IT was 15 years since he had last been on tour - but fans could have been forgiven for thinking George Michael had never been away.

He is one of the most enduring icons in world music and showed a 15,000-strong devoted crowd just why at the MEN Arena in Manchester last night.

Tickets for last night's performance - the first of three on consecutive nights - were snapped up within hours of going on sale in April and were changing hands for as much as £150.

Anybody who paid top whack would have been entitled to think it money well spent.

The 43-year-old rolled back the years with a string of hits from his long solo career and going back as far as the 1980s days of Wham!

Michael's ability to switch from the down-tempo ballads like Jesus to a Child to the camp pop of Too Funky and Outside was impressive.

Dressed in a black suit and black shirt, he opened a near three-hour performance with Flawless and Fast Love before telling the crowd: "I have been nervous about this for months."

But any anxiety didn't show as he delivered a mature performance.

The Londoner delivered favourites including My Mother had a Brother and Spinning the Wheel.

Michael pinned his anti-war colours to the mast when a huge inflatable of US president George Bush was unveiled on the stage during Shoot the Dog.

After a brief interlude, he returned to the stage and finished with an energetic string of hits including Faith, Amazing, Careless Whisper, Freedom, and the Wham classic I'm Your Man.

In February, 2005, Michael announced that his pop career was over.

His recording career might have peaked but few fans who saw him last night could argue that his current live form has ever been surpassed.

It seems that none of his very public misdemeanours have ever put so much as a dent in the singer's popularity, which has snowballed since the days when he and Andrew Ridgeley had a string of 1980s hits as Wham!

With a performance like that, fans will be hoping they don't have to wait another 15 years to see him again.