Even if you don’t know Albert Hammond, you’d be hard-pressed to escape his influence. The Gibraltarian singer-songwriter penned some of the most well-known hits of the twentieth century for the likes of Diana Ross, The Hollies, and Whitney Houston. Boasting a seat at the Songwriters Hall of Fame, a parade of Ivor Novellos, Emmys, Oscar nominations, an OBE, and a son who plays guitar for The Strokes, Hammond is something of a cheerful Littlefinger at the centre of a web of guitar strings. His 2016 album ‘In Symphony’ saw a slew of his hits recorded with the backing of a full symphony orchestra. And on 19th September, in what is fast becoming an annual event, Hammond trod the boards of the luxurious Cadogan Hall in London with his orchestra at his heels, to guide a crowd of diehards through his sixty year songbook.
In proper classical style, the evening began with an orchestral overture teasing a few of Hammond’s most ear-snaring melodies. Hammond made his entrance smile first, to the louder-than-the-orchestra roar of the most loyal audience an artist could hope for. Gibraltarian flags flying, bandanna-clad acoustic in hand, Hammond kicked things off with the jaunty 1986 hit ‘Give A Little Love’.
Acoustic-led quasi-hippie pop charters marked the start of the night. ‘The Peacemaker’ and ‘Down By The River’ made all the more jubilant thanks to the sweeping strings and victorious brass. At the fine age of seventy-three, Hammond couldn’t be further from frail. Strumming fervently on his acoustic or striding elegant along the stage front, his deepened, oak-aged vocals standing stalwart over the jubilant, gospel-tinged backing choir.
After a rousing rendition of the oft-covered ‘Don’t Turn Around’, Hammond shifted proceedings into a bluesier, ballad-based phase with brooding ‘99 Miles From L.A’. Though he more than held his ground in the upbeat choices, it was here in his world-worn vocals came into their own. Seated Sinatra-style on a barstool, Hammond packed his delivery with every ounce of desperate Mediterranean passion to soar through these late-night slow-burners like the heart-break crooners of old. ‘I Need To Be In Love’, originally written for The Carpenters, saw Hammond quivering as if verging on tears, whilst ‘Estrellita’, a 1912 Mexican classic, saw Hammond in duet with a recording of his own eight-year-old self. A deeply affecting musing on the passage of time, rendered neatly in a live setting.
Hammond packed the hits in like sardines as the evening grew long. Country-tinged hip-shaker ‘You’re Such A Good Looking Woman’ saw the audience begin to stand from their seats, and despite the average audience age that’s the way things stayed for the remainder. Hammond left the stage for ‘When You Tell Me That You Love Me’ to weave through the audience shaking hands, and closed off the main set with Whitney Houston superhit ‘One Moment In Time’.
Eager as a man a third his age, Hammond could only stand aside for a few moments before jogging back for a decidedly extended encore. ‘I’m A Train’ saw Hammond at his most rockstar, strutting howling and laughing aloud for this cheery folk hit turned orchestral roof-raiser. ‘The Air That I Breathe’ came next, and was the undebatable pinnacle. The orchestra came over all Holstian for the iconic riff, then carousel ballroom dance for the chorus, with Hammond sliding from pillow talk tender to chest-pumping baritone for the triumphant soundtrack-worthy finale. Hair proverbially down (as his hair’s been physically down since 1966), Hammond wrapped the evening with a double whammy of his two self-sung hits, the deliciously singable ‘It Never Rains In Southern California’ and the foot-stomping rock chant ‘Free Electric Band’. Finally, like the credits to a classic movie, Hammond put the lid on things with the dictionary definition of a power ballad, the 1986 Starship hit and Oscar nominated, ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’. The applause went on until Hammond told them to go home.
Albert Hammond has always been more famed for his songwriting than his performing. Of the tracks he played, few were ever hits under his name. But when watching him live, with an orchestra no less, it’s hard to deny. Writer he may be, but Hammond knows a thing or two about working a crowd.