ALBERT HAMMOND / LOTTE MULLAN Band On The Wall, Manchester 8 May 2012

Lotte Mullan is about as slickly professional as one person with an acoustic guitar could aspire to be (which is intended as a compliment). Certain of her songs appear tailor-made for this mostly middle-to-pensionable age audience, for example “Record Collection”, which deals with the post-relationship breakdown division of one, casually bristling with references to “Blood On The Tracks” and Led Zeppelin. But everything she plays, even “Wicked Way” - introduced as a rude song but hardly the stuff of parental advisory stickers - is received rapturously, her live performance seeming helpfully sparkier and more individual than her recorded work.

Albert’s recorded work is unlikely to be his lasting legacy either. Although he began recording albums under his own name in 1972, and his first three are lost classics of the singer/songwriter genre, he took a bizarre turn into straightforward MOR on his perplexing fourth and never really recovered. It’s his songwriting work for others that’s sustained his reputation since, and which covers at least half of tonight’s show, which travels under the flag “The Albert Hammond Songbook”, a roughly chronological canter through the canon, peppered with many “I never knew he wrote that!” moments.  

The audience are perhaps over-generous in their appreciation of solo acoustic renditions of songs popularised by Leapy Lee, Joe Dolan, The Pipkins and Blue Mink, which, for anybody not around at the time, can’t help but sound like innocuous but insubstantial bubblegum. Proceedings improve immeasurably when the timeline hits those early solo albums, though, reeling off classic after classic with understated accompaniment from a guitarist and keyboard player. Generously fielding requests, he plays pretty much everything we ask for, albeit sometimes in miniature. I’m granted a verse and a chorus of “Rebecca” (along with the revelation that the titular lady was a bunny girl from St. Louis, Missouri) and “Mary Hot Lips Arizona”. Other brilliance re-enacted from this period includes “Names, Tags, Numbers, And Labels”, “It Never Rains In Southern California”, “The Free Electric Band” (inevitably), “The Air That I Breathe”, “Anyone Here In The Audience”, “Everything I Want To Do”, “I’m A Train”, “The Peacemaker”, early ecological warning shot “Down By The River”…it just rolls on and on, and the comedown contrast between all these and the reception they receive and the (literally) middle of the road schmaltz of “99 Miles From L.A.” is almost too painful. But that’s where the money is, as the bland universality of later songs such as “When I Need You”, “Don’t Turn Around”, “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” and “One Moment In Time” testifies, in ways that “Mary Hot Lips Arizona” ain’t never gonna. Along that path lie anecdotes involving Carpenters, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison, and an apparently uncannily accurate Tina Turner impression that he declines to share with us.

Nevertheless, this evening is all kinds of awesome, prompting the inevitable question as to why, at just a few weeks short of his 68th birthday, Albert is embarking on what those assembled agree seems to be his first British tour. “I’m just an old songwriter who wants to share his songs”, he offers at one point. At this intimate gig, with an appreciative audience, he pitches them perfectly.