“There’s a fuck of a lot of people here!”: Tears for Fears at the O2 arena

“This is the biggest venue we’ve ever played in the UK!”

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A tweet from our columnist Ian Leslie linking to a review of a Tears For Fears (henceforth TFF) gig in Liverpool piqued my interest: “Reading this review, with its list of indelible songs, reminded me what an incredible band they were. I didn’t realise it at the time.” I used to like TFF in the 1980s but never enough to buy their records (they weren’t quite cool enough for my vinyl “collection”). Last year my old friend Matthew – a fellow “futurist” back in the day – invited me down to Brighton for a TFF gig. But it was cancelled after the death of singer-songwriter Roland Orzabal’s wife and I couldn’t make the rearranged date.

And now, on a whim, here we are at the charmless O2 arena waiting for Roland and Curt Smith – two guys from Bath who fleetingly in the mid-1980s ruled the pop world – to put on a show. “This is the biggest venue we’ve ever played in the UK,” Orzabal says when he arrives. “There’s a fuck of a lot of people here! Thank you for waiting.” When his fellow singer-songwriter Smith spoke, his American-ish accent reminded us that he left these islands long ago to settle in California, as one does.

Influenced by Japan, Joy Division and Gary Numan, TFF started out experimenting with austere electronics and singing songs of youthful alienation: “Mad World”, “Pale Shelter”, “Change”. But they could also write sweet melodies and catchy, anthemic choruses. They rode the MTV wave and, like many British bands of the era, had serious success in America: “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and “Shout” both reached number one in 1985. 

In London, for one night only, they played a tightly syncopated 90-minute set and enjoyed themselves. Yet how strange it must be in your late fifties to be performing songs you wrote mostly in your early twenties, even if your audience has aged with you and seems utterly delighted to be reminded of how it once felt to be so young. 

Tears For Fears
O2 Arena, London SE10

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.

This article appears in the 15 February 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The revolution that fuelled radical Islam