Sunday, November 29, 2009

I have had two theatrical excursions in the past few days that, of course, must be shared with you Constant Reader....

On Wednesday I made my first trip to the Menier Chocolate Factory since I was interviewed for a box office job there. Three productions have been and gone since then so I feel enough water has passed under London Bridge. And as no other theatre has felt the urge to revive SWEET CHARITY I guess it's time to return...

Indeed it was the lure of seeing Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields' classic 1966 musical on stage for the first time that had me back on the purgatorial banquettes. I have seen the film countless times and have enjoyed both the soundtrack and the 1967 London cast recording with Juliet Prowse as Charity and the magnificent Josephine Blake as Nickie but the stage version was unknown to me.

It's last London incarnation was in 1998 at the Victoria Palace in a short-lived production starring Bonnie Langford which amazingly didn't have me laying siege to the box office for a ticket and the only other opportunity to see the show was in 2005 when Christina Applegate was appearing in a revival on Broadway. There were still tickets available the evening Owen and I checked into our hotel but we eventually decided food and a snooze were higher up the agenda. So it was with a sigh of relief that the lights dimmed around me, Owen and Angela and the Menier band struck up the brassy, swaggering Overture.I had been quietly looking forward to the show but a nagging doubt remained. Last year the Menier misfired bigtime with an awful production of THEY'RE PLAYING OUR SONG which worryingly also had a book by Neil Simon but Matthew White's production was, by and large, a success and I had a great time. I actually think the main problem I had with the show was Neil Simon's book. What was rib-tickling 43 years ago doesn't always raise a smile now and I felt it was definitely time for a revision. But then I have never been a huge fan of his writing. He does however come into his own with the exchanges in the Fandango Ballroom - "We don't dance, we defend ourselves to music".

Luckily Cy Coleman's memorable score and Dorothy Fields' tart, gimlet-eyed lyrics save the day - it's remarkable the show isn't revived more often with show-stoppers like "Big Spender", "If My Friends Could See Me Now", "There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This" and "Rhythm of Life". Surprisingly they lost out on a Tony Award to the dour MAN OF LA MANCHA.

Although it seems just plain wrong for the "Rich Man's Frug" not to be danced to Bob Fosse's ice-cool choreography, Steven Mears' does a fine job in this and all the other routines.

Director Matthew White keeps the show moving at a rare clip and has given all the scenes in the Fandango Ballroom an air of quiet desperation and barely-disguised menace - none more so in the scene when a new girl appears among the hardened and disillusioned taxi dancers.

The main surprise of the evening has to be Tamzin Outhwaite as Charity. Although maybe not as obviously sympathetic as her character should be, she more than holds her own in the dance numbers and has a nice singing voice. I guess it was a surprise as since her departure from 'Eastenders' she has worked consistantly on television in humourless tv series where she has been a sort of televisual Barbie - army Tamzin, hotel manager Tamzin, doctor Tamzin etc. But here she is very watchable and easily navigates the more time-worn elements of Simon's script.
She is more than ably abetted by Josefina Gabrielle and Tiffany Graves as Nickie and Helene, the dancehall hostesses closest to Charity. Although they both appear to be channelling their previous roles as Velma and Roxie in CHICAGO, they both bring a heady waft of hard-bitten world weariness to the Fandango scenes and their "Big Spender" was deliciously aggressive.
In a nice casting decision all the men in Charity's life are played by the same actor, suggesting how she keeps making the same mistake. Mark Umbers plays in order of appearance: a menacing Charlie, a suave Vittorio Vidal and a panicky Oscar. The character of Oscar is so underwritten by Simon that you need an actor with bags of charm to carry the role off and Umbers has exactly that, making the ending all the sadder when Oscar denies Charity her happy ending.

The always dependable Paul J. Medford was a suave lead male dancer in the "Rich Man's Frug" and in the second half stopped the show as Big Daddy Brubeck with a fantastic "Rhythm Of Life" wearing an afro wig that had a life all it's own!

Jack Edwards was a ribald Herman, the commandant of the ballroom, and belted out a fine "I Love To Cry At Weddings". The ensemble doubled and tripled up to fine effect and a special mention must be made of the statuesque Ebony Molina who turned it OUT as the lead dancer in the "Rich Man's Frug" wearing a dress that made her a human glitter ball!

