Manchester Evening News Arena,
Manchester, England, December 20th. 1999 Extraordinary scenes at the Arena in Manchester, and that’s before the show began. Due to the cancellation of Barry White only days before the concert, not everybody was aware of the change of schedule. We had terrible seats, high on the second tier and unable to see the front of the stage, it was a major disappointment after paying top price for the tickets.
Most people around us were disgruntled especially since there appeared to be vacant seats in better positions but nobody knew how many people might not turn up due the postponement of Barry White. Rescue was close at hand, 2 Manchester girls decided to take proceedings into their own hands and, as Alexander O’Neil opened the show, our neighbours decided to find themselves better seats. Not wanting to be left out we followed – as did virtually all of the crowd around us. Everybody piled down to the lower tier and occupied any free seats available. Alexander O’Neil gave a great performance under difficult circumstances as most of the audience was chaotically jockeying for better positions.
It was with the usual excitement that I waited for EWF to emerge, and just a bit of added tension due to the fact that I might be ejected from my (!) seat. The band took to the stage to a funk fuelled «Shining Star» followed by a gritty «Let Me Talk» The sound was great, every instrument clear and in balance with each other. Philip was soon getting to know the audience, before embarking into a rhythmic «Serpentine Fire» and a most excellent «Got To Get You Into My Life» which was a real treat for me as I hadn’t previously heard these songs live before. The band launched into «Getaway» and Morris Pleasure joined Dino on centre stage to outdo each other in mock Bass battle, the climax arrived as Dino performed his, now legendary, levitating stunt to wild applause. The Man was on top form, entertaining in every aspect – I must check out where he shops for his pants !! Sheldon came into his own as he cooled things down with «Loves Holiday» & «After The Love Has Gone» at this point several couples could be seen slow dancing in the aisles – I became distracted as one of the three dancers entered, stage right, clad in a figure hugging red outfit, my environmental concerns over P.V.C. were momentarily dispelled!
«Lets Groove» had everyone back on their feet stompin’ away. «Boogie Wonderland» increased the tempo further and finished in a Cuban style, Latin infused blend of percussion – Wow. We were chillin’ with the Fire (if you don’t mind me mixing my metaphors) as Ray Brown & Reggie Young gave us two smooth solos on trumpet & trombone respectively. There was a real feeling of being in a laid back jazz club. I have to say the horn section were a sheer delight – they hit the spot everytime, none better than on my favourite «Fantasy» – Philip never failing to deliver an outstanding vocal performance. There appeared to be general disbelief at his range for «Reasons» as he and Gary Bias on Sax alternated harmonies. Philip was his usual charismatic self and even entertained us with a soulful «White Christmas».
The finale started and ended with the sizzling «September», in between we had some improvisation of the Emotions’ «Best of My Love» from David Romero. «Let your Feelings Show» from David Whitworth was among his high kicks on the cymbals. Philip then took us on a musical journey «Back to the Ghetto» – I have to confess my ignorance if this was cover version – still the audience enjoyed joining in accapella style. A special mention to for Ralph «Slick» Johnson, an ever present member of the band for close on 30 years.
«September» was still pumping through my veins as the band exited, returning with an encore of their anthem «That’s the Way of The World». I felt EWF had pulled out all the stops tonight, a sign of this is when you see a forty something guy, with antlers (false of course) gettin’ down like some end of the century ritual – Great fun was had by all, I think Dino wanted to continue, he literally had to be dragged off stage kickin’ & screamin’. Where chaos had once reigned, the Mighty Elements now reigned supreme. Come back soon.