Performer: Stuart Maconie
Reviewer: Andrew White
There’s something remarkably refreshing about the set up to Stuart Maconie’s show. No oversized screens projecting sophisticated videos, no elaborate PowerPoint presentation and no laser pointers. The only props he uses are an iPad and an iPhone. The iPad to read passages from his many books, and the iPhone to play music.
Using his radio series and subsequent book of the same name as his base, Maconie explains the premise that anyone looking to chart the history of Britain would find more in the popular music of the time, than in any other form of art or expression.
He illustrates this by playing a series of tracks, explaining how they reflected the mood of the time, starting out with She Loves You by The Beatles. Maconie argues that nothing signifies the new, swinging optimism coming from the youth of Britain in 1963 than the exciting sound from Merseybeat typified by the Fab Four. He talks about being taken by his mother to see the band in his home town of Wigan in 1964 when he was two and how his mother remembers pretty much everything about the run-up and aftermath of the gig, but little of the gig itself.
The show follows this pattern of a track, then a collection of amusing anecdotes and commentary about how the track mirrored society. Sylvia’s Y Viva Espana from 1974 is a case in point, released at a time when more and more Brits were shunning the traditional seaside holiday in Blackpool, in favour of sun and sand in Spain.
Throughout, you were in no doubt as to why Maconie has been described by The Times as a National Treasure. He has a northern charm and humour accessible no matter where you come from and manages to walk that very fine line of recounting interesting showbiz anecdotes, without coming over as a lovey or name dropper. The show has the feeling where you could see it several times at several venues and always come away with a different experience.
The only criticism was for a show based on music, there was perhaps a lack of music. On most of the tracks, it was only the intro Maconie played, before turning the music down, and then off, to continue his talk. True, maybe sitting watching Maconie watching us as we all listened to the full version of Dream’s Things Can Only Get Better might not be the best basis for an interesting show, but more music was possibly needed – a fact noted by Maconie himself at the start of the second half, when he successfully introduced more tracks.
At the start of the evening, Maconie says you might not like or agree with the musical choices, but the full audience in Barnsley certainly enjoyed his wit and wisdom on a cold November night.
Reviewed on 21st November 2015 | Image: Contributed