Although I doubt whether it will continue the pattern of Menier Christmas shows that then transfer into the West End - SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC - it's a production that brims with - well, the rhythm of Broadway life and is well worth seeing so get booking now!

I'm not sure whether the decision to stage SWEET CHARITY, which is based on Fellini's film "Le Notti di Cabiria", was decided upon to tie-in with the cinema release of Rob Marshall's screen version of NINE, the musical of Fellini's "8 1/2" but it's a strange twist of fate if not. Or as Charity would have it "The fickle finger of fate".
I must admit, the closer it gets to it's release the more I want to see it!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

You know how it is Constant Reader... you just get fed up looking at the same four walls.

So Owen and I had a nice 24 hour visit to Paris a fortnight ago!
Needless to say Paris kept up it's reputation as being as overcast as it has been the two previous times I visited. I must say up until now I have never really *got* Paris - I suspect it's because, thanks to Eurostar, I never really feel I have travelled somewhere... I just remain in 'city' mode. However this time I felt some of it's charm remained with me. I am now quite handy in getting about the city too which helps.Our base was the lovely Hotel Scribe which is two streets away from the Opera Garnier. It was the former home of the Jockey Club and hopefully we will be revisiting it one day. We were hardly there though as Owen had decided that this trip was all about the art!
So we hit the ground running and ended up at Lady Louvre. We decided to go for the most obvious wing, the Denon as that appeared to hold most of the Must-See works of art.
Now we had only been once before... to have a sandwich and a cup of tea in the cafe and whizz round the shop! So it was nice to actually see something this time other than the admittedly fabulous entrance hall under the pyramid!

We plunged ker-plop into so many hundreds of years of art. Bugger me, there's binloads of it in there! The best laid plans of Meissen men crumble when faced with rooms and corridors jam-packed with European paintings. There were so many paintings to try and take in so eventually I ended up just drifting along, stopping occasionally when something caught my eye. There is a jaw-dropping corridor in the wing which runs down the Seine side of the building which you could just imagine a Bourbon
Roi sweeping along it surrounded by fawning courtiers. I did my best to sweep but the place was mobbed.

We saw big paintings, small paintings, famous paintings and ones that the world wouldn't mourn if they were used as enormous jotting pads... yes that's your lot Guido Reni!

We walked the length of the corridor until we worked out that we had missed the turning to "the shrine". We doubled back and about halfway down we found the room and took our place in the four-deep ever-moving crowd of people in front of a painting by Leonardo da Vinci...
It was a very strange experience - staring at this iconic painting which has been reinterpreted
ad infinitum. And you know what? Despite being kept behind a barrier quite a way from the painting protected by a 6 inch glass pane, I understood why she has held our gaze and attention for over 400 years. I also had an audible chuckle over the constant whirr and buzz of cameras... like.. you are all going to be buying the postcard in the shop ANYWAY!!!

Of course the Denon wing is also home to another icon of feminine perfection... luckily these two Divas are kept apart - goodness only knows what would kick off if they ever met!

From there we wandered around the Sculpture Hall and out for a much-needed cake and Diet Coke. It also gave us a chance to nominate the three items we would put in our shopping trolley - mine oddly enough were all from the Sculpture Hall....Then we had a lengthy poke around the shop which oddly isn't all that. It's more an upmarket gift shop - as if the mere thought of having a nodding Mona Lisa would affront the famous Parisian sensibilities. Luckily in the bright and airy Carousel shopping arcade there is a gift shop which is much more
comme il faut.

After all the classic art it was time for something a little bit more contemporary. We walked over to the Centre Pompidou to have a look at the permanent collection of 20th Century modern art and we were treated to yet another jaw-dropping space but as it was later in the day on a Monday night it was less crowded so easier to walk around and take time over certain exhibits. Again there was a lot that it was very easy to glide by but I enjoyed wandering around every so often being confronted by a famous work that truly justified it's status.By the end we were both tres fatigues so we went on a quick sniff around Les Halles in search of grub and found a charming bistro
Au Père Fouettard where we successfully negotiated the menu to get something vegetarian for Owen to eat. Over our dinner I nominated the three things I wanted in my shopping trolley from the Pompidou - a Calder mobile, a Leon Bakst costume design for Nijinsky as "Dieu Bleu" and a Giselle Freund portrait of Virginia Woolf.
On the whole I enjoyed the space and the collection but the building itself left me a bit cold... although I'd definitely like another go on the snaking outside escalator and the great view from the top of M. Eiffel's gift to the city....Then it was back to the Scribe for a well-deserved sleep... that was until we saw, peeping around the back of the Opera Garnier, the full-on wow-factor of the Galeries Lafayette - NOW I've seen the City of Light! The animatronic teddy-bears and gingerbread man in the Xmas windows were good fun too!

