Robbie Williams rocks Leeds’s First Direct Arena

PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
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POP star Robbie Williams had Leeds swinging as he made his first appearance at the First Direct Arena.

The 40-year-old former Take That singer last played in the city in 2012 but this, the first of two nights at the £60m arena, was a far glitzier production than the stripped-down show he presented at the more intimate O2 Academy Leeds two years ago.

The Swings Both Ways Live tour – which accompanies his ninth Number One album – has been described by Williams himself as “Joe Longthorne meets Norman Wisdom meets Dean Martin in Baz Luhrman’s bathroom” and this was very much an evening of retro suits, dancing girls and boys and all-round razzmatazz.

Drawing on childhood memories of classic musicals and 1970s Saturday night TV variety shows, Williams’s two-hour concert was wildly theatrical, full of glamour, with a dash of cabaret and his trademark cheeky humour.

For I Wan’na Be Like You, the famous Robert and Richard Sherman number from the Disney film The Jungle Book, he even enlisted the help of four men in monkey costumes for a goofy routine. Elsewhere Williams – who recently announced he is to become a father for the second time – indulged in sheer nostalgia with Irving Berlin’s Puttin’ on the Ritz, Cab Calloway’s Minnie the Moocher and the enduring Mr Bojangles, popularised by Sammy Davis Jr and Nina Simone.

The Stoke-on-Trent singer’s fondness for the Rat Pack shone through further with renditions of two lugubrious Dean Martin numbers, Ain’t That a Kick in the Head and That’s Amore – in which he staged a ‘wedding’ with an audience member.

Williams’s club singer father Pete Conway joined his son for a likeable duet of the Duke Ellington song Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me.

But this was a much more stylised kind of show. As he recently reflected, with tongue firmly in cheek: “I know my jazz hands are going to be so tired after this tour.”

You couldn’t help feeling that the 13,500 who joined in this energetic stroll down memory lane may have a similar feeling this morning.

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