It had been a quite a while since I'd taken my mum along to review a gig, the last one she had attended was a show by singer-songwriter Ben Maggs at the Salutation Hotel. She had a whale of a time but when I went to the toilet at the interval I came back to find her giving Ben some tips on stagecraft. I was a little worried she would try something similar when we went to see the great singer and actress Elaine Paige at the Concert Hall.
If you know my mum then you know the importance she puts on being on time. Well, I say on time but what I really mean is the importance of being at least thirty minutes early just in case something unforeseen (tornado, a flesh-eating virus, traffic)happens and waylays her. So after a lovely meal (mum's treat, she's a good egg really!) at Kisa's we took our seats, concert programme in hand, in time for a short support slot from John G. Smith who is Elaine Paige's musical director and pianist.
The set started with a jaunty instrumental called "Witchita Mountain Dance", it was a slightly jazzy arrangement that really showed off the bands musical chops. We were treated to both an acoustic guitar and piano solo and there were some lovely bass lines from the wonderfully monikered Zoltan Dekany that were reminiscent of Stevie Wonders "Sir Duke". This was followed by a song called "I Need To Think It Over" that featured a great sax solo by Paul Booth and even threw in some references to the Great British Bake Off and Strictly Come Dancing. After it was finished mum leaned over and whispered: "now that's what I call music!"
One of the highlights of the set for me is the cover of Billy Joel's "She'll Always Be a Woman to Me" with John G. Smith tinkling the ivories like the piano man himself. The song was preceded by a charming tale of John's unrequited love for a girl called Fiona Berkely and how she was stolen away from him by a boy called Stuart Thomas. For some reason, how specific and detailed the story was really tickled me. It was like an entry in Adrian Mole's diary. The set ended with another really strong original song "One of These Days", an articulate and witty pop song that Squeeze or Prefab Sprout would have been proud of and mum was loving the bants between songs.
Next up was the woman herself, the great Elaine Paige who took the stage with the confidence and verve of someone who has spent most of her career there and feels utterly at home. Elaine is also a gifted storyteller and near the start of the show, she told us about how in Seventies everyone would pile back to her bedsit with a bottle of wine and some grass and break out the vinyl LP's. While Joss sticks burned they would listen to the Everly Brothers (it was from their records Paige learned to sing harmonies), Fleetwood Mac, Randy Newman, Harry Nilson and Jimmy Webb and my ears pricked up when we are promised that we will hear many of their songs tonight.
First up though is Bread's "Guitar Man" which had Paige's own Guitar Man, James Graydon grinning like a Cheshire cat as he broke out his best licks. Elaine really does the vocals justice and I loved the way she leaned in to share the mic with her guitarist. Next, Paul Simon's "50 Ways to Leave Your' Lover" is introduced with a revelatory story about how Simon wined and dined Paige at one of Manhattan's finest restaurants. However, when they left the restaurant the resulting paparazzi-fueled melee (Simon was at the height of his fame and a real superstar) meant they got separated and she hasn't seen him again since! Elaine's arrangement has a great growling vocal pitched somewhere between Dusty Springfield and Shirley Bassey and the band particularly the insistent marching drums are excellent.
One of the biggest hits of Paige's career was a duet with the excellent Barbara Dickson (read my review of her Concert Hall show here) and as the opening keyboard line of "I Know Him So Well" rings out she quips "That's such an 80's sound". She's got a point but I love a bit of old school keys and Elaine's vocal on this version are sublime. There is a bit of a change of pace as we are introduced to a medley of songs from Sgt Peppers with the fact that it was just over 50 years ago that this album was first released. "Oh no!" my mum gasps looking visibly distressed "that can't be true!" but it is true and in we are treated to some of its highlights including the title track "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and "Day in the Life".
After a tear-jerking "If These Walls Could Speak" (penned by Jimmy Webb) and an energising cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop" we came to the indisputable track of the night, the endearingly bonkers "McArthur Park". Since I've been doing reviews for Small City there have been a couple of songs that I have been really surprised (and delighted) to see performed live at the concert hall. One of them was the Neil Young song about the Charlie Manson murders "Revolution Blues" as part of Southern Fried's "Scotland Sings Canada" concert and the other was Elaine Paige singing Jimmy Webb's "McArthur Park" made famous by Richard Harris. This is a song that I seem to have always known. When I was a wee boy my dad and brother would wander around the house singing it to each other, both getting a kick out of the fact that someone had written an epic and sincere ode to a cake that was left out in the rain. Paige and her band absolutely nail it, playing the song in its full seven-minute-plus glory. I'm not going to lie when I hear about "all the sweet green icing flowing down" and how "I'll never have that recipe again" a little tear always comes to my eye.
The encore brings with it a trio of great theatrical songs; "Memories", "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" with its impressive flamenco guitar intro and a song from Sunset Boulevard that is acted out perfectly by Paige as if she was performing it on Broadway. It really is a pitch-perfect (both literally and metaphorically speaking) performance and a great end to a great night of entertainment.
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