Saturday, 28 November 2009

'Speaking In Tongues' at The Duke of York's

On Friday night we went to see 'Speaking In Tongues' at the Duke of York's Theatre that suffers the slight drawback of being on top of a tube line so every now and then the sound of an approaching train enhanced the sonic atmosphere. If I was in charge of the theatre I'd only put on loud plays, comedies and musicals, not plays with quiet dialogue and long silences...

'Speaking In Tongues' is a bit of an oddity, with two couples reflecting each others' lives and later interacting, opening with a scene with the four of them in a hotel bedroom talking about cheating on their partner who is also in the room with the others' partner, two scenes taking place in the same space at the same time. The play then continues with the fall-out from the infidelities, couple splitting and getting back together. The second act focuses on what else is happening around them that was referred to in the first act, a woman going missing, a man accused and another couple having an affair. It's a relatively complex plot but seemed a bit over complex and (ok, I'll say it) pretentious.

Saying the same lines and talking over each other is a nice device for a few minutes but it went on for too long. None of the characters were particularly warm or engaging and it was all a bit "me, me, me" - *I'm* not getting what *I* want out of the relationship, *I* want to have sex with someone else, *I* want more... - and very self-centred. Long monologues with little interaction don't really capture my attention. And then I started wondering 'what happens next?' just as the first half closed but, when the second half started, it was a different scene with different characters so I never did get to find out what happened next. The second half of the play is about the people spoken about in the first half...

On paper it sounds intriguing but it didn't quite work for me.

The cast were nice enough, the only one I'd heard of was John Simm from Dr Who' and 'Life On Mars', so at least I've now see The Master in the flesh and survived his attempt at world domination ... or rather, I survived his mind games to make me think the play was excellent. Then, of course, came the joys of the West End on a Friday night with hoardes of people (young people) strolling around with nowhere in particular to go.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

'Sweet Charity' at The Choccy Factory

Last night we went to see the new production of 'Sweet Charity' at the Menier Chocolate Factory with Tamzin Outhwaite in the title role as Charity Hope Valentine. I'm familiar with the film and saw it years on telly, but I've never seen it on the stage. If you've seen the film, and the stage show is very similar to the film, then you know what you're getting and it all comes down to the performances.

Tamzin Outhwaite has been in loads of things on telly, unfortunately, loads of things I haven't seen other than 'Eastenders'. But I did see her in 'Boeing Boeing' on stage a few years back. I thought she was excellent as Charity - old enough to have a past but young enough to be the wide-eyed ingenue with hope for the future. She had the right touch of knowing humour and a big smile with, a couple of times, tears in her eyes. She sang and danced a treat (there was lots of dancing) and she ably held her own leading the professional dancers in the cast.

The main support was provided by Josefina Gabrielle and Tiffany Graves as Charity's best mates in the dancehall, cynical and sentimental by turn, with great moves and voices. I was particularly taken with their threesome on 'There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This' when Josefina sings about aspiring to be a receptionist. Their voices worked well together as did the warmth between them, friends for years in a seedy dancehall but believing in each other and wanting the best for their friends, with a touch of bawdiness too.

I'd also single out Ebony Molina for her totally aloof and energetic dancing in the 'Rich Man's Frug' in the nightclub scene - no-one is cool enough to dance with her. She also won the most sparkly dress on the night award.

Of the men, well, can anyone compete with Sammy Davis Jnr as Daddy? the answer is 'no'.

I'm afraid I sometimes suffer from excessive suspension of disbelief in plays when the character is real to me. And that's how I view the love interest, Oscar, played by Mark Umbar. He starts off as a neurotic geek who Charity befriends and we see their love grow but then, at the end, he's a nasty bastard. How dare he? He also played Charity's other love interests throughout the play, all of whom either let her down or will let her down. Therefore I don't like him. Enough said.

Big songs, big set pieces, short short mini-frocks, big smiles and some tears. I thoroughly enjoyed it! Tamzin is great, the musicians and singers are great and there's some great dancing. Go along and laugh and cry. I did, and I think I'd like to go back again and see it further into its run.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Christmas on Carnaby Street

Call me potty, but I enjoy public Christmas decorations, or, rather, I enjoy *good* public Christmas decorations. In recent years I've learned to use Carnaby Street as a measure of excellence - whoever does the decorations in and around Carnaby Street has continued to thrill and generate wonder with the originality of the decorations at Christmas and, thankfully, this year is no different.

