Mr Blue Sky . . .


I’ve been a fan of ELO – Electric Light Orchestra – for several decades, and also followed ELO lead Jeff Lynne after he made his solo album Armchair Theatre in the 1980s. There’s an interesting story about how I acquired a CD version of Armchair Theatre that I blogged about some time ago.

Then there was Lynne’s collaboration with George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, and Bob Dylan as Otis/Clayton Wilbury in the Traveling Wilburys.

While I knew that Lynne spent most of his time producing hit albums for other musicians, and writing new material, I hadn’t realized how unpopular ELO had become since their heyday in the 70s. Apparently they just weren’t cool. That didn’t diminish my enthusiasm for the music and the intricate arrangements of guitars and strings that were ELO’s signature.

So it was a surprise to read last week that BBC4 would be broadcasting a live concert of Jeff Lynne’s ELO that was recorded in Hyde Park, London in mid-September. Now that one passed me by. I finally got round to watching the concert on catch-up TV last weekend – and what pure joy it was. I walked around afterwards with a big smile on my face for at least a couple of hours.

This was the first time that Jeff Lynne had performed live for almost 30 years. You wouldn’t think that from seeing him and his backing band (with original ELO keyboard player Richard Tandy, and other musicians who normally tour and back Take That!), and supported by the BBC Concert Orchestra, playing to an audience of 50,000. It’s reported that when tickets went on sale they sold out in 90 minutes.

During a 17 song set* Jeff Lynne’s ELO treated us to some of the more magical tracks that had been written and first recorded several decades ago. And they sounded as fresh now – perhaps better even – than all those years ago. Having been persuaded by Radio 2 DJ Chris Evans to play live, I guess Jeff Lynne wanted to produce the sound on stage that he had only been able to achieve in the studio. And with the impressive light show as well, he not only achieved his goal but surpassed it. It was simply wonderful, and I could sit down and watch it all over again. There was just one song from his Wilbury days – Handle With Care – as a tribute to deceased members Roy Orbison and George Harrison.

Reviews of the concert on social media sites and in the press were overwhelming in praise for Lynne and his musicians. The old dog can certainly show the pups of the pop world a trick or two! There’s even talk now of some more concerts in the UK and maybe even a world tour. Now that would be something to look forward to.

*All Over The World
Evil Woman
Ma Ma Ma Belle
Showdown
Livin Thing
Strange Magic
10538 Overture
Can’t Get It Out Of My Head
Sweet Talkin Woman
Turn To Stone
Steppin Out
Handle With Care
Don’t Bring Me Down
Rock n Roll Is King
Telephone Line
Mr Blue Sky
Roll Over Beethoven

 

What is the link between Jeff Lynne, Armchair Theatre, and Hobart, Tasmania?

Jeff_Lynne-Armchair_TheatreIn 1990, Jeff Lynne released his first solo album – Armchair Theatre. I’ve been a fan of Jeff Lynne and the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) for many years. During the 70s I used to listen to cassette tapes of ELO’s Greatest Hits that my brother-in-law Derek had recorded for me from his vinyl LPs. So many great tracks: Mr Blue Sky, Wild West Hero, Confusion, I’m Alive, and Calling America, among many.

I didn’t have a CD player in those days, so my first copy of Armchair Theatre was a cassette tape version, and I almost wore it out in the first few months. Seven songs were Jeff Lynne originals, including the excellent Lift Me Up.

One, Blown Away, was a collaboration with Tom Petty (with whom he’d later form the great Traveling Wilburys, with George Harrison, Bob Dylan, and Roy Orbison), another was written by Jesse Stone (Don’t Let Go), and two others were iconic compositions: Stormy Weather (by Ted Koehler and Harold Arlen) and September Song (by Maxwell Anderson and Kurt Weill).

When I moved to the Philippines in July 1991 I treated myself to a new Pioneer mini-audio system, with tuner, cassette deck and CD player. Before I left the UK, I purchased my first two CDs: Greatest Hits by Fleetwood Mac, and another of the same name by the Eurythmics (I’m a great Annie Lennox fan). I shipped my LPs (and deck) and all my cassette tapes, including Armchair Theatre.

Everything was fine for a few months, but quite soon I began to detect a deterioration in sound quality, and discovered that the dreaded mould was beginning to grow all over the tapes. In fact, in the very humid Los Baños environment, many things were attacked by mould, and we eventually lost quite a number of audio tapes, and VHS tapes.

One of these was Armchair Theatre, so around December 1996 or 1997 I decided to replace it with a CD version (7599-26184-2). But to my disappointment, I discovered that it was no longer listed for sale by Reprise Records.

Where to find a copy? Surely someone, somewhere would have a CD for sale? I did a thorough Internet search (pre-Google) and located just one CD – in Hobart, Tasmania! And this story came back to me earlier this morning because Tasmania was mentioned twice on the BBC news, with reports of the devastating bush fires there, and the defeat of British tennis player Laura Robson in the first round of the Hobart International.

I’m not entirely sure of the name of the CD store in Hobart – I think it was Aeroplane Records on Victoria Street. I may be wrong. Anyway, I contacted the proprietor by email, and ‘did the deal’. But I still wasn’t sure how to have it delivered to the Philippines. I was slightly concerned that it might disappear in a ‘customs black hole’ in Manila, and wondered if it might be better to have it sent to the UK instead.

Jean-Louis Pham

But then I had a huge stroke of luck. By coincidence, one of my colleagues in IRRI’s Genetic Resources Center, Dr Jean-Louis Pham, was taking his family to Australia for the Christmas break that year, and would be spending more than in week in Tasmania – in Hobart. And it transpired that their hotel was just around the corner from the CD store! My CD was left at the hotel reception for the Phams, and Jean-Louis duly carried it back to the Philippines for me in early January.

And I’ve been enjoying the music ever since. As I said earlier, Jeff Lynne went on to form the Traveling Wilburys with others, has produced records for his fellow Wilburys, and obtained full rights to the ELO name and brand. He released Zoom under the ELO name in 2001, and did all vocals, backing vocals, electric guitars, bass, keyboards, cello, and drums himself (even though there were some guest musicians).

Funny how a news sound bite can bring such memories flooding back.