So after a restless night - don't go there - we started a bit late for our Tuesday morning and afternoon. Sadly The Louvre is closed on Tuesdays but luckily that gave me time to wander around the dvd section of the subterranean Virgin Records - I bought Truffaut's DAY FOR NIGHT which isn't available here - and yes I DID check it had sous titres dans Anglais. We then stopped for the obligatory inverted pyramid shot which is handily outside the Virgin Records...
but not before witnessing the glorious sight of some dozy mare walking towards it gawping up at the pyramid, bumping into the little stone pyramid underneath it and smacking her gob off the glass.

Constant Reader, I pissed myself.

After that we had a calming walk through the monotonous charm of the Tuileries and decided to chance our arm with a quick look around the Musee d'Orsay on the Left Bank.
Of course as it was open and the Louvre was shut there was a long queue to get in and the place was again mobbed but once inside and seeing the main hall I was
tres jolie. I raced up to the top floor - no mean feat - only to find that the gallery that held the Seurat works closed and no indication where they had been moved to - you knobtetes!

I had such a
visage on me I HAD to have something to eat so we had tea and cakey in the rather fabulous cafe situated behind the right-hand clockface - needless to say it was a popular little eaterie.
We then had a quick wander around the Impressionist galleries - more bloody god-awful Sisleydaubes than you could wave a match at but there were some truly impressive works there which again, caught me unawares to be seeing them actually there... in the paint in front of me... and looking so much better than any reproduction.Time was catching up with us though and so we made a concerted effort to find the small but priceless collection of van Gogh paintings... needless to say we should have just headed to where there was the smallest room and the biggest crowd! Again I had to laugh out loud as people jostled each other to get their friends to take their photo in front of the famous self-portrait - truly a male Mona Lisa! Owen luckily had time to commune with a painting which he has long wanted to see - "The Church at Auvers-Sur-Oise".Then we whizzed around the impressive museum shop - the only annoying thing was the absence of a handy Musee d'Orsay "Greatest Hits" type paperback as opposed to large coffee table books or the door-stop catalogue. The d'Orsay is, once again, a wonderful gallery which would be great to revisit.It was a tough choice - but the three items I would like to take away in my shopping trolley from the Musee d'Orsay would be van Gogh's portrait of Dr. Gachet, Carolus-Duran's "Le Convalescent" and Caillebotte's realist masterpiece "Les Raboteurs de Parquet".
Then we had two more treats left - a quick hop on an always grin-inducing double-decker train to get us back up to Opera to dive into the wonderful confectioners La Cure Gourmande which we had wandered into the day before and been force-fed The most amazing strawberry biscuits! We stocked up an enormous paper bag full of different flavoured biscuits for our dinner on the Eurostar and headed off to Gare Du Nord.
All this and I never got to visit Jean Seberg's grave in the lovely cemetery in Montparnasse as I have done on my previous Parisian jaunts. I'll have to go twice next time to make up.

Yes I think Paris has finally won me over.

And finally...

...the enigmatic smile of the timeless beauty that thousands have looked on in awe.
And some Italian mystery in a painting.

Monday, November 16, 2009

No wonder there was such a downpour on Saturday night as lightning definitely struck twice in Hammersmith earlier with more exposure to the glories of the Motown Divas!

Owen had splashed out on VIP front-row stalls tickets which saw us whisked up to a small room with a free bar - excuse me people - with our fellow front-rowers and we speculated on what treats we were going to be given by our heroes of song!

We were escorted down to the stalls - eeek! - and the show started with Jack Ashford strolling onto the stage playing his tambourine - those in the know gave him the ovation he deserved and the show was off and rolling.

