David Essex Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

Towards the end of his performance, David Essex surveyed the swaying crowd before him and sang "Girl, you'll be a woman soon". This was an act of kindness. His audience consisted mainly of mature women and there was barely a girl among them, in the strict sense of the word. Nevertheless, the moisture count must have risen sharply when he added, "And soon, you'll need a man". David Essex only had to cast a twinkly smile upon his fans and they swooned and gasped. When he sang as well, it was almost more than they could take.

Oh yes, he'd got them under his spell all right. He didn't really have to do anything else to please them, so he just leaned on the microphone stand and got on with it. His voice remains in pretty good shape - you can always hear the words, and he's clever at picking songs, too - and he knows he can do no wrong if he gives them "The Crying Game", "Here Comes the Night" and "You Really Got Me". OK, so these were covers of other people's hits, but nobody seemed to care. After all, David Essex had plenty of songs of his own. "Rock On" and "Stardust" came over as well-thought-out compositions, the new updated versions sounding much better than they ever used to on Radio 1. "Hold Me Close" and "Silver Dream Machine (Part 1)" reminded people that he knew a good tune or two. By the time David Essex got round to performing "Gonna Make You a Star", he didn't really need to sing anymore. He merely held the mike out above his followers' heads and they sang most of it for him. "Oh, is he more, not too much more than a pretty face?" came the question, and even the wallflowers up at the back of the gallery managed to join in with the response "I don't think so!" Next thing, he was rocking again with the Evita song "Oh What a Circus". This was probably the best part of the entire set, but there was yet more. He wanted to make the most of his four-piece backing band, so he knocked out "I'll Be Missing You" as well as the classic "Everlasting Love". There was also time to make the women go all squidgy by singing "Sea of love" unaccompanied. With dry ice drifting around him, he suggested that they could join in with the breast stroke, but decided on second thoughts that the crawl was better. Nice one. More dry ice, and now it was "A Winter's Tale". David Essex sounded suitably melancholic as he sang "on a world-wide scale we were just another winter's tale", but to tell the truth, for him it's still glorious summer.

Magnus Mills

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