Roderick Stewart doesn’t seem to do many things by halves. This month, the singer proudly unveiled his model train set, a 124 ft long epic based on postwar Manhattan and Chicago that has taken him 23 years to build. He is on his third marriage (to Penny Lancaster, since 2007), is a father of eight children by five mothers, has made 31 studio albums and sold more than 120m records. Here, he performs for more than two hours and – while he sits down (on a chair labelled “Sir Rod”) for the acoustic section – seems to have as much energy left for the raucous encore of the Faces’ Stay With Me as he has for the opening 80s cruise through Some Guys Have All The Luck.
The crowd are marvelling at the 74-year-old’s fine shape when he reveals he’s not even the oldest Stewart in the building: “My brother Don is in the audience. He’s 90! Good old Don!” The singer’s face is all smiles and emotion and he’s not always this engaged in singing. That he’s in the mood becomes apparent as he states: “It’s going to be a good one, this. I can feel it.” And so it proves.
There’s a Celtic instrumental, superb video screens, a version of Fleetwood Mac’s Go Your Own Way sung by his troupe of female musicians and a sombre dedication to those who lost lives in the D-day landings. His numerous costume changes rifle through everything from a punk rock boating blazer to garish gold shoes that appear to have been borrowed from the genie in a nearby performance of Aladdin. Some 23 songs hurtle through his songbook, from his very first album, 1969’s An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down to 2018’s Blood Red Roses.
Bizarrely, he seems surprised that this audience know Dirty Old Town, from his debut album, even though Ewan MacColl wrote it about adjoining Salford, but he remembers Manchester’s Twisted Wheel, “where I started my career. It’s probably a Starbucks now”. Before Hambone Willie Newbern and Sunnyland Slim’s Rollin’ and Tumblin’ he observes that “all of us who came through in the 60s – Elton, Bowie, the Stones – listened to the blues” and he turns history teacher again to introduce Irish republican song, Grace, about Easter Rising leader Joseph Plunkett, who faced a firing squad 15 minutes after marrying his sweetheart, Grace, in jail.
There are, of course, classics. “Ronnie Wood and I recorded this in 1972. It took two bottles of wine and two takes,” he chuckles, pouring soul into Etta James’s I’d Rather Go Blind. He reveals that his sublime 1976 hit, The Killing of Georgie (Part I and II), about a gay friend’s homophobic murder, was “banned by the BBC. Fuck ‘em!”
The singer’s famous rasp starts raspier than ever but gets better and better as the pipes warm up and he’s flying by You Wear It Well and a new, more orchestrated Maggie May. An acoustic section of heartbreak ballads – The First Cut Is the Deepest, I Don’t Want to Talk About It and the rest – is magical, and You’re in My Heart becomes one of many singalongs.
If there is a dip, it’s disco era grind Da Ya Think I’m Sexy. Stewart appears bored by now and the song is partly drowned out by the loud bangs from the exploding balloons that are falling from the ceiling. By contrast, he sings Sailing like he recorded it yesterday. The audience’s bellowing is louder than most football crowds, and the septuagenarian’s accurate parting verdict is: “That was fuckin’ great!”