I've only got a couple of photos from when I took a short-cut from Regents Street to HMV on Oxford Street last night and these don't convey the fun of the street, so I clearly need to go back with a camera rather than just my phone.

I have a theory about the theme this year - it's a history of Carnaby Street since the '60s. There are the 'love hearts' from the peace and love and total swingingness of the street in the '60s and then there are the small plastic colourful Christmas trees hanging down everywhere and the great big blow-up pink reindeer from the late '70s and '80s when the street was full of tacky tourist shops selling, um, tacky tat. No doubt there'll me more motifs further down the street that I didn't see. I love it!

I couldn't help but break into a big grin when I saw Pinky The Reindeer, ever so proud that he's made of plastic, and I wouldn't have him any other way. He's obviously the patron saint of Christmas tat and I must worship. I need to go back with my camera one evening and take some proper photos to show the street in all its Christmas glory. Regent Street? Hang your head in shame.

Whoever you are that designed the decorations this year, thanks v much!

Monday, 23 November 2009

An Open Letter

Dear HMV

I'm sorry to say this, but you've let me down, and let me down not once but twice.

After work I trekked up to Oxford Street to pick up the new Christmas CD from SLADE. With mounting excitement I walked into your emporium and turned to the new CD racks looking for the snow-globe cover of the album, then went to the 'S' shelves, then went to the counter to ask. Yes, you have 60 copies... in the warehouse. There's a certain joy of walking into a record shop, seeing the record you want, picking it up, reading the back and then grasping it firmly, a spring in your step, knowing you have a record you *want*. I know I can go back another day and get it but *that's not the point*!

Christmas cheer having gone by this time, I went to the soul shelves to get the 'Divas Of Motown' CD and, guess what? It's not there. So I go to ask and I'm told you have 50 copies and the nice girl comes round to show the elderly gentleman where the CD is. She can't find it so gets one of the lads and he can't find it either. He says it might be downstairs in the jazz section. It's not.

So, that's two CDs you have 'in stock' but not in the shop. That's like saying, 'buy it online'. I've shopped in that huge record emporium for over 20 years and will continue to do so - I like browsing in the physical world, not just buying stuff online. And there are so few record shops still open these days. But I feel badly let down.

And then what did you do? You restored my faith in the power of browsing in the real world and I got two Christmas records, one by The Supremes and one by The Temptations - I have a few Christmas songs by both, but not full records and both from the '60s! There are also records in the same series by The Four Tops, the Jackson 5 and (a young) Stevie Wonder. I can't listen to them until next week (Christmas doesn't start until December in my book) but it's nice to have them.

But please, HMV, get your ordering and stock system sorted out? Please?

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Motown 50

This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Motown and the emergence in the '60s of a genre of music that still sounds great, soul music that re-defined pop music and pop culture and helped shape music today. And, almost certainly, tomorrow's music as well.

I've been lucky enough to see some of the legends of Motown perform live this year. Indeed, the year started with seeing Martha Reeves & The Vandellas (I've met them, y'know) on Jools Holland's 'Hootenany' telly show in the wee small hours of 1 January 2009 - I'd seen (and met) Martha and the girls a week earlier at the Bloomsbury Ballroom when they were over here recording the show. I will treasure seeing Lois drinking champagne and eating crisps while merrily chatting to fans.

I saw Martha and the girls later in the year at the Motown Legends Revue at Wembley. It wasn't the packed house I'd hoped for but there seemed to be very little publicity about it. Also on the bill were The Miracles and Junior Walker's All Stars. The lead was the impossibly glamorous Mary Wilson, one of the original Supremes who helped propell Motown to its global position. Mary was tres fab and sang a touching version of 'I Am Changing' from 'Dreamgirls' for Florence Ballard.

That night saw the news break that Michael Jackson had died, a great Motown star in his younger days.

October saw a return to Wembley, this time to see Gladys Knight with special guest appearance from her brother Bubba, my favourite Pip. The show was being filmed so I hope there'll be a DVD at some point.

