His second LP “I Am a Bird Now” has received rave reviews from everyone from the New York Post to the Daily Star, celebrity fans queue up to either feature on or laud his work, and the style mags lap up his androgynous glamour…but could I persuade any bugger to go with me to the gig…could I hell! Maybe my sales pitch of a 6 foot 3 inch goth transvestite singing cabaret torch songs didn’t help, and my attempts at pigeon holing him with Boy George, Divine, Nina Simone…Hedwig & The Angry Inch…registered only a mass reply of “I’m very sorry I’m washing my hair”. So brandishing my expensively acquired ebay tickets, alone I went.

As the five Johnsons took to the stage, the audience buzzed with anticipation in that way you get at certain gigs where expectation and hype and the sense of an “event” lead to not knowing quite what to expect. It reminded me of the atmosphere at two other South Bank event gigs, the return of Brian Wilson and Kraftwerk (although Kraftwerk was a whole different level). Unfortunately as the Johnsons plucked out “Free at last” the audience, possibly expecting pink chiffon and bangs, failed to notice the black black hulking figure shuffling onto stage, and the rapture only arrived as he nervously took his seat at the grand piano.

If he looked nervous to start with his voice betrayed no signs, and whether reaching that perfect falsetto, or bringing it down to lovely understated deep bass tones, it was simply exquisite. Running through his catalogue of future classic torch songs, the crowd were spellbound. “You Are My Sister” oozed soul, even without Boy George who I’d half hoped would bless us with his bird shat dome. Nina Simones “Be My Husband” was performed stripped down and bare, and the stiff seats of the Royal Festival Hall crackled with emotion.
Antony is an easy target for the label of overwraught pretentiousness. His half-lit world of cabaret and charged lyrics such as “My lady story is one of annihilation, my lady story is one of breast amputation…” are certainly not easy going, but blessed with Antonys voice it is all moving rather than pretentious, or maybe beautiful despite its pretentiousness. Even “Cripple & The Starfish” was delivered with aching tenderness, despite seemingly being an ode to rough sex.

In one of the rare moments when Antony spoke to his audience, he introduced a man without whom he said he would not have been here on stage. Jaws across the hall hit the floor, as he uttered “ladies and gentlemen Marc Almond!” The whole place erupted to greet what was I believe Almonds first appearance since a motorbike accident last year nearly took his life. Stick thin and apparently taken aback by the roar that accompanied his entrance Almond looked unsure of himself and slightly overwhelmed:

“Twenty five years in the business and I’m shaking like a leaf”

When some of the noise subsided he pleaded for understanding that he hadn’t really sung in a year, and he was sorry if he sounded a bit crap. He then belted out “River of Sorrow” in an almost gospel style, joined midway by Antony who’s bassier tones complimented him perfectly.
As Almond left the stage, the audience seemed stunned into silence by what they had witnessed, never has the cliche “it made me want to have children so they could have children so that I could have grandchildren to tell them about it” applied so well. For a second the hall was awkward, as if to say well where do we go from there….Antony however punctured the awed silence with a perfectly timed camp adjustment of his lank mop, and deadpan delivery “Is my hair on straight?”

Reading the A&TJ message boards after the gig, the reviews of the evening are boarding on hyperbole, but his music inspires strong emotions, such as this from an american fan:

“I just turned 18 and I think I’m ready for my first relationship with a man. Antony’s voice makes me yearn for his touch. I’ve never heard anything so beautiful in my life, I think I have a new obsession.
Norman, Ok USA”

While I can’t say it made me yearn for the touch of a man, it was one hell of a gig.