiser key.

The original quartet of songwriter-producers divided when Kevin Godley and Lol Creme departed in 1976. The band continued as a 5cc duo of Gouldman and songwriting partner Eric Stewart until 1983, then, following a brief Nineties reunion, Gouldman has soldiered on with a touring version of the band. The latest recruits are multi-instrumentalist and vocalists Keith Hayman and Ian Hornal, whose high, pliant voice often takes lead.

Gouldman may effectively be leading his own tribute band, but there was no pretence about it on Sunday evening, with genial between-song chat offering respectful homage to past members. A whit​​e-bearded Godley made a sentimentally effective guest appearance on the artfully shot video singing lead vocals on Somewhere in Hollywood.

It is the zanily bold hits, though, that make you nostalgic for a time when pop was less codified. Doo wop smash Donna was delivered impressively a capella, Wall Street Shuffle and Good Morning Judge bounced along with a swagger and wink, and, while Gouldman has mercifully dropped the cod-Jamaican accent for reggae romp Dreadlock Holiday, the song retains its upbeat cheer. A final glam-rock charge through Rubber Bullets was an absolute blast, a 1973 number one smash about armed police putting down a prison riot. Perhaps the strangest thing about 10cc is that this was ever considered pop music at all.

Touring Britain and Ireland until October; 10cc.world

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