sun 14/07/2024

ABC, Pavilion Theatre, Worthing | reviews, news & interviews

ABC, Pavilion Theatre, Worthing

ABC, Pavilion Theatre, Worthing

Eighties retro-modernists bring the party to the south coast

Martin Fry and company, making it look as easy as one, two, three© Tom Roberts @ TR Photography

Martin Fry is unsure whether Worthing is enjoying itself enough for his liking. Clad in a sharply tailored grey three-piece suit, ABC’s frontman keeps asking us if we’re having a good time. The shouts of approval that greet the question suggest we are. In any case, he certainly seems to be.

Age suits him. He always aspired to a classic crooner look and at 57, he’s achieved it. Having established all is well, he plunges on into a greatest hits set, attacking the catchy, mid-paced “King Without a Crown” from 1987 (actually not a Top 40 hit, but sounds as if it should have been). The song allows bob-haired guitarist Matt Backer, wielding “an antique Les Paul”, as Fry explains, to let loose a widdling, soft rock guitar solo that fits with his glossy M.O.R. look.

There are outbreaks of smoochy, in-hold dancing

I must lay my cards on the table and confess I was never an ABC fan. Their 1982 Lexicon of Love album was a concoction of orchestrally opulent soul-pop, polished to a sheen by Trevor Horn near the start of his career. The idea was that, like Scritti Politti’s music, this was meta-pop, Fry’s Sheffield post-punk outfit applying post-modernism to pure chart music, a subtle sonic act of subversion. For me, it was simply too slick, lacking the punchy edge of synth-pop contemporaries such as Soft Cell and the Human League. However, it was successful, both here and in the States, and Lexicon of Love remains a touchstone album of the decade, giving the band a six-year chart career and bringing them – or rather Fry and his touring band – to this southern seaside town, 30 years later.

Worthing is still adjusting to the idea of gigs on its doorstep. It once hosted the likes of The Who and The Byrds but then, for decades, the best it would get was dreadful Seventies tribute acts. It has only recently undergone a renaissance, with local promoters such as Atom booking proper bands people might actually pay to see. The town clearly has no shortage of enthused ABC fans. Tonight appears to be Autumn 2015’s funky night out for middle-aged couples (in case you think I’m sneering – I went as one half of a middle-aged couple, although my girlfriend will not thank me for using the term). From the second song, ABC’s most famous single, “Poison Arrow”, most are won over. A few are even wearing lamé jackets in tribute to Fry’s notorious Eighties suits and there are outbreaks of smoochy, in-hold dancing.

In truth the sound is muddy, especially the vocals, and the Pavilion, at the beachside end of the Pier and more often home to craft fairs, is too brightly lit, but it doesn’t seem to matter too much. The extravagant 1920s décor of the proscenium arch over the stage suits ABC’s sense of grandeur and the band – two keyboards, guitar, bass, drums, percussion – attack twinkling, contagious, candied pop such as the impeccable “Be Near Me” (which is surely due a hit cover version?), "The Look of Love", and “All Of My Heart”. The latter saw children singing along held aloft by their parents, as well as couples snogging. Special mention should be made of percussionist-backing singer Lily Gonzalez who, wearing an outrageous pair of chaps, used her timpani and bongos to ramp up the funk factor on “Tears Are Not Enough” and 1984’s “(How To Be A) Millionaire”, even inducing a massed clap-along to "When Smokey Sings".

Lexicon of Love has been mined dry by the time of the encore but no-one minds when ABC return to “Poison Arrow” for a second time. In fact, it seems almost an unrehearsed gesture and Fry tells us we will be singing the lyrics this time. The audience duly oblige before exiting, mostly drunk and very cheerful, to a storm of seafront sleet. ABC may not be my cup of tea but tonight they inarguably revved up a charming Eighties retro party.

Overleaf: watch the video for "The Look of Love"


A few of the crowd are even wearing lamé jackets in tribute to Fry’s notorious Eighties suits


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters