Girls Aloud review – a glorious pop institution still calling the shots

Eleven years have passed since Girls Aloud performed together as a five-piece for the final time, but adoration has endured in the interim – perhaps even intensified in the glow of 00s nostalgia. The group not only hauled themselves out of TV talent show Popstars: the Rivals, but then had 20 back-to-back UK Top 10 hits, four of them chart-toppers. As well as the strength of their voices, and their bubbly and even occasionally lairy personalities, their acclaim came from collaborations with Xenomania, the production team who took 60s girl group tropes and kitsch, and warped them through 21st-century sonics.

One of the quintet, the effervescent Sarah Harding, died of complications from breast cancer in September 2021, at the age of 39. Devastated by the death of their bandmate and friend, plans to mark Girls Aloud’s 20th anniversary were paused.

But hard-won celebration rather than sober mourning is the central mood of 30-date arena tour The Girls Aloud Show. The jubilant audience, a sea of twinkling sequined outfits and parents dancing with their Girls Aloud-inculcated children, eagerly anticipate the four-piece who are fashionably late. The curtain falls, revealing Nadine Coyle, Cheryl Tweedy, Kimberly Walsh and Nicola Roberts on tall podiums, as the latter takes the lead with Untouchable, taken from their fifth and final album, Out of Control (from 2008).

Girls Aloud, with Sarah Harding on screen. Photograph: Tom Dymond/REX/Shutterstock

An unexpected opener – the only one of their singles not to go Top 10 in the UK – it quickly makes sense as visuals of Sarah Harding appear on enormous screens watching over the arena. In light of the group’s grief, several songs, including this one (“I need you here again to show me how”) feel all the more relevant to their story. Its roaring reception intensifies when the beat of The Show drops and the foursome are lowered to the stage, launching into a lively routine. It’s a strong first act – with the exception of some first-night vocal jitters from each member – featuring thrilling performances of Something New, Love Machine, Can’t Speak French and Biology.

Those early nerves soon dissipate, with Roberts’ solos proving to be the strongest and Coyle’s the most show-bizzy. Walsh and Tweedy also do well in their moments in the spotlight, but the group remain at their best when they come together to belt out irresistibly harmonised choruses. Along with playful banter from Tweedy (warning fans in the pit they might need to catch her if she falls off stage) and heartfelt appreciation from Walsh to the Irish crowd, the first show sets off firmly on the right foot.

Harding continues to be present via the screens that act as large-scale digital scrapbooks of their music videos. With Whole Lotta History, Roberts tells the crowd how they had “no idea how poignant this song would become in our journey,” when they recorded it back in 2005. In the song’s final moments, a montage of Harding plays with the four members facing her, embracing before exiting for the first of four costume changes. The tribute ends with the message: “The darkest nights produce the brightest stars.”

Tenacious and tender … Girls Aloud. Photograph: David Fisher/REX/Shutterstock

Their return brings comic relief as they appear suspended in the air, straddling motorbikes (one of many inspired moments in the tour’s creative direction) for Wake Me Up. Safe landings secured, they seamlessly transition into their electrifying debut single Sound Of The Underground, complete with a re-enactment of the mic-stand choreography to the deafening approval of the audience.

Euphoric cheers are constant, reaching an apex for a singalong to I’ll Stand By You and a confetti shower for Jump. But the biggest reception is saved for the encore of The Promise, a song with a sparkle that – much like the tenacious and tender group singing it – has never dimmed.


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