Plymouth Pavilions, Wednesday only
Wow, what a show. A few years ago I'd have turned up at a Gary Barlow concert in disguise. In spite of their global success, the rock chick in me had filed Take That away under "distinctly uncool pop cheese", while allowing myself the occasional bop to their undeniably epic hits.
But having witnessed Gary's warm-hearted and hugely entertaining performance at Plymouth this week, I gladly take back every little sneer I've ever pointed his way to acknowledge the X Factor mentor as a proper British music hero.
The mood was set by Nell Bryden, a Manhattan singer songwriter with some big, bold tunes and a voice to match, who has been championed by both Gary and Radio 2 – does the beautiful Sirens ring any bells?
When Gary took to the stage the largely female, over-30 capacity crowd delivered the love by the bucketload, and this affable guy-next-door responded with two carefully crafted sets that offered a fast-moving romp through some of his personal favourites. It was a balanced and eclectic choice, with just the right smattering of Take That songs – and I didn't miss the other four voices at all – kicking off with Stay Close to Me and including A Million Love Songs, Pray (with Gary tripping into the dance routine), Everything Changes (with Gary risking a flesh pressing episode in the crowd), The Flood, Patience, Back For Good, Shine and Rule The World. I particularly loved the fabulous swing interlude (watch out, Robbie) with I've Got You Under My Skin, Fly Me To The Moon and Moondance, and Gary's beautiful solo love song medley at the piano. His Diamond Jubilee song Sing, with a touching film backdrop of its recording around the world, new single Forever Autumn and Candy, the current number one he co-wrote for Robbie Williams, brought things up to date and a rousing Never Forget made a fittingly emotional arm-waving encore. The six-piece band, joined occasionally by a horn section, were slick, tight and grooving and the tech team got the sound just right in a notoriously tricky hall.
There's no mystique about Gary but he's a clever songwriter and a true showman with a genuine humility about him. He clearly enjoyed his every moment on stage and it was impossible to resist the overwhelming spirit of camaraderie. Bravo!