What is happening? Here I am, already nearly a year into my eighth decade and very selective about what music I want to see live and how late I stay out…..and 19 days into March, with selected family members I have already seen five (lady) singers and revisited the second best musical ever! See what you make of this list and what it says about me, as I don’t know!
March 1 – Beth Neilsen Chapman, Basingstoke Anvil. My old pal Paul Fenn of Asgard first alerted me to Beth, who’d written some major hits for Nashville ladies, notably “Independence Day” for Martina McBride and “This Kiss” for Faith Hill, and was doing a gig on her own (well, with her friend Annie Roboff) at London Queen Elizabeth Hall. Since then she’s become a UK favourite and this, the penultimate date on her latest tour promoting an album of songs she’d written for others but never recorded herself, was a fun evening…maybe just a little bit too much fun for her, the band and the crew. There was a lot of “in” banter and the first half seemed to be largely spent getting the onstage sound right. She still sounds great, though her best songs are now all from her past.
March 8 – Kiki Dee and Carmelo Luggerei, Windlesham Theatre. Almost literally a stone’s throw away from us in the next village, I’d never heard of this venue, and it was only my scrupulous weekly scan of the weekly local paper’s music guide that I discovered this date. Everyone loves Kiki, surely, and most people must wonder whatever happened. Great sixties singles on Fontana, backing singer with Dusty, No. 1 hit with Elton and a glorious spell in “Blood Brothers” are all known, but what’s she doing now? Well, what she’s doing is playing what seem like random dates (though maybe she lives locally) with Carmelo, a very English Italian and a brilliant acoustic guitar player. Together they have self-released several albums of largely original music, with none of which was I familiar, and they made for a great evening. Two 50 minute sets and we sat in this theatre (Village Hall really) in fairly uncomfortable seats, transfixed and enchanted, as was the sell out audience. One song, an inspired cover of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” sent shivers. The two of them look absolutely at ease and totally enjoying just playing to an appreciative audience (of about 140 by my calculations). I worked with Kiki on a disastrous project for EMI – an album produced and co-written by Dave Stewart which her then manager insisted on fiddling with, causing Stewart to walk away and the album not to sell! – and my wife got to know her and the 60’s singles during her (the wife’s!) time working with the legendary Tony Hall. We left without saying hello (always embarrassing as why would she remember us?) but elated with the best £16 worth of music for a long time
March 12- The Book of Mormon, Prince of Wales Theatre, matinee. It had been almost exactly a year since I saw this, enjoyed it though feeling a little uncomfortable with some of the content, but then getting home and finding I couldn’t get the songs out of my head, downloaded the US cast and was hooked. So, a year later I returned with my daughter and had the best afternoon. For me only “West Side Story” (which is so different as to really ban comparison) beats it as the best musical I’ve ever seen…and that was in the late 1950’s!! Suffice to say, bite the bullet, pay the £75 for good seats and go!! The lead characters are the same as 12 months ago and looking and sounding as fresh ever. As daughter Kate said, “why would they ever want to leave the biggest musical in town?”..true.
March 15 – Martina McBride, Dixie Chicks, O2 Country to Country. I hate the O2. Impossible to drive to and in the lap of weekend repairs when it comes to public transport, and when you’re there you are really only watching the big screens; you’re trapped in the arena area where the facilities are poor-to-bad and anyone with vertigo feelings should stay away. We’ve seen Tina Turner and Dolly Parton there and each time vowed not to return. But, BUT, the Dixie Chicks are an exception. Banished from playing in USA, either of their own volition or because they (or rather Natalie was) were bold/brave/foolhardy enough to question the wisdom of George W. Bush, they broke up for several years, with the sisters making two wishy-washy Courtyard Hounds albums and Natalie Maines doing a pretty unlistenable solo album. The sum of the parts never equal the whole, do they? So why were they at C2C and would they be any good? Apart from solid cash, I don’t know the first answer, but to the second, they were brilliant. Nothing to promote, so hit after hit, including all the contentiously lyriced songs, perfect sound (O2 does get that right) and 60+ minutes of Ms Maines’ unique and wonderful voice. Thank you – you can come back anytime, maybe even to Windlesham Theatre! Martina opened the late afternoon, and also restricted herself to a selection of hits, including Beth’s “Independence Day”. Her voice, however, is feeling its age and she badly needed a couple of backing girls to boost and cover the high notes. Not as good as her only other UK appearance (to my knowledge) at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, to where we headed the following day.
March 16 – Rebecca Ferguson, Shepherd’s Bush Empire. Who cannot love Rebecca? The best thing to come out of X Factor in its history. Unbeknownst to us all at the time, she writes songs, searing love-lost songs from her past and present as a single mum of two. We last saw her a couple of years ago on one of her debut live dates, and, while the voice was magnificent, she was evidently still very nervous of live appearances. On Sunday she was a new person, though losing none of the self-effacing naturalness that makes her so adorable. Beautifully and understatedly dressed, she wowed us for 80 minutes with a great band and two morale-boosting singers, and with the exception of inspired covers of Katy Perry’s “Roar” and Prince’s “Raspberry Beret” sang all her own sings, dominated by the new album but with highlights from the debut. This was her opening night, so a bit of a fire baptism….go and see/hear her. She will be the antidote to all your TV talent show prejudices. And so to…
March 17 – Lissie, Shepherd’s Bush Empire. What’s the future for Lissie? A sensational debut album for Sony, a great privately-released live album from her last shows at the Empire a couple of years ago, a new, not so immediate album and then immediately dropped by the record company, her reaction to which was to release an EP of covers. Younger son William introduced her music to me and I can boast having everything she’s recorded.
Lissie is from the Southern States and feisty as heck. She plays with a multi-talented trio – a bass guitar whose feet frequently double on drums, a drummer who also plays keyboards and slide guitar and a brilliant lead guitarist. Lissie effectively plays “air” guitar, a hands more often in the air than on the strings and frets. The result is great straight-ahead and very catchy pop/rock son
gs. Sensibly she must have realised that the second album didn’t match the debut, so largely played the earlier material, and we loved her on what she said proudly was the longest set she’d ever played.
So, apart from all the gigs being female, what does it say? It says that having be raised on rock’n’roll, worked 30+ years trying to make other folk famous and dealing with ego’s of varying intensity, the love of (largely) new music has never wavered…and hopefully never will.