MORE than 40 years ago, an idea conceived by Birmingham musician Roy Wood resulted in the formation of a band known as the Electric Light Orchestra, aka ELO.
This band, taken over and nurtured by Jeff Lynne, became one of the most remarkable success stories in pop music history.
Between 1972 and 1986, ELO enjoyed 26 Top 40 hits in the United Kingdom, and 20 Top 40 hits in the United States including 20, Top 20 smashes in the UK and 15 Top 20 smashes in the US.
Today, their timeless classics are being brought back to life by some of their biggest fans: The ELO Experience.
At the helm is Andy Louis, who loves his dream job.
Speaking about what theatre-goers can expect when he and the rest of the band take to the Empire stage on Saturday, he said: “The audience can expect two hours of memory lane stuff, all the great songs from ELO.
“It will feature every hit you know as well as ones you don’t. There’s also a lot of songs people know, but they don’t realise they are ELO songs.
“There’s also a lot of fun in the show, we don’t take ourselves too seriously.”
The original band’s global success was proven when at the height of their popularity the band set out on a nine-month, 92-date world tour.
In the United States the concerts were billed as “The Big Night” and were their largest to date, with 80,000 people seeing them at Cleveland Stadium.
The band also played at Wembley Arena for eight straight sold-out nights during the tour, a record at that time.
The ELO Experience draw upon their heroes’ extensive back catalogue and perform tracks live with strings and harmonies.
Explaining how the tribute act came to be, Andy said: “I had always sung in pubs and clubs as a hobby. I love ELO and their music means a lot to me as it’s what was playing when I was growing up, but you couldn’t go anywhere to hear it live anymore, it was only on records.
“I got some mates together and we played a few places before my corporate career took over and we stopped playing.
“Then, I got into my 40s, and thought – if I don’t do it now, it will never happen.
“Then, out of the blue, one of the guys got in contact with me.
“That was eight years ago and the response has been fantastic. The music stands on its own, but we put a lot of work into it.
“If people spend their hard-earned money on our show, we want to make sure we give them a good time.”
He added: “I think the reason ELO is so popular is that Jeff Lynne is a genius and did so many great tunes and the band captured the moment in the 70s and 80s. The music he wrote is so catchy and melodic too.”
The act have now been playing theatre venues for five years and this will be their second time playing at the Sunderland Empire.
“We’re looking forward to coming up to the North East,” said Andy. “I used to do a job as an area manager which brought me up to the region and the people always have a sense of humour.
“You’ve got to be good though or they tell you in no uncertain terms that you’re not.”
Fans can expect to hear ELO classics on the night including Wild West Hero, Hold on Tight, Shine a Little Love, Confusion, It’s a Living Thing, The Diary of Horace Wimp, Sweet Talkin’ Woman, Telephone Line, Don’t Bring Me Down, Turn to Stone and of course – Mr Blue Sky.
Andy said: “I don’t have favourites, but I really enjoy playing Mr Blue Sky, that’s our finale number on stage. We still have to pinch ourselves that this is what we do for a living. We’ve been round the block and we’re doing something that we love.
“ELO were fantastic and if you’re passionate about something and you know you have a good product, you work really hard and you shout it from the rooftops.”
* The ELO Experience is at the Sunderland Empire on Saturday. For tickets, priced £19, call 0844 871 3022 or book online at www.ATGtickets.com/Sunderland.
* For more information on the band visit www.elotribute.com