I still have a really fond but increasingly distant memory of the first time I saw tonight's headliners. It was 1987 at Wembley Stadium where they were one of the supports for a four piece band from Dublin who were on a World tour promoting their latest album which had sold in inexplicably huge quantities, but that day The Pretenders blew them off stage. They were a more engaging band, with a better lead performer and had the better songs. So it was surprising that it's taken me 30 years to catch up with The Pretenders live (the other lot I never bothered with again).
Opening the show tonight are folk-rock band The Rails, who are married duo of Kami Thompson (daughter of Richard) and James Walbourne, who's pulling a double shift tonight as he's also lead guitarist for The Pretenders. I've seen The Rails a few times already but this is the first time as a four piece with a bass and drummer in tow. This new combination adds a heavier rock edge to their sound.
There's a selection from their new album 'Other People' including 'Late Surrender' and 'Hanging on', Kami has as strong folk-bluesy vocal and James looks happy when left to fly on the electric guitar solos. There are several tracks from their previous album 'Fair Warning'; 'Breakneck Speed' and my personal fav. 'William Taylor' and 'Panic Attack Blues', which as James reminds us was written after what must be a life-threatening experience “a boozy session in the pub with Shane MacGowan.”
After a shirt change James Walbourne is back on stage with the other Pretenders all dressed in rock- star black, but the biggest and warmest welcome is understandably saved for the woman in the cool, bright red jacket and band merch, the legend that is Chrissie Hynde. The set starts tonight with two tracks from their tenth and most recent album 'Alone' , the title track and 'Gotta Wait', the first in an evening of hits is 'Message of Love' with its guitar heavy intro, followed by 'Talk of the Town'. “We're a rock band” says Chrissie and she's not kidding as this line-up's live version has a considerably heavier sound than on record. Mention must go to the often frenetic soloing of James Walbourne, whose style of playing combined with the possibly recently polished slippery stage as remarked upon by Chrissie, means we're potentially only seconds from a unintentional stage dive.
A couple of tracks also associated with other artists get an airing : 'Private Life' famously covered by Grace Jones, but originally from The Pretenders 1980 debut album , and The Kinks track 'Stop Your Sobbing', which was The Pretenders first single.
The hits keep coming : 'I'll Stand By You', 'Don't Get Me Wrong', 'Back on the Chain Gang' gets the occupants of the stalls off their seats and dancing, 'Kid' is a audience request from a couple soon to be married and apparently not on the set list judging by the rapid switching of instruments on stage, confirmed by drummer Martin Chambers “....It 'ain't on the bloody sheet is it.”. 'Night In My Veins' has James rocking out hard and an emotional 'Hymn to Her' is dedicated to Tom Petty.
First encore is another Kinks cover ' I Go To Sleep', followed by 'Middle of the Road', 'Thumbelina' has an instrumental section featuring a selection of classic rock and roll tracks, Chrissie puts down her guitar for the final track 'Brass In Pocket' which gets a standing ovation as it finishes.
A brilliant show which left me kicking myself that I'd left it so long to see The Pretenders live again, please don't make the same mistake, you won't regret it.
Photo by Kevin Cooper