Electric Light Orchestra with Phil Bates (ELO2) will perform an exclusive concert in the Cape on February 15. The concert will feature all the classic original ELO chart toppers, including ‘Rock n Roll is King’, ‘Hold on Tight’, ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, ‘Evil Woman’ etc.
ELO has accumulated a staggering 27 Top-40 hit singles in both the UK and the US, with 20 Top 20 UK singles and 15 Top-20 US singles.
Bates led ELO Part 2 from 1993 to 1999, after Jeff Lynne left the band. The English rocker also played with notable bands Trickster and Quill.
The concert will take place under the stars at the popular new outdoor venue at Paarl’s Liqui-Fruit Amphitheatre (a mere 40 minute drive from the City Bowl) as part of the Cultivaria Summer series. Audience members can look forward to breathtaking views over the hills of Paarl, as well as a wine and food fair before and after the show.
PETER TROMP chatted to BATES on the eve of the concert.
What can fans expect from the concert at Paarl’s Liqui-Fruit Amphitheatre?
What we do with this show is basically the Greatest Hits, or as many of them as possible. I am aware that some songs were not big hit singles in every country – songs like ‘Rockaria’, ‘Wild West Hero’, but they offer us a chance to do something a bit different, so we like to do them. But the major ones like ‘All Over The World’, ‘Rock and Roll is King’, ‘Livin’ Thing’, ‘Mr Blue Sky’, and many more are all in there.
ELO has a strong following in South Africa. Have you gotten an inkling of why you guys remain so popular here?
It is down to those fantastic a Jeff Lynne songs. A good song and a great recording are timeless. It s the same thing that keeps The Beatles on the radio and TV and in the concert hall 50 years later: great songs, great vocal harmonies, distinctive production and arrangements. As everyone knows, these recordings are incredibly radio friendly. Jeff was a master at making things sound great on radio. And it is remarkable to me that these records do not sound dated or tired or old fashioned (well, not to me) when they are played. Like many Beatle tracks, they sort of jump out of the speaker and beat you around the head with quality and energy and of course many of them take you straight back to a particular time and place, and we all love that.
ELO’s sound has been analyzed and scrutinized in many quarters, but how would you describe the music that you guys make together?
Classic pop music with some rockier elements; some blues/soul influences, a bit of disco, a bit of electro, but obviously the key part of the sound of many ELO hits is the orchestration – the classical element. But at the root of it all is a great pop song. There is no shame in being pop; well, not in the older sense of the word. To do it right is one if the hardest things to do.
Which songs from the band’s huge catalogue do you particularly enjoy playing, and why?
One of my favourite songs is ‘Midnight Blue’. It has such a great melody and chord structure. ‘Mr Blue Sky’ is another favourite. Personally, I like the rockier songs better – like ‘Rockaria’ and ‘Do Ya’.
Organic, classic rock appears to have been shunned in the mainstream in favour of more and more electronic sounds. Do you think there will ever come a time when rock, in its traditional form, will have a resurgence in the charts?
I think that is only partly true – well in the UK, anyway. There are still a lot of hits from old fashioned guitar bands, alongside the more produced, electronic stuff. The biggest problem for me is that I think songwriters have become very lazy. Often a very slender song idea is hidden behind a big anthemic sound, or a simple a repetitive guitar riff. It’s partly down to the minute attention span that has developed amongst many people.
But, to be honest, I could never imagine songs like Free’s ‘Alright Now’, or Eric Clapton’s ‘Layla’ being hits now. But I also think that if any younger artist had the wit or talent to come up with a ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, a ‘Mr Blue Sky’, or ‘Penny Lane’ they would still be hits now.
So it’s down to young songwriters to learn their craft and get people used to paying attention for more than 10 seconds now.
What can ELO fans expect from the band in the future, and from you?
ELO, as such doesn’t really exist anymore. Jeff Lynne occasionally releases songs under that name, but in my opinion these are Jeff Lynne tracks, not ELO, despite what it says on the label. Still absolutely fantastic songs, though.
To be honest, as people like McCartney, Springsteen and Rod Stewart have found, most people want the old stuff. They will sort of tolerate the new, but get them into a concert situation, and people want memories, nostalgia, tears and to sing.
That is not to say that there won’t or shouldn’t be new material appearing, but I think the future will be more about exploring different ways of performing this great material in ways that keep it fresh.
As for me, I will continue performing these songs live for as long as I can stand up, alongside more time playing more bluesy and sourly material, which is my greatest love.
* Tickets are priced from R240 and can be booked at Computicket.