ELO man Jeff Lynne on upcoming Irish gigs, his music and new DVD
Jeff Lynne's ELO return to Ireland next year – 25 years after The Electric Light Orchestra were infamously banned from Ballymena – for gigs in Dublin and Belfast. With their new Wembley or Bust CD/DVD out now, David Roy quizzed Birmingham-born musical legend Lynn about playing huge stadium and festival gigs, his band's multi-generational appeal and what the future holds
ICONIC hit-makers ELO return to Ireland next year as part of a huge tour, the band's first proper run of live dates to involve original frontman and songwriter in chief Jeff Lynne for over 30 years.
Infamously banned from Ballymena in the interim – in 1993 a planned ELO gig at the town’s showgrounds was called off due to a protest by rock and roll-fearing councillors – the band’s ongoing revival can be traced back to one key moment in 2014. The date was September 14 and the location was London’s Hyde Park, where the newly minted Jeff Lynne’s ELO were making their first festival appearance for three decades as headliners of the BBC Radio 2 Festival In A Day.
Fifty-thousand excited fans were waiting to hear selections from ELO's impressive catalogue of hits such as Mr Blue Sky, Livin' Thing, Evil Woman and Don't Bring Me Down.
However, despite his long and distinguished career in the music business with Roy Wood's 1960s rockers The Move, the chart-conquering ELO (26 top 40 hits and 50 million records sold world-wide) and as an acclaimed producer for top talents like Brian Wilson, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty – the latter trio also joined his 1980s 'supergroup' The Travelling Wilburys – Birmingham-born singer/guitarist Lynne admits that he was worried that the huge crowd would have dispersed by the time his re-activated group took to the stage.
"I was frightened to death," he says of the momentous show which relaunched ELO as a live act. "It had been 30 years since I'd done a big outdoor thing like that. When I peeked around the curtain [backstage], I was like 'Gordon Bennett – are they all going to be there still when we're on?'
"I thought they might have gone home, because it was a festival and there was a lot of other groups on. I didn't know if they were there to see us or all the other lot.
"But anyway, it turned out that they did wait to see us – and they were fantastic. It inspired me to carry on doing bigger things."
And indeed he did: in November 2015, Jeff Lynne's ELO put out a new album, Alone in the Universe. The band's first new record for 14 years hit number four in the album chart, confirming that a legion of fans were still hungry for their distinctive prog-pop sound.
Tours were duly booked, including a pair of Dublin dates at 3Arena in May last year, a warmly received appearance at Glastonbury 2016 and another landmark live London engagement at Wembley Stadium in June 2017, which came just a couple of months after ELO's induction into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The Wembley show was recorded for posterity as the new CD/DVD package Wembley or Bust, released in October. Lynne has fond memories of the band's biggest ever gig in the English capital – even though he once again admits to suffering a bout of pre-gig nerves.
"I was a little worried," says the ELO leader, who turns 70 later this month. "But our fans are the best, because they not only showed up, they sang along with all their hearts. I will never forget standing on stage, looking at that audience and hearing the sound of 60,000 of them singing my tunes – and sounding great, I might add.
"After that, I wasn't nervous at all. We had a wonderful night and I played for two hours and 23 songs, the longest I'd ever played. I loved it, every minute of it."
Having originally formed ELO as The Electric Light Orchestra in 1970 with fellow Move men Bev Bevan and Roy Wood (who departed in 1972), the band released 11 LPs between 1971 and 1986, including the chart-toppers Discovery (1979) and Time (1980).
ELO disbanded in 1986, with the group enjoying a Lynne-less revival under drummer Bevan's direction as ELO Part II during the 1990s.
However, Lynne regained sole control of the ELO name in 2000, overseeing a series of re-issues and releasing a pair of new ELO studio albums, the aforementioned Alone in The Universe and 2001's Zoom.
The frontman even re-recorded his band's key moments for the 2012 compilation Mr Blue Sky: The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra, which hit number eight on the chart.
With their songs still a fixture on radio playlists today, ELO currently boast a fanbase which spans their original devotees from the 1970s right through to enthusiasts of a more millennial vintage.
This multi-generational appeal is something that Lynne is currently thriving on, as he explains:
"At Wembley, there was three generations: there was all the old rockers, then there was their kids – and then there was their kids. And they were all singing every word.
"That's the amazing part of it that makes you want to carry on."
As it turns out, we're lucky that Jeff Lynne is still around to 'carry on' at all: he was badly electrocuted during a Move show in Ireland many years ago, which might have ended his career before it even got properly started.
Luckily, the ELO man survived and doesn't hold a grudge against us – indeed, he's able to look back and laugh at the potentially lethal incident.
"It used to happen all the time!" he chuckles.
"We had a roadie who didn't really know how to wire up the amps and the PA in sync with each other. I had this thing where I used to leave little 'danglers' of string on the head of my guitar so I could touch them on the mic and see what the potential difference in power was.
"I did this one night and it went 'BANG!'. The whole place went pitch black until someone found a torch. I turned to Roy Wood and said, 'whadda think of that?' – all six strings had completely melted."
While the current live show is a celebration of ELO's impressive collection of hits, rumours abound that Lynne has also been hard at work on a brand new ELO release.
"I've already started on the next album," he confirms. "I've got about six songs ready. That might be ready towards the end of this year, although I have got a few other things I've got to do as well – like knock my house down.
"My studio is in the house, so it's a bit awkward. But I'll find some way of finishing it for you."
More power to him.
:: ELO, October 25 2018, 3Area, Dublin / October 26, SSE Arena, Belfast. Tickets on sale now via Ticketmaster outlets. Wembley or Bust is out now.