Jack and his excellent Funk Brothers band under the eye of keyboardist John Shipley gave us a few numbers to get us warmed up and again we were treated to great vocals by (I think!) Valencia Robinson and Al/Art (??) and Jeneane Cranert. It would have been nice for them to be introduced along with the other musicians.
As with the Jazz Cafe, the first guest onstage was Mable John, this time dressed in a resplendent white lace gown. She sang her four songs from the earlier show - MY NAME IS MABLE, WHO WOULDN'T LOVE A MAN LIKE THAT, RUNNING OUT and SAME TIME, SAME PLACE - but again she did them with a great charismatic authority that made it impossible to watch anyone but her onstage - it's not every 79 year-old who could chat up her musicians - and be believable while she was doing it!! She exited the stage to a rapturous, standing ovation.Surprisingly next up was Brenda Holloway who had closed the Jazz Cafe show. Brenda was eye-popping in a low-cut silk dress of flounces and frills (on more flounces and frills) but she gave a non-flouncy performance which dripped with class and pure solid soul! I'm still not sure what her opening number is but she followed it up with pure classic Motown: OPERATOR, WHEN I'M GONE, a full-on torch version of EVERY LITTLE BIT HURTS and an uplifting YOU MADE ME SO VERY HAPPY. Like Mabel, she connected effortlessly with the audience, seemingly making the Hammersmith auditorium into an intimate space. Needless to say she exited to a delirious standing ovation.Jack then said when he met the next singer again for this tour he assumed it was her daughter - silver-tongued devil! He introduced onto the stage my own favorite Chris Clark. It was great to see her sneak on from the wings to a huge cheer. She performed the same set as at the Jazz Cafe - LOVE'S GONE BAD, DO RIGHT BABY DO RIGHT, I WANT TO GO BACK THERE AGAIN and DO I LOVE YOU (INDEED I DO) and looked magnificent dressed all in black, which set off her mane of white-blonde hair wonderfully. "Gee this is a big stage" Chris informed us and indeed most of her set was performed closer to the band than the mike stand! Again she was wonderfully 'herself' on stage - grinning from ear to ear, saying a heartfelt thanks to the fans for keeping the music and the performers alive and viable as well as complementing Mabel and Brenda on their stagecraft.

It was fab to see Chris on the large stage where she - as well as Mable and Brenda - deserved to be! She left the stage during the gospel wig-out coda to DO I LOVE YOU so quickly the audience were just getting to their feet but Jack called her out again and she stood and waved by the wings - bless!

We scooted back up to our VIP room for more free booze and a free poster - in lieu of the non-existent brochure - then it was back for more from Jack and his Funkateers then on with the guests: Scherrie Payne and Lynda Laurence are former members of The Supremes and they were joined onstage by Joyce Vincent who used to sing with 70s group Dawn - well she IS from Detroit.Now as you all know I saw the first - and best - line-up of the 1970s Supremes twice on that very stage so it was with mixed feelings that I sat through their repertoire (the longest of the evening). Poor Lynda Laurence has had my evil eye on her for 30+ years as she took over from Cindy Birdsong thus ending my favorite Supremes line-up and she had an oddly strident voice - Scherrie Payne certainly had the better voice of the two. They did an accomplished and polished routine but it was the act I felt the least about. The 1970s Supremes had a great run of hit singles in this country but they only sang STONED LOVE, everything else was from the Diana Ross era. Now I know they *have* to sing these songs but as they had the longest time on stage they could at least have tailored the routine to at least acknowledge the period which saw them employed! No NATHAN JONES, no FLOY JOY, no AUTOMATICALLY SUNSHINE... they were hardly playing to an unknowing audience - as was acknowledged from the stage, we knew the lyrics as well as the artists did! A missed opportunity.Last but not least we had the dynamo that is Thelma Houston who WORKED that stage - she never stopped moving!! I am still racking my brain to remember what her opening number was but she followed it up with SATURDAY NIGHT, SUNDAY MORNING and a Motown megamix which got us to our feet - finally! We stayed there for her final number which was of course DON'T LEAVE ME THIS WAY which was pure disco heaven!!
After that there was nothing more than to get all our Sisters of Soul back on stage for a rousing version of DANCING IN THE STREET - again with Chris retreating towards the back of the stage!! There was a lovely moment when Brenda showed her a few dance steps! Needless to say they were all cheered and applauded with gusto.

Then we were shepherded first back to the VIP room where we hung around for a bit before being ushered back to the circle bar where the after-show was taking place so it wasn't so much a 'Meet and Greet' as a "Hunt The Star" which is hardly the same thing. For some unknown reason wherever I went, there was Ian Levine bending the ears of the artists, reminding them AT LENGTH about where they had met, what he had in his collection, what he was working on etc. etc. I could hardly get a word in edge-ways with Jack Ashford but he signed my book while shooting glances my way as Levine reminded him of some long-forgotten track - I said to Jack "Is your life flashing before your eyes?" to which he replied "You know it".

I also stood patiently with poster outstretched in front of Scherrie Payne while she chatted away to a guy from a small radio station who was trying to get an interview with her. Her young and gushing rep then joined in and demanded a photo of her with the other faux-Supremes and Freda Payne while a Mutual Appreciation Society was formed. Needless to say I didn't wait too longer after that.
However no such problems with Brenda Holloway who was happy to sign whatever what was put in front of her, pose for pictures, answer fans' questions and give out hugs and kisses with abandon - see Scherrie? THAT'S how it's done. Thelma Houston was also very gracious too.And of course... there was Chris Clark. Instantly surrounded by fans, she won hearts as she chatted away like a chatty thing, smiling and signed, posing and laughing. I edged closer and closer to her and her face lit up when she saw me wearing my signed t-shirt from the Jazz Cafe. She signed my poster and I asked her a question. In between the two concerts I had posted a review on a Motown yahoo group and had seen later with amazement that the head of the label that recently re-issued Chris' SOUL SOUNDS album on CD posted a follow-up saying he had spoken to Chris and read her my review! I asked her if he had done this and she told me she loved what I had written and that it had made her day - that made my night!We chatted for quite a while - and Constant Reader, that remains a secret! I am so glad I had a chance to tell these remarkable women how much there music has meant to me and how it continues to delight and move me.

Come back soon!!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

To misquote Diana Ross and The Supremes, some things you do get used to. One of them being that it was very unlikely that I would ever see a couple of my favorite Motown female singers, both in their early 60s, play a London venue.

But one should never stop believing! Last night Owen and I went to the Jazz Cafe for the first of two 50th celebrations of Motown Records we have this week - and both feature the divas in question, Chris Clark and Brenda Holloway. On last night's bill too were Mable John, the first woman ever to be signed to Motown and Jack Ashford, one of the original Funk Brothers who provided the musical backbone to the label's legendary releases.

I kept telling Owen nervously that I didn't believe it was actually going to happen as we sat at the centre table in the gallery looking down onto the stage. But just in case I was wearing a self-made t-shirt of Chris Clark's fabulously va-va-voom cover photo from her album SOUL SOUNDS...Dinner came and went, drinks were sipped nervously... then the musicians appeared behind us and made their way down to the stage followed by three backing singers and finally by the very tall and wide frame of Jack Ashford himself, resplendent in a pink and purple glittery jacket. At 75 he was a bit unsteady on his pins but plonked on his stool beside keyboardist and musical director John Shipley he was soon at home, regaling us with tales from back in the day with a dry wit and a twinkle in his eye. The band then bounced through some Motown classics with Jack making his tambourine SING y'all.For me the least successful part of the show was just after one of the most affecting parts... over an understated piano vamp Jack mentioned each of the original Funk Brothers most of whom have sadly gone. He ended his list with the name of the late and great bassist James Jamerson who was given a huge cheer. This moving tribute was undercut by one of the backing singers giving us a power ballad rendering of the lachrymose Michael Jackson song "Gone Too Soon" - it was particularly icky that she kept turning to Ashford, laying a hand on his sleeve and saying "Jack..." then singing the next line about them being gone like a twinking rainbow in the sky or some such cock. Like... he knows they are gone, I'm sure he went to most of their funerals.

The band left the stage for a quick break and as they walked past the back of our table to the dressing rooms Owen alerted me to the fact that Chris Clark was there watching them - and there she was! The outline of a tall woman dressed all in white with a mass of white blonde hair backlit by the open door behind her - my heart skipped a beat! Soon enough Jack walked past us again followed by the diminutive figure of Mable John, dressed in an outlandish black admiral jacket with gold epaulets and detailing!

