Glen Campbell @ Symphony Hall, 6th November 2011

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It has been eighteen months since I last saw Glen Campbell and truly enjoyed the family experience of his show. Unfortunately, since then, there has been an announcement that Campbell is suffering from Alzheimer’s and that this current tour will be his last, aptly named The Goodbye Tour.

Instant People open for Campbell, which is not a surprising choice, as they are not only the majority of his backing band but also include three of his children. They enter the stage suitably humbled by the amazing acoustics of Symphony Hall, which is described as a “huge red beehive”, and launch into their brand of modern country music with a heavy helping of Easy Listening that would please the middle of the day Radio 2 listeners. Their music is safe and very nice which suits the majority of the audience and they are clearly a very talented collection of musicians, however, the niceness is a turn off for me and I struggle to keep my mind focused on the aural and start taking a greater interest in the audience rather than the band. The onstage banter demonstrates Instant People’s sincere attitude to playing music and touring, ensuring that they acknowledge all sections of the audience even those seated in the choir stalls, which strangely makes me feel guilty for not embracing the music.

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After a brief interval, Glen Campbell enters to a standing ovation and launches into his classical repertoire with Gentle On My Mind. Despite looking physically fit for a gentleman of 75, the Alzheimer’s has clearly taken its toll upon the veteran performer and there a number of autocue screens placed along the edge of the stage. However, after a nervy start, Campbell slips easily into the likes of Galveston and Where’s the Playground, Susie? demonstrating why he has stood the test of time whilst others have fallen by the wayside. The smooth, comforting quality of his vocals rebound around the hall with a gracious beauty and transport you to an era of where people left their front doors open and children played football in the road.

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Campbell’s sense of humour prevails at various points during the set, including an Elvis impression and a claim that “I am happy to be here, I am glad to be here. In fact, I am glad to be anywhere!” After an old fashioned hillbilly banjo and guitar duel with his daughter, Campbell leaves the stage briefly, allowing his backing band to do a cover version of Hey Little One, which they conquer admirably, and gives them time to also introduce one another. The second part of the set sees Campbell take it to another level, with the likes of Ghosts on a Canvas and the truly beautiful Amazing Grace which leaves the audience as putty in his hands and moulded perfectly to receive the ultimate in a Campbell set, Wichita Lineman. Jimmy Webb’s fantastic abilities created one of the finest lessons in songwriting, yet, it is Campbell’s delivery that demonstrates the spine tingling brilliance which brings a tear to my eye. The mood is changed by the anthemic Rhinestone Cowboy, with Campbell giving the audience the opportunity to sing along with the rousing chorus. Glen Campbell leaves the stage to a standing ovation only to return, to appease the crowd, for an encore of In My Arms and Better Place, both of which were wholly joyous. As he exits the stage for the final time in Birmingham, the whole audience are upstanding in admiration and respect for a true old school entertainer.

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Despite occasional questions about the key of a song or who starts the track, Glen Campbell’s professionalism and talent does not falter the most noticeable element is that the setlist is shorter than it had been eighteen months ago. For me it is hard to come to terms with never seeing him perform Wichita Lineman in a live arena again, but then again I am privileged to have seen him perform it twice. I will miss you Glen and I can guarantee that I am not the only Brummie to feel like that.

Review – Toni Woodward
Photos – Ken Harrison

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