sat 25/05/2024

Rolf Harris, Royal Festival Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Rolf Harris, Royal Festival Hall

Rolf Harris, Royal Festival Hall

The all-round entertainer has another brush with success

Good sport: Rolf Harris performs for the Queen at the Diamond Jubilee

Two very different Antipodeans are performing in London over the weekend. Having seen Nick Cave more times than you can shake a didgeridoo at, the time has come for this reviewer to scrutinise Rolf Harris – pop star, painter of the Queen, sentimental presenter of cuddly animal shows.

When the spritely 82-year-old appeared to tumultuous applause I suddenly recalled that I had seen Harris on this very stage in 1999 alongside Cave, Kylie Minogue and Barry Humphries in a nightmarishly bizarre Meltdown gig. It was easy to forget his contribution. That night Rolf was somewhat overshadowed by Humphries in the guise of Sir Les Patterson drooling over Kylie.

Last night it was Rolf all the way from the opening bars of "Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport" to the closing encore of, well, "Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport" again, this time with the lyrics sung to the tune of "Land of Hope and Glory". In between, Harris crammed in a back catalogue of classic hits, some onstage painting and a plethora of well-polished anecdotes.

The highlight came when he put the microphone down and picked up his paintbrush

Every song seemed to be greeted by exuberant cheers from fans almost as old as Harris. When he introduced a soppy "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" with "Do you remember when you used to be excited to hear the new Beatles single?" a large number of heads nodded. If he had remarked that his name is an anagram of ROFL not many would have got the joke.

This was a show with few surprises. The gags ("I've had several requests. But I'm afraid I'm going to keep singing") were cheesier than a fromage factory and his anecdotes were often positively pre-decimal. But while the corny quips kept coming so did the golden oldies. He even did the lyrically ingenious "Jake the Peg", despite forgetting his extra leg. Sadly, a touch of sciatica probably prevented Harris from doing any Tom Jones hip thrusts during a faithful if bombastic "Delilah". "Two Little Boys", a song that can reduce grown men –  even this stone-hearted critic – to tears, was rushed through as if Harris had an urgent appointment elsewhere. His jaunty cover of "Stairway to Heaven", complete with didgeridoo, was more appealing, his smart-suited band letting rip with some polite rock histrionics.

The highlight came when he put the microphone down and picked up his paintbrush. A canvas was wheeled on and Harris created a picture before our very eyes. I have always thought that he might have made life easier for himself if he used smaller brushes, but with a few deft strokes what looked initially like a row of stooping figures suddenly turned into Uluru on a stormy night.

After his final revisiting of "Tie Me Kangaroo Down..." there was just time for a second encore. Harris picked a song that showed off a different side, an intriguing intimate version of Leadbelly's folk standard "Goodnight Irene". It was a nicely authentic finale to an evening of top quality if very light entertainment. Goodnight Irene and G'day Rolf.

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