Although not a well-known name to many, Mable was the first woman signed by Berry Gordy in 1959 to his fledgling Motown label where she had a few releases, none of which really made an impression. Her earthy rhythm and blues style was soon at odds with the sound that Gordy's producers and songwriters were pursuing and she eventually left the label in 1962. She recorded for Stax Records and eventually became one of Ray Charles backing singers The Raelettes. Since then she has mostly worked for church and charity organizations while also becoming a Doctor of Psychology!

What can I tell you? Mable turned it on and turned it out! She gave us "My Name Is Mable", the joyous "Who Wouldn't Love A Man Like That" (incorporating both Gordy's arrangement with the later Holland-Dozier-Holland/Stevie Wonder one) and ended with "Same Time Same Place". She rocked and rolled her way through the songs with a bluesy sass that had the whole audience in the palm of her hand. She then dropped her bombshell - inviting us to America next year where she planned to celebrate her
80th Birthday "with music". She was given a rapturous ovation as she left the stage - both Owen and I got a handshake from her as she passed us with a gracious smile and "thank you". I have borrowed Owen's photo to show you all who great Mable looks!All the way through Mable's set I had noticed that Chis Clark was at the top of the stairs hiding behind a pillar watching her set and clapping along... now was the moment I had waited over 30 years to see... Chris Clark live on stage. I was SO nervous... what if she wouldn't be able to live up to my high expectations? She descended the stairs wearing tinted Jackie O specs looking a tall vision in white - a long blouse/skirt with a fringed shawl loosely tied low over her shoulders, a silver belt and white knee-boots and a mane of wavy white blonde hair - she looked Amazing! Back in February I explained about my introduction to this most under-valued of Motown singers when I made her my February hero of Motown.
She is so tall she often vanished behind the overhead stage speakers - but she soon came outfront and launched into Northern Soul classic "Love's Gone Bad" and she sounded Fantastic!! Her sexy growling soulful voice has lost none of it's power and as she swayed and sang to the band she never once stopped smiling widely. She appeared genuinely surprised at the massive ovation that song received and totally won me over with her sheer joy at being onstage. She said it was a humbling experience to be somewhere where she was so loved as "back home I can't even sell my white ass". She seemed full of nervous energy which was totally endearing - she was just happy to be given this opportunity to perform. She also said that when she heard Jack Ashford was putting the band together she knew it would be OK "because you are always safe in Jack's hands" - then added slyly "It wasn't always the case!" which got a huge laugh!

She reminisced about her time at Motown particularly doing the punishing Motown Revue Show 5 times a day at the Fox Theatre in Detroit. She said that she found out after the event that in the week leading up to the show they played a film trailer where as all the acts were announced the audience cheered and when her picture appeared on the screen, it was booed as she was a white artist. She also told us how Berry Gordy had instructed her to start singing her first song offstage and then to walk on. No doubt the audience were shocked to suddenly see that the voice they liked belonged to a white girl. I think it's this reverse racism that Chris seemed to be subjected to by others outside the Motown family is what makes her so endearing a performer. She also apologized for her seemingly unprofessional stage presence and that she couldn't act like Mable and flirt with men in the audience as her mother would drag her offstage if she heard about it!

However she then proved there was nothing to forgive by singing glorious versions of "I Want To Go Back there Again" (when introducing it she looked at Jack and said with obvious emotion "I think this says what we all feel") and finally she sang a stonking version of "Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)" which took the roof off the Jazz Cafe. She left the stage to a massive ovation and as she headed back towards the dressing room past our table I stood up to shake her hand and to show her my t-shirt - she said "Oh wow!" and gave me a massive hug!! PEOPLE I WAS HUGGED BY CHRIS CLARK!!!! She said to see her afterward as she wanted to sign it!!

I am afraid by the time I wafted down from cloud nine Brenda Holloway was already into her first song but I soon readjusted my concentration and enjoyed her utter professionalism, happily gliding through band miscues and sounding as warm and creamy as her 1960s recordings.

She looked luscious in a sea-green gown which was cut low enough to prove that Brenda was not behind the door when they were handing the busts out!

