OK, enough with the showbiz schmoozing already. It was time in a none more child-friendly manner for poo to get real. Walking out into the auditorium, this was the sight that greeted the eager fans as they filed in to all three levels of the Shepherd’s Bush Empire once the doors were finally open. The Go!Go!Go! live show was ready for its big London homecoming performance.
It is worth at this point paying tribute to the talents of Ian Hardman who plays the Mr Baffled character. As he’s not formally one of the Go’s himself he risks at times being reduced to little more than a spare part in the songs and videos (despite having the song Questions to himself as his big number) but it is in the live shows that he truly comes into his own. After warming the crowd up on his own he then acts as the central focus around which the plot revolves and more importantly gives the group something and someone to interact with throughout the show. More than anyone else he is the character and the comedy and in a show pitched firmly at children that is actually one of the most important parts of all.
For those of us who came to the group via the songs on TV it is a fun novelty to see them in the place they all began, as characters in a stage show. Hence Go!Go!Go! live is a breathless hybrid. Part pop concert, part comedy and part pantomime. The plot of the 2014 edition of the show revolves around the group assisting Mr Baffled as host of Radio Go!Go!Go!, at least until their generator breaks down and to their horror they find themselves off the air. A series of attempts to resolve the problem all end in failure until they work out that the station is actually powered by socks, prompting a mass sock-throwing by the audience who have all been supplied with the requisite props. Truly you have not lived until you’ve sat in the stalls of a theatre and been pelted with footwear from the two levels of balconies above whilst toddlers and young children scurry around at your feet to convey them with enthusiasm to the front of the stage. Meanwhile all the familiar songs are present and correct with many finding their true home in their proper context of the plot of the show (particularly the brand new songs from the album such as Picture Of The World and Let Him Go whose purpose and lyrics finally hit home). With the radio station restored and following a quick-fire costume change the show climaxes with a three song concert, at which point all respect for seating arrangements go out the window and the audience are encouraged to gather in front of the stage to cheer and clap along. If all you have come here for is a review, then take it from me the whole thing is brilliantly executed, immaculately staged and if you are five years old I’m sure utterly magical.
Many of the more familiar Go!Go!Go! songs had their now familiar videos projected onto the big screen behind the group as they were performing, affording the eagle-eyed the opportunity to note just how well drilled the performances are. At times it was almost astounding to note that the figures on stage were dancing in utterly perfect synchronisation with their television counterparts behind them. Somehow that only added to my own appreciation of the abilities of the group.
Seeing all six characters onstage in a full show meant the chance to learn a little more about the personalities of each member of the group. Character traits that are reduced to little more than one-shot sight gags in the music videos can now be seen in their proper context. Carl’s magic tricks, Steve’s yoga moves, Jade’s nerdy bookishness and Holly’s well meaning bossiness all come to the fore and form part of their own personal set-pieces. Indeed in a way it is possible to marvel at just how well the Nick Jnr. video clips have worked for much of the audience in isolation for the year they have been airing. Once you’ve seen the show itself in full they start to make much greater sense.
The more cynical ear might note that in the early part of the show at least there wasn’t actually much live singing going on, although the fact that every number comes complete with its own carefully choreographed and energetic dance routine may have something to do with that. Big names from Britney to Beyonce have mimed their way through big set pieces in the past so there is nothing untoward about it. Cleverly though the producers of the show were just keeping their powder dry, making the moment when everyone gathers around for live harmonies on an acoustic rendition of Wake Up Smiling all the more spectacular. The five of them do indeed have proper singing chops and rise to the challenge when they are given the opportunity to prove it.
It seems almost unfair to single out any one or two performers for special praise but it is hard to ignore the pair who are clearly the standout stars. Jade is easily the best singer out of the girls, handed the lead vocal for the most demanding songs and with a performing and stage presence which makes her impossible to ignore, purple dungarees or not. If anyone is set for stardom beyond the lifespan of the Go!Go!Go! project then it is almost certainly the pixie-like girl from Wolverhampton. To my surprise, out of the two boys it was Carl who impressed me the most. I’d never really paid him much attention in the past, perhaps because his only lead vocal is on the weakest of the TV-filmed songs Choices. On stage however it becomes clear that his are the leading male vocals and perhaps most pertinently of all when it comes to the two show-stealing ballads in the show it is the two strongest singers – Jade on Picture Of The World and Carl on Let Him Go – who are handed the task of delivering.
It was my wife who, in between tolerating my own childish glee at being at the show and in truth appreciating it all herself, who asked the most pertinent question of the day. As good as Go!Go!Go! are as a children’s show, how can they function in an adult world? I think the answer to that is simply for now they have no immediate need to at all. The next logical step is for the show to become a fully fledged children’s series. All it needs is a high profile commission from a channel such as Cbeebies, CITV or Milkshake and the adventures of Go!Go!Go! can become a multi-part series, each one showcasing a song and a performance. From there it is a straightforward leap to mainstream attention and popularity. It is the S Club 7 template which is the one to bear in mind here. They may well have invaded the charts from nowhere in the summer of 1999 but for their initial target audience they had already been on TV screens for several weeks beforehand, leading to a huge rush of people who wanted to get their hands on the theme song. If Wake Up Smiling and their ilk are to ever become proper hits, this will be the route that they take.
That said, and the reason why I’m so happy to keep cheerleading for them, the pop songs in the show, penned by Mike Stock and Steve Crosby are so powerfully good it is just wrong for them to be hidden away on a TV channel pitched at toddlers. I couldn’t help but note the pre-show musical playlist which was essentially the full catalogue of Mike Stock’s greatest song-writing hits as it ran through the opus of Kylie, Steps and even the Fast Food Rockers. All the Go!Go!Go! songs sit comfortably alongside those more established hits and it seems almost impossible to imagine that pop music this good is destined to remain under the radar forever.
Perhaps it was the one big at the end when the magic was sealed for everyone. Most shows end with a curtain call and the performers heading off to the dressing room. Not this one. Go!Go!Go! took their bows and announced they were now available for photos and autographs, exiting the stage through the audience to take up station in the bar at the back of the theatre. The one to one experience wasn’t just for the privileged you see, everyone who wanted to could meet their heroes and take away their own souvenir of the day, the blizzard of Facebook and Instagram shots which followed each show of the tour indicating that large numbers of people did just that.
Perhaps you are reading this piece in the months to come, wondering whether to invest in a ticket for any more Go!Go!Go! live shows that might be scheduled in the coming months. I can say unequivocally and with true feeling that yes you absolutely should.
Hats off to the best set of entertainers it has ever been my privilege to know. Once more I cannot wait to see what happens next.