A rainy night in Birmingham – every time I visit, it’s raining. We were travelling back from Glasgow, with the added treat of seeing Roger Hodgson at The Symphony Hall.
Roger Hodgson? Yes, the man who wrote and sang most of the songs associated with Supertramp, one of the iconic bands of the 1970s. Lady Barton St Mary and I have fond memories of Supertramp at their commercial zenith in the late 70s – they were the sound of our sixth form common room at school, a time before we ventured out into the world to make our living, our ideals and dreams still intact.
The Birmingham Symphony Hall is also one of my favourite music venues, where every seat is a good seat and the acoustics are perfect. So, safely ensconced in our stall seats, Roger took to the stage at 8pm prompt.
“Good evening, Birmingham!” he chirped, a 66 year old man with a transatlantic accent and a 1979 hairstyle. Roger is one of those gifted people with a gifted life; a public school education, a musical genius, who’s lived the majority of his life in the sun and tranquility of California. After opening with ‘Take the Long Way Home’, he engaged with the audience.
“The most important thing in life is love,” he explained, a big smile on his face.
” My songs just come to me, I don’t know how. Songs and music are all about my memories, my journey through life. But I also know that this same music is your memories, your journey through life,” he continued, reminding me of those heady sixth form days.
“This song is about an important time in my life,” he said, before his band member Aaron McDonald blew the plaintive harmonica introduction to ‘School’. Whoa. Aaron McDonald. One of those musicians who seems capable of playing any musical instrument. You could imagine him walking into a music shop, picking up any instrument and learning how to play it in half an hour.Heck, this bloke could play a thermos flask. One of those people you wish you could be, because as the night progressed, Aaron played the penny whistle, a funny wind instrument with a keyboard (a melodica – just google ‘wind instrument with keyboard’) and the saxophone solos from all the Supertramp hits, including ‘Breakfast in America’, possibly Supertramp’s (and Roger’s) best known songs. He explained he wrote it when he was 18 years old. This means it first saw the light of day in 1968 – I tried to imagine what it would have sounded like if released in the late sixties rather than 10 years later.
Roger welcomed the late comers with a cheery hello and ‘you’ve missed the best bits!’ – I can’t remember a concert where people turned up late and then drifted in and out to get drinks. I could imagine some famous musicians jumping from the stage and tearing them to pieces. Bizarre, but Roger is so laid back, happy and full of love he couldn’t care less.
“I wrote this when I was 24 and feeling quite insecure,” he explained, before launching into ‘Hide in Your Shell’, possibly my favourite Supertramp song. It comes from the album ‘Crime of the Century’, regarded as one of the best albums of the 1970s. I can only agree. The only problem with ‘Hide in Your Shell’ is that it is a very powerful ear worm. I’ve been humming it ever since.
Familiar song after song – Roger asking us to whistle along to ‘Easy Does It’, the opening track of ‘Crisis-What Crisis?’, then the first half finishing with ‘The Logical Song’, another Roger Hodgson search for one’s purpose and self.
After a refreshing drink at the bar, we all returned and the second half started with ‘Child of Vision’ from the Breakfast album. This time, another musician, band member Kevin Adamson, took centre stage and played the most amazing jazz piano, good enough to turn the head of any leading lady in La La Land. It’s concerts like this where the band members (including Bryan Head on drums and David J Carpenter on bass) display why they are gifted enough to make a living out of playing music.
Roger had no qualms about playing mainly Supertramp songs – there were a few songs from his solo albums, including the romantic ‘Only Because of You’ and the haunting ‘Death and a Zoo’, all about the question – If you were an animal in the wild and about to be captured, would you prefer death or a life in a zoo?
The memories were triggered once more, rather poignantly for me, as Roger played the opening bars to ‘Dreamer’. It was a favourite of my late cousin John. I remembered travelling up to Keele University and spending the night in the student bar, drinking real ale and singing along as ‘Dreamer’ was repeatedly played on the jukebox. Happy days.
Then after 18 songs, Roger left the stage, still smiling, before returning for the encore. What was left? ‘Give a Little Bit.’ Of course. Then just one more song.
“I think I know what’s coming,” I whispered in Lady BSM’s ear. She looked at me questioningly.
“Well, this is the first gig of our UK tour,” explained Roger, “and since we’re in Birmingham on a night like tonight, I couldn’t leave without playing this,” he continued, before rousing version of ‘It’s Raining Again’, the crowd brandishing their open umbrellas, throwing superstition to the wind and rain in the great hall.
A big wave and smile from Roger and his band and a big smile and wave back from the crowd, who, by the looks of them, also spent their lunch hours in the common room singing “Take a look at my girlfriend, she’s the only one I’ve got…”