Stand-up super-star Peter Kay’s last solo show (The Tour That Doesn’t Tour) culminated with the daft sight of the comedian impersonating Freddie Mercury and singing We Are the Champions.
Though we don’t hear it, Under Pressure would seem the perfect Queen track to accompany his long-awaited follow-up 12 years on, the hiatus protracted by a postponement five years ago for personal reasons. A veil remains drawn over that, though, health-wise, in Better Late Than Never, Kay does comically divulge his medical agonies following the discovery of a kidney stone.
Demand for Friday night's first comeback gig, on the home-turf of Manchester (Kay hails from Bolton), was exorbitant – and this tour is gargantuan, stretching way into 2025. Does he seem daunted? Does he ‘eck.
If he didn’t seem especially fazed – he was left immediately moved by the crowd's reaction. Such is the adulation in which he’s held locally that a prolonged standing ovation left the notably leaner and even frailer-looking comic dabbing away the tears.
“You made me cry. I can’t be doing jokes now,” he said, removing his jacket after leaning on his side-table for emotional support. “I love you too, in ways you’ll never know. I’ve been looking forward to this for five years.”
Anyone worrying that his funny bones would be creakier than usual need rest assured: Kay delivers the goods all over again, albeit they’re remarkably similar to what came before – the package he offers being one of comfort not edgy challenge.
Here again is a roving camera, picking out funny looking audience-members, with quick-fire corny gags, too. “Sugar's the devil now,” he says, launching straight into a section about old TV theme-tunes and TV ads, and the catchy jingles that pushed unwholesome sugar on kids. He sings some of them – “A Mars a day”, Cadbury's “Finger of Fudge is Just Enough”, Club chocolate biscuits – with those in the crowd old enough to remember joining in, as if we've suddenly been transported to a nostalgia hour on a mighty cruise-ship.
There's a surprisingly personal segment on “d-ck pix” and the odd tart barb – a propos joining Ed Sheeran and Rolf Harris at the Queen's golden jubilee he jokes: “I was stood in between a busker and a fiddler.”
But, in the main, this is his most sugary evening to-date. There are affectionate reminiscences about former odd-jobs, including as a steward at this selfsame arena, mingled with gossipy anecdotes about coaxing Eric Clapton to sign a woefully cheap guitar and the times he has been caught with no clothes on.
There are in-jokes about “garlic bread”, and a tribute to his dear-departed, malapropistic “nan”. Yes, mild incredulous concern is expressed about blights of the modern world – online shopping, mobile phone addiction, and so on – but you’d never know there’s a war on.
And that’s the point – the evening climaxes in more misheard pop lyrics and a preposterous sing-along, the high-flying details of which Kay wants us to keep mum about. He’s a kind of surrogate mother figure himself, making us feel safe as houses. It’s good to have him back.
Tour info: peterkay.co.uk/