By BRUCE DENNILL
Albert Hammond: Songbook Tour / Teatro, Montecasino, Fourways
Anyone who calls themselves a fan of popular music over the last 50 years will be glibly aware that Albert Hammond was involved in contributing major hits at regular intervals during that period. But it’s impossible to develop a full appreciation of the songwriter’s multi-faceted skill and his lasting contribution to both his craft and the soundtracks of millions of lives around the planet.
Hammond delivers a generous set – 30 songs in all – because he has a nearly peerless back catalogue, and because, even at 71, he has the stamina to deliver both his standards and the lesser-known cult favourites at full tilt for two hours.
And though you should accept it (the evidence is plainly apparent), the fact that all of these songs – different styles, various eras and quietly ubiquitous – came out of this one man’s mind doesn’t make sense until you see him singing the words he wrote or co-wrote in front of you. This is thanks to the range of A-list artists who made his songs famous in the first place – leading to the strange sensation that Hammond is doing covers of the definitive versions of his own compositions.
A short list of his collaborators, just from his Montecasino setlist, includes Chicago (I Don’t Wanna Live Without Your Love); Aswad, Ace Of Base and Neil Diamond (they all had a hit with Don’t Turn Around); Julio Iglesias and Willy Nelson (To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before); Whitney Houston (One Moment In Time); Starship (Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now); Leo Sayer (When I Need You); and The Hollies (The Air That I Breathe).
There are also the handful of songs with which he is permanently associated as a performer, which include It Never Rains In Southern California, Peacemaker and Free Electric Band, which he and his band perform as part of the encore, bringing the audience to their feet en masse. The full effect is that you feel like you’re sitting in a jukebox loaded with only enduring chart hits, but with the considerable thrill of having Hammond on hand to perform them live.
In truth, Hammond’s band seems unnecessarily modest – with his little black book, he could probably phone up whoever he liked; the very cream of the crop. Here, there is a good, solid rhythm section and a talented keyboard player occasionally hamstrung by some badly dated keyboard sounds. It’s likely not by design, but this gives Hammond himself more room to shine, standing centre stage with his acoustic guitar and clearly enjoying his singing, which he does in a voice full of character, at once cracked and road-worn but also rich and full of character.
This show is a fascinating one for songwriters in the audience to watch, too, as Hammond’s brief banter between songs underlines that he, early on, developed a fantastic ear for hearing the effect another artist’s voice or arrangement style would have on one of his compositions, and was happy to give away a sure-fire hit because whichever artist he could hear pulling the strings could, he knew, probably do a better job of bringing the words and melody to life.
Thus, without doing anything extravagant, Hammond displays immensely well-developed musicianship and, experienced as he is, he makes it look like a walk in the park. You’ll never see Diane Warren or any other songwriter of Hammond’s pedigree and type (the generally behind-the-scenes sort) embark on a similar tour – only Dylan and one or two others are capable of delivering as many and as varied a selection of musical successes under their own name – so seeing the Songbook Tour live is an experience to be savoured.