Chris Rea performing The Road Songs For Lovers Tour at The Symphony Hall Birmingham on Wednesday 29th November 2017.

Images and Review by Kevin Cooper

Chris Rea is touring to promote his 26th studio album, Road Songs For Lovers and after his own personal health struggles which have included pancreatic cancer and more recently a stroke, he certainly has been there and back on his own road to hell.

And whilst this packed Symphony Hall in Birmingham knew exactly what they were going to get from this performance last night; virtuoso slider guitar, gravelly road worn vocals, a great backing band and songs about love, family, friendship and the road, some were surprised to see that the once burly figure from Teesside was now wiry, lean and looking almost lost in his baggy jeans and T shirt.

But any concerns were put aside as he opened with the upbeat and rousing The Last Open Road from his Road To Hell Part 2 album before he moved on to his new material with Happy On The Road and Nothing Left Behind which were very well received.

As he built up the tempo, the opening chords of Josephine floated across the Hall to the loudest applause with its changes from ballad to reggae and rock, as did its sister song Julia, which was presented as a lively crossover of gospel and Motown music. There was nothing mediocre about the likes of Looking For The Summer and Stoney Road which delighted Rea’s faithful fans, and a haunting piece of blues guitar playing by Rea lifted the atmosphere to another level as his gravelly voice sang out to his classic hit, Stainsby Girls.

Rea’s voice really came to life during the slower songs, such as Two Lost Souls where the keyboards of Neil Drinkwater did much of the musical lifting, while his accordion led some of the songs such as the new The Road Ahead to great effect.

Finishing his main set with The Road To Hell, Rea showed that his 1989 signature song still remains a sleek, well oiled beast of a tune. Coming back on to the stage for the encore of his major hit, On The Beach and the classic upbeat hit, Let’s Dance, he rounded the evening off in fine fashion.

There was no small talk from Rea; no anecdotes from decades on the road and certainly no introductions to the songs. And anyone waiting for his seasonal single Driving Home For Christmas were left disappointed because the man didn’t deign to perform it but in honesty that was the only disappointment of the evening.

Rea had delivered his crowd pleasing songs and showcased his guitar prowess and whilst he may have been on the road for more than 35 years, last night he proved that there is still a lot of life in him yet. And for that we are eternally grateful.