She gave us scintillating versions of "Every Little Bit Hurts", "Operator", "When I'm Gone" and of course her classic "You Made Me So Very Happy" which she reminded us was co-written by her recently deceased sister Patrice.

After the show it was time to join the other fans for the chance for autographs and more handshaking! After getting Mable and Brenda to sign their latest Motown collection booklets, it was time to present myself to Chris Clark! We laughed over the fact that she kept loosing her nerve to sign the t-shirt while I wore it but eventually did and Owen got a few photos of Chris... and the other Chris (as she signed herself!). I am a little in love I think.Needless to say I floated home (via a night bus) relishing a night which celebrated not just the durability of the music of Motown but the artistry and
indomitability of three rather exceptional women.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Last night Owen accompanied me to Heaven (first time I have been there since the '90s!) to make sure I didn't self-combust... 'cos I was going to be seeing my Pop heroes Alphabeat for the 2nd time live!

Anders SG, Stine, Anders B, Rasmus, Anders R and Troels saved my sanity while I was working in Borehamwood so many times - their debut album THIS IS ALPHABEAT could shake me from the deepest depression with it's wonderful set of classic, joyous pop songs so they collectively have a special place on my heart.
It was great to see the place sold out and there seemed to be a good vibe happening.

We got through the supporting act Ou Est Le Swimming Pool with no major excitement. All the songs kinda sounded like half-baked 70s & 80s synth-pop - I swear to God one of the them used the synth line for DO YOU THINK I'M SEXY? Still the audience seemed to find something in them - and Alphabeat like them so I'll leave it there.

then shuffled to a better sightline - why are people so bloody tall these days? - we listened to the latest Alphabeat mixtape - which included Barry White, DeeLite, Black Box and the late 1970's Supremes! - and I got more and more nervous. Where were they? They were late on stage and I was even getting fed up with the mixtape. Techies came and went, came and went... and then the lights dimmed again... and they were there - all smiles and waves.

They slammed into ALWAYS UP WITH YOU from their
forthcoming 2nd album, showing off the early 1990s Eurodance sound that they say has influenced the album. Despite not knowing it, by the end I was singing along with the chorus - the mark of a good pop song. After that we were treated to GO-GO from the first album.

Stine looked fab in her blue sparkling dress and sounded amazing with her Pure Pop voice and Anders SG was his wonderfully manic self - imagine if you will a
cross between Ian Curtis, Bez and an over-excited 7 year-old at his first school disco and you might get an idea of his shape-throwing! They make great focal points for the group.

They then launched into the delirious pure joy of THE SPELL which sounded even better live. They followed this with another new track HEART FAILURE which again made me hunger for the album - but it's not out here till February - waaaa! This was followed by the swooning WHAT IS HAPPENING from the first album. The response to all the known tracks was ecstatic but the new tracks were all given a rousing cheer too.

We then got two more new tracks - the glorious superdisco of DJ and the stop-start intrigue of CHESS - and then were treated to a punchy, crunchy cover of what the Beaters think is one of the Greatest Song Evah - Chaka Kahn's AIN'T NOBODY. They know their music, that's what I like about 'em.
We galloped into the final section of the show with a explosive TOUCH ME TOUCHING YOU with the audience hollering "Of course you can" when asked by Anders SG and Stine if they could touch us. By then I was well and truly touched to the core by them! They somehow managed to get us even more excitable with a glorious 10,000 NIGHTS which was followed by THE BEAT from the new album.

Stine then elicited a large "nooooooo!" by saying they had come to their last song which she also admitted was her favorite and launched into a glorious version of the pop masterpiece BOYFRIEND.

By then I was a smiling, clappy bellowing thing so, just to shut me up, they came back on to sing their next single HOLE IN MY HEART and then with spotlights refracting off the mirror balls hanging above the stage, the band started thudding out a martial beat - Anders SG and Stine started chanting "The Word Is on Your Lips" to which we
chanted back "Say The Word"! Over and over, "The Word Is on Your Lips" "Say The Word" carried us higher and higher towards the ceiling until they exploded into a delirious, explosive FASCINATION which brought the show to a fabulous end.

This time it was my turn to float home like a grinning balloon... Alphabeat are the best thing to happen to pop music in years and show up the atrocities perpetuated on the charts by Simon Cowell with his TV variety shows to be the shite it is.