CHRIS Rea returned to the region this week to open his new Road Songs For Lovers tour at the City Hall on Monday before relocating across the river the following evening to a sold out Sage Gateshead.

Rea’s personal health struggles including pancreatic cancer and peritonitis are well documented and have provided his very own road to hell these last two decades.

The once burly figure from Teesside is now wiry and lean and looks almost lost in his baggy jeans and t-shirt, but what hasn’t changed is the superb slide playing which makes him one of those guitarists recognisable within a few bars of hearing him on the radio.

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Opening his set strongly with a rousing Last Open Road he was soon into the new material with Happy On The Road and Nothing Left Behind.

The “road” featured heavily throughout the set – other songs performed included a superb version of Stony Road, The Road Ahead, Easy Rider and, of course, The Road to Hell. You don’t need to scratch far below the surface of many of Rea’s songs to detect a theme of constant searching and travelling.

His more poppy hits including both Josephine and Julia were scattered throughout the set, and a tender version of Stainsby Girls was followed by both parts of The Road to Hell. On The Beach and Let’s Dance rounded the evening off in fine fashion.

Those who have seen Rea before know he is not one for small talk with his audience and while there’s a good case for just letting the music do the talking over a two-hour show it can make for a rather impersonal experience.

But this is a minor niggle - we weren’t there for the wisecracks but to witness the return of one of the region’s finest musicians do what he does best.

Dave Lawrence