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Gary Barlow review: From unabashed naffness to pop brilliance

Gary Barlow

Hull City Hall                                                                               On tour until June 15 

Rating:

Gary Barlow once honed his act in Northern working men’s clubs, but there’s nothing very male about most of his audience at Hull’s cosy City Hall. 

‘I’ve got a feeling the ladies are going to be leading the night tonight,’ Barlow accurately predicts. ‘Fellas, you will never queue for the toilet at my shows…’

Witty self-mockery has been a key element of the Barlow charm since 2006, when Take That reformed and he edged back into the spotlight, any trace of hubris scorched away by the humiliations of his Robbie-blighted solo years.

Barlow leads a ten-piece band through handfuls of hits, his new throwback peroxide quiff making him look a bit like his own tribute act

Barlow leads a ten-piece band through handfuls of hits, his new throwback peroxide quiff making him look a bit like his own tribute act

Having since sold out stadiums and rediscovered his muse, Barlow can afford to lampoon himself with relish. 

Tonight he plods amusingly through the old dance routine for Pray and recaps his career for laughs on purpose-built new song Live Those Years Again. ‘My appetite for singing slowly dies,’ he sings of his dark days, ‘replaced by an appetite for pies.’

This show, one of a number of intimate theatre performances on a lengthy British tour, is framed as a guided tour of Barlow’s catalogue and he leads a ten-piece band through handfuls of hits, his new throwback peroxide quiff making him look a bit like his own tribute act.

He serenades a fan with A Million Love Songs, admitting it was written about an entirely imaginary girlfriend, and dispatches a string of Take That hits  in brisk swing versions

He serenades a fan with A Million Love Songs, admitting it was written about an entirely imaginary girlfriend, and dispatches a string of Take That hits in brisk swing versions

His body of work finds room for unabashed naffness and pop brilliance, but the point here is the story it tells. 

He digs out 1997’s Madonna-penned stinker Love Won’t Wait and plonks through it with more verve than it deserves. 

He serenades a fan with A Million Love Songs, admitting it was written about an entirely imaginary girlfriend, and dispatches a string of fun but slight Take That hits – Sure, Everything Changes, Could It Be Magic – in brisk swing versions.

A stack of mighty tunes – Greatest Day, Rule The World, Back For Good, comeback home-run Patience – provide the ballast and are met with an explosion of love on Humberside.

Never Forget ends the night, and it’s all the more resonant because, like his audience, Gary genuinely hasn’t. 

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