ROCK / 'We Luv U Jase': Jason Donovan in 'not too bad' shock: Jim White reports

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AS JASON Donovan stood on stage at the Wembley Arena, he would have seen, just past the pit where the photographers were training their lenses for any hint of lemon juice, the front row of his audience. All girls, they were pressed against a crash barrier, happy, cheerful things, mouthing the words of every song. In the gaps between numbers, they waved a home-made banner which read 'We Luv U Jase' and yelled out their love for Australia's hunkiest export since Sir Les Patterson.

The oldest of the girls could have been no more than 12. Two of them, in party frocks with big bows in their hair, looked not so much pre- teen as pre-school. It was no wonder Jason spent most of this concert on his knees, as if in supplication. His fans are too small to have seen his face had he stood up.

Witnessing, at the end of this very presentable performance, several members of the audience being carried out asleep - not as a critical judgement, but asleep on their parents' shoulders because it was way past their bedtime - it became clear why he was so careful to protect his reputation when he sued The Face earlier this year. Jason Donovan is not a teen idol. He is a children's entertainer. Any hint of stepping off the straight and narrow in that territory is career death.

It is a particularly cunning ploy to cast yourself at the lower end of the age range. Since Jason began his career, Duran Duran have sunk into obscurity, Bros have tumbled into penury, even New Kids on the Block are currently residing in the Where-Are-They- Now File. But Jason inhabits a less fickle world, he is the first pop star each new generation of Going Live viewers encounters.

His concert was an unpretentious affair, without any hint of flash or cynical over-rehearsal. The set was the light grey of a modern office; the tight, organised band (the guitarist was a veteran of Girlschool) pumped out the tight, organised Stock Aitken Waterman pop from purposeful work stations around the stage. Jason was dressed down - leather trousers and biker's boots, white shirt and spangly black jacket. Occasionally, with a guitar slung, unused, behind his back he would chum up to one of the band in a matesy kind of way, like a kindergarten Bruce Springsteen.

Despite the crispness of the music, there was an appealingly spontaneous air to much of his performance. He did without the contrived dance routines of, say, a Kylie Minogue concert. His trio of backing singers shuffled a few syncopated steps, but Jason preferred to run round the set, kicking his microphone stand over or rolling SAS fashion across the floor.

This was a wise decision. He is not a man over-endowed with rhythm. A constipated mover, he is pigeon-toed, introverted, wringing his hands constantly to help him squeeze out the high notes. Where George Michael might thrust out his pelvis, Jason seems to push his inwards, as if in embarrassment.

And his spoken pronouncements bore no trace of a scriptwriter. 'This is a song about the world as such,' he said at one point. 'Without being too heavy on the sort of environment. It's got a semi-rave feel to it.'

Or at least that was what he appeared to be saying; many of his words were drowned in a constant peal of screams and referee's whistles. The not-too-heavy-on- the-sort-of-environment song had the crowd bansheeing, no doubt through concern for the rain-forests rather than the sight of Jason's taut stomach peeping out from underneath his Andre Agassi-style too-short vest. This was one of the few hints of sex. Most of the time he was so wholesome Cliff Richard might have used him as a role model. When, like a pantomime dame, he divided the crowd into competitive sections to shriek out the words to 'Happy Together', the first impulse was to 'aah' as you might at a school carol concert.

Cliff would have been equally delighted by the encore, 'Any Dream Will Do' from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat - a revival of which Jason starred in this year - with its hint of religion.

'Who's seen Joseph?' Jason asked in a school-teacherly way, and winced at the ferocity of the response. Many of his fans, it was clear, were new fans, introduced to him via the musical.

This apart, he is such a pleasant performer you could forgive him most things, even if the wounds inflicted on 'As Time Goes By', his final number, might take considerable passage of time to heal. Certainly the parents waiting outside in their thousands to drive their offspring away after the show had cause to be pleased: such was Jason's admirable dispatch, they would have been back home before closing time.

(Photograph omitted)