It was more than a year ago that Billy Idol announced that he would be returning to these shores for a six date arena tour. Taking in Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham, London, Cardiff and Leeds for his ‘Roadside Tour 2022’, which was to feature “new music, a stack of timeless classics and his long-time lead guitarist and collaborator Steve Stevens”. The dates were to mark his first in the UK since 2018 and he was bringing along The Go-Go’s for a long-awaited return as the main support act for all six concerts. Wind the clocks forward to the present day, and sadly The Go-Go’s aren’t now and neither were their replacements, ‘Television‘ who were due to perform the iconic1977 album ‘Marquee Moon’ in its entirety.
However, Mr Idol’s people then amazingly called upon the services of Killing Joke and added Toyah to the ranks, which was for yours truly a mixed blessing, but for many quite possibly making the tour a triple-header feast.
Our choice of date on the ‘Roadside Tour 2022’ (in support of Idol’s recently released EP ‘The Roadside’) was Wembley Arena. Although I lived in London for several years, I can’t recall actively visiting this area of the land before, but I understand that this has completely changed (for the better) over the period of Billy Idol’s fame.
The weather was mild tonight as the press and photographers milled around waiting for their section of the box office to open. Once acquired, we passed through into the bowels of this aircraft hangar-like structure. The 12,500-capacity building has played its part in history and seen some of the biggest names in music walk through its doors, including Queen and The Rolling Stones, to name just two.
The set times for tonight were Toyah 7pm to 7:30pm, Killing Joke 7:50pm to 8:40pm, Billy Idol 9:10pm to around 10:45pm. So this allowed us to leave the arena in just enough time to grab one of the last trains back home.
First up then was the diminutive pixie that runs on Duracell batteries, Toyah Willcox, https://www.facebook.com/toyahofficial wife of 76-year-old guitarist, founder and longest- lasting member of the progressive rock band King Crimson, who she informs us “can’t dance”. Initially, I considered her a strange choice for the opening act, but maybe her chipper, upbeat stagecraft was exactly what the night required. I hadn’t seen Toyah before and missed her at R- Fest at the Rebellion punk festival in Blackpool back in August, so I have nothing to compare tonight’s set with her back in the day.
We were ‘treated’ to a compact seven-song set, that included the hits (‘It’s A Mystery’, ‘I Want To Be Free’, ‘Thunder In The Mountains’ and ‘Good Morning Universe’), as well as her take on Martha & The Muffins’ Echo Beach’ which Toyah informed us she put back in the charts in the mid 80’s, although I’d hardly call it that, as it peaked at No. 54 in 1987. Toyah and her chums played ‘Neon Womb’ from her ‘Sheep Farming In Barnet’ six track release from 1979, which she endeavoured to hoodwink us by stating that it was punk. Maybe the thought process at the time and the lyrics were, but punk in its true sense…nah! The remaining tune was ‘Space Dance’, culled from her 2021 studio album ‘Posh Pop’.
64 year old Toyah clearly knows how to play the game having been in the industry so long, even providing the opening and closing lines in the original series of ‘Teletubbies’ as well the narration in the first two series of fellow Ragdoll show, ‘Brum’. Versatile she sure is, but musically I sense it’s a case of Marmite.
After a mere 20 minutes of early rock’n’roll numbers blasting over the sound system, things went up many notches with the arrival of Killing Joke, who I have witnessed live before. I was taken aback by the announcement of their inclusion on the Billy Idol tour as support, especially as they will be headlining the Royal Albert Hall on 12th March next year in their own right – Tickets HERE. But fair play to the band they were willing to get stuck in.
It’s not very often that you can get to see a really decent outfit that boasts all of their original members, so step forward into the limelight Jaz Coleman ( lead vocals), Paul Ferguson (drums, backing vocals), Kevin “Geordie” Walker (guitar), and Martin “Youth” Glover (bass, vocals). They are certainly on the case tonight and are joined by Mechanical Cabaret keyboardist Roi Robertson to boast their ranks. He has been doing so for the past six years. The outfit blasted through eleven original compositions without any inane drivel in between the tracks. They let the music do all the talking, just like it should do with a Killing Joke live outing.
