REVIEW / Only the one and onlys: Giants of the seventies - Wembley Arena

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The Independent Culture
The ticket suggested this was to be an evening with 'the giants of Seventies soul'. Which invited the question, if Heatwave were the giants of seventies Soul, what physical proportion would a promoter use to describe Stevie Wonder? None the less, 12,000 people surfed to Wembley this week on a wave of nostalgia, ready to relive the days when they popped their handbags on the dance-floor rather than strapping them across their chests like shoulder holsters.

And talk about enthusiastic. The whole place was up and dancing for the warm-up disco. As a variety of acts followed each other for 15 minutes of syncopated shuffling (which, in some cases, roughly coincided with the length of their initial fame) the place was approaching abandon. The Real Thing looked as if they had never before played to an audience so appreciative, Rose Royce performed the song with the most mundane lyrics in the history of soul - 'Car Wash' - and Tavares drew sustained applause for a wonderful version of 'Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel'. Their pleasure, however, must have been diluted by being obliged to high-five Mike Read, the compere, as they left the stage. The high point of a lengthy first half was Edwin Starr. If you had opened a book to guess which performer fomented the most frenzy at Wembley in the past year, you would have got very long odds on a portly, middle- aged man dressed as an Italian traffic policeman.

But there he was, dividing the audience into competitive sections like a pantomime dame for a run-through of 'War', then inviting those in the standing section 'to form the biggest conga line in England' during a version of 'Feeling Hot, Hot'. To much attendant shrieking, the audience willingly did both.

Whatever atmosphere was generated before the interval was dissipated immediately afterwards by Billy Paul, who had everyone sitting down within seconds of appearing. Clearly feeling it wasn't sufficient to be introduced by Mike Read, Paul brought along his own compere, who yelled half-a-dozen times: 'Please welcome the-one-and-only-Grammy- award-winning-all-the-way-from- Philadelphia-PA-in-the-USofA, Mr Billy Paul'.

Paul himself, white baker's hat atop his gleaming dome, couldn't match his public relations man's lung power, fading badly through 'Me and Mrs Jones'. Which was much to the disappointment of the couple - possibly Mr and Mrs Jones - who stood up specially to sway through their favourite song. Paul's pygmy effort did nothing to diminish his cheerleader's enthusiasm. After his seventh invitation to 'put your hands together for the one-and-only-etc, Mr Billy Paul', this most generous of audiences had stopped applauding.

But the compere hadn't finished. After a quick change of backing musicians, there he was again, introducing 'the-one-and-only-etc, Mr Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes'. For once he was accurate, as Melvin, a spritely sixtysomething, and his one-and-only Blue Note wobbled on to the stage. In his golden era, when he had four top 10 hits in the States, Melvin delegated lead singing duties to Teddy Prendergrass. These days they are undertaken by a smiley chap in a mauve jacket who made Starr look svelte. As his side-kick sang 'Don't Leave Me This Way', Melvin creaked through a few arthritic twists and turns by his side. And in the audience whole rows of women danced in that disco way that makes you look as though you are skiing, shoulders pointing alternately down hill.

And downhill is how things went, rapidly, after Harold tottered off stage. A 25-minute technical hitch meant poor KC and the Sunshine Band did not make it on stage until the last tube was poised to leave Wembley Park. KC should sue; by the time he had finished his first number, the stream for the exits had become a flood. How he worked to stem the flow, stamping around the stage, stripping off his jacket, wiggling his bottom. But, directed at departing backs, his sincere oozings ('Thank you, England, for being so supportive, without you we wouldn't be here tonight') were given an absurd spin.

'I'd like to dedicate this to each and every one of you,' he said, introducing 'Sound Your Funky Horn', and it wouldn't have taken very long to name individually those left. By the time he reached his closing number, 'Please Don't Go', his vocals were echoing round the hall.

But it was worth the wait. Without apparently appreciating the irony, he knelt in supplication, pleading 'I'm begging you please, please don't go' to no more than 500 people. In the upper tiers a gaggle of long marchers whooped with laughter and cheered him in a full-marks-for-effort kind of way as he left.

Outside the Arena, two stretch limos purred, waiting to take him off. The least KC could have done was give those left in the hall a lift home. There would have been enough room.