Rick Astley: Wembley Arena

POOR LITTLE PUP. So keen to please, yet so reviled by the over-15’s. Some bleak midnights, he must wonder: “What did I ever do to them?” Even his likeness, adorning the Wembley marquee, seems puzzled, mistrustful, expectant of more abuse. Wracked by guilt, I hurry inside, away from that hurt gaze.

Within the Arena, all is as you might expect. Many, many young larynxes are open to their full extent — although, for some reason, there’s a palpable lack of Matt’n’Luke-type hysteria — a predictably skilled and professional 11-piece band are sawing away and the maestro is singing ‘My Arms Keep Missing You’. He must be sweating like a piglet in that suit and tie, I muse, and, cripes, he moves with the leonine grace of Tiffany. These are the initial impressions — these, and a fleeting supposition that the middle-aged woman who’s enthusiastically stamping her feet behind me, must be his mother.

As things move along — which they do at a snappily choreographed pace one good thing about these big dos is that there are never tedious lulls while the band confer about what key a song is in — a hitherto undreamt-of fact presents itself: Astley is in no way the puppet-figure conventional wisdom has him cast as. He knows precisely what he’s doing and he’s having huge fun doing it. Being a sensible Northern lad, he laces everything with a strong element of self-deprecating wit (he begins ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ with the first few bars of his competition, Wet Wet Wet’s ‘Sweet Little Mystery’) that conveys both his amazement at being up there in the first place and his determination to make the most of it.

The name Astley will never be synonymous with sex, except, perhaps, at Carol Clerk’s house (although a heated “lovers’ quarrel” with a backing singer during ‘Slipping Away’ got pretty animal at one point) or Terpsichore (rather than dance and risk possible embarrassment over his gracelessness, he opts for standing still) or emotional maelstrom. The audience realise this, too they pelted him with stuffed toys, not bras. But he’s swell at his job: playing unpretentious dance music for unstuffy audiences. And why not?

© Caroline SullivanMelody Maker, 24 December 1988

Leave a Comment