The lighting for their set was notably much better than Toyah’s basic style, with streams of white and blue beams thrusting out towards the increasing numbers of punters making their way into the hangar/arena. The sound (for all three acts) is not ideal for bands, as drum echoes could sometimes be heard bouncing off the rear walls with a little delay. The seating where we were was also a little cramped to say the least, but as Jaz and his mates worked through their robust set, the seating arrangements seemed to matter less and less..
No less than eight of their eleven tracks came from their groundbreaking 1980/81 period, which suited me right down to the ground. There was the drumming led ‘Unspeakable’, early single ‘Wardance’ which has never waned since its release, ‘The Fall Of Because’, ‘Requiem’ (and its B- side ‘Change’) the former being as epic as ‘Wardance’. ‘Butcher’, ‘The Wait’ and the US dance chart success and ‘Wardance’ conspirator ‘Pssyche’, arguably the pick of the bunch. The remaining trio was the mid-80s hit ‘Eighties’, the title track from the 1994 ‘Pandemonium’ album, and ‘Loose Cannon’ from the second of their self-titled albums. It was a fantastic performance. It always is!
Half an hour after Killing Joke’s departure, the venue lights were exterminated, the red curtain pulled back, and almost deafening roars filled the arena as Billy Idol and his songwriting collaborator Steve Stevens plus their chums graced the stage. For forty-five years, Billy Idol has been one of the faces and voices of rock’n’roll, with an artistic resume to match. Tonight, his loyal fans had almost sold out the Wembley Arena bar the rear seating. I would estimate an attendance was well over 10,000 eager souls.It is surprising to learn that 66 years young grandad William Michael Albert Broad has never tied the knot, so it might not be too late for one of the girls in the audience tonight!
This evening, the lads opened with the Generation X number ‘Dancing With Myself’, which set the tone and got the crowd behind him from the beginning. I wasn’t sure what to expect from his set, having not witnessed him performing live before, but this first sign was positive. 1990’s ‘Cradle Of Love’ came and went and was upstaged by ‘Flesh For Fantasy’, which saw Idol disrobe his top half and put his jacket back on. He’s still got it and looked buff! Did I just say that? When I was a young lad, a man of 66 was ancient, but clearly, Idol never got that message!
The first of a trio of tunes from his new ‘The Cage’ EP was up next in the form of ‘Cage’, which was later joined by ‘Runnin’ From The Ghost’ and ‘Rebel Like You’. Although it’s the ‘Roadside Tour’, we only get one tune from this 2021 EP, that being ‘Bitter Taste’. Throughout the set, there’ no real doubt that Steve Stevens is Billy’s right hand man, as he stamps his mark on the show by adding an ‘Acoustic Guitar Solo Intro’ to 1983 hit single’ Eyes Without A Face’, and then shortly after that showed us what he really could go with his electric guitar. He played it in such a way that it even sounded more than the sum of its parts, although maybe this went on a little too long. The title track from the Keanu Reeves blockbuster film ‘Speed’, was enjoyed by the fans, but those sitting on the sides of the arena joined those standing on level ground downstairs, by taking to their feet for Idol’s triumphant cover of Tommy James & the Shondells’ Mony Mony’. They were to do the same for the title track of the 1983 ‘Rebel Yell’ album and the final number ‘White Wedding’ (from 1982 ‘Billy Idol’ album).
The set was around an hour and a half and also featured ‘One Hundred Punks’ (from the 1977 ‘Generation X’ album), which was the oldest original tune this evening. I enjoyed the inclusion of The Heartbreakers’ Born To Lose’ as one of the encore songs, that original ‘L.A.M.F’ sound is very me.
In conclusion, hand on heart, I actually enjoyed Billy Idol much more than I thought that I was going to. Nice one lads!
Words and Photos by Cris Watkins