Saturday Night Fever, a 30th anniversary orchestral disco inferno celebration, helmed by Bee Gee Robin Gibb...

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BBC Electric Proms: Saturday Night Fever, October 25, 2008

Saturday Night Fever, a 30th anniversary orchestral disco inferno celebration, helmed by Bee Gee Robin Gibb



Against the odds, this was a spectacularly successful tribute at London’s Roundhouse to the songs which offered a generation romance and rhythm, and first topped the UK album charts thirty years ago. The yin to punk’s yang, they were so popular that nobody admitted to loving them, while everybody did. Inscrutable hauteur was never the Bee Gees’ strong suit, so this was a glittery, light-hearted cross between the mother of all hen nights and a Don’t Look Back-style show with guest vocalists.

Oh, those guest vocalists. On paper, this could have been a nightmare, like being trapped in an endless X Factor audition or a Mamma Mia out-take. In context, it was brilliant. Realising that one is heartily applauding such anodyne careerists as Sharleen Spiteri and Gabriella Cilmi is a shock to the system, and testament to the all-conquering seductive powers of enduring tunes which strut like gigolos and yearn like monks.

Anne Dudley, a long way from The Art Of Noise now, directs the BBC Concert Orchestra, who are dazzlingly suave in, of course, white Travolta-esque suits. Claudia Winkelman comperes – as with her Strictly Come Dancing contributions she is just ironic enough, just enthused enough – and the pop stars trot out one by one. Their genuine love for the material matches ours, and thus nobody gets bottled off. The temperature is maintained throughout.

Robin Gibb himself appears for the sublime melodic rivulets of “More Than A Woman”. (One wonders why Barry wasn’t up for this: did he consider it demeaning?) Among other highspots are Sam Sparro bouncing into “Stayin’ Alive” and Cilmi digging deep into the core of K.C. & The Sunshine Band‘s “Boogie Shoes“. The lucky Spiteri is given both “How Deep Is Your Love” and “If I Can’t Have You”, an abundance of riches which any singer would kill to wrap themselves around. If there’s a lull, and I’m not just picking on them because they’re Boyzone, it’s when Ronan Keating and Stephen Gately take a stab at “Jive Talkin’” and never seem comfortable. It feels like, whereas everyone else knew these babies were monsters to be respected, they just thought they could turn up and smile. Like it was ITV or something. Boys, this is not ITV. This is godhead.

To everyone’s surprise, Bryn Christopher hurls himself into The Trammps“Disco Inferno” and absolutely tears the roof off the sucker. Everyone is saying, “Who IS he?” He smartly grasps that the “burn baby burn” hook is to disco what “I live by the river” is to punk, and his commitment is riveting. “Whoever he is”, everyone is saying, “he gets it.”

An encore section spills over into random Gibb-written tracks. Boyzone (boo) bleat through “Words”. Cilmi (hurrah, I guess, sort of) does “Heartbreaker”. The moment of moments comes when frail-looking Robin returns and in his best crying-voice nails “To Love Somebody”. I am not alone in feeling shivers down the spine. Viva Fever.

CHRIS ROBERTS