The celebrations rounded off with seeing the Divas of Motown at both the Jazz Cafe and at Hammersmith Apollo just last week. Jack Ashford with his tamborine and vibes from the Funk Brothers, Mable John, the great Chris Clark and marvelous Brenda Holloway, those 'former ladies of the Supremes' who were totally over-shadowed by Mary Wilson over the summer (those songs were *hers*, y'know) and the discotastic Thelma Houston! There's also a 'Divas' double CD celebrating the music of the women of Motown. I'm hoping for a DVD since the Hammersmith show was being filmed.

What a Motown year this has been. Lots of re-released CDs, DVDs and live shows. A Temptations show would've been fun even though Otis Williams is the only original. I missed Smokey Robinson at the Roundhouse a couple of months ago (how on earth did that happen?) but saw the show on telly. Finally seeing and meeting Brenda Holloway and Chris Clark was a distinct high point. I'm not sure if anything else is planned for the remainder of the year, but I've enjoyed the ride so far.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Cerys Matthews - 'Bulimic Beats'

This is Cerys doing one of my favourite Catatonia songs. She'd certainly give Rose rose-seller a run for her money in my book.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

I'm A Celebrity...

I've just watched the strangely compelling 'I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here' and Katie Price doing the bushtucker trial for the third day running. Now, I'm not a fan or anything, and she's been rather unpleasant in celeb-land recently, but c'mon people, let her have a night off - stop voting for her.

She was visibly shaking during parts of the trial tonight but, give her credit, she pushed forward with the deeply unpleasant tasks. I hope she's not selected again tomorrow, that would be deeply unfair.

Comanechi - 'Crime Of Love'

Two years ago I saw Comanechi supporting Siouxsie at her Roundhouse gig and, despite early misgivings, by song three I had decided they were the future of rock'n'roll. Thump Thump Wallop!

They've released a few 7" vinyl limited edition records but they will release their first full album on 7 December, 'Crime Of Love'. It's already on iTunes for pre-order so here's hoping it's actually going to be promoted.

Big yay for the Comanechi kidz!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The Art On Your Wall

Did you see a really good programme from Sue Perkins last night, 'The Art On Your Wall'? I only caught the last few minutes of it so watched the full programme tonight on the BBC iPlayer. I like Sue and will generally watch things she's involved in and this proved to be no different, a thoughtful piece laced through with wit and humour.

The programme was about the kind of things we hang on our walls across the decades from the '60s onwards and the rise of poster shops and the sale of art in places like IKEA. It was interesting to hear about some of the iconic images of past 50 years, such as the woman tennis player touching her naked bum, but also those people who chose to go down an alternative route.

I think I'm one of the latter. Looking round my living room I have one painting that might be considered 'ordinary' - a 10"x10" frame with four watercolours of butterflies. It's all about colour and shape, I bought it years ago from John Lewis and I love it. Everything else on my walls is original.

I have a piece of papyrus I bought in Cairo in the '80s, hand printed batik from Bali in Indonesia in the '90s and a poster signed by Buffy Sainte-Marie in the '00s. I have a painting of the Barong I bought in Udun in Bali, a graphic horoscope in Mayan symbols from Mexico and paintings on silk I bought in Sri Lanka. I like being surrounded by unusual things.

Take a look at your own walls.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Our Lady J - 'Pink Prada Purse'

Far be it from me to tell you what songs to download but you might like to try Our Lady J's 'Pink Prada Purse', her tale of meeting an ex while she just happens to have a gun in her delicate Prada purse (as you do). I've seen her play this live a few times and it always raises a smile and gets a laugh so you *will* enjoy it. iTunes has an 'explicit' version and a 'clean' version - why on earth would anyone want a 'clean' version?

Go on, give yourself a thrill and download it!

Sunday, 15 November 2009

The Divas of Motown at Hammersmith Apollo

The week of shows at the Jazz Cafe by the Ladies of Motown culminated on the big stage of the Hammersmith Apollo on Friday night with the Divas of Motown show. We paid extra for the VIP seats in the front row, including immediate access to the hall and a private room with free drinks and a free small poster (um, yes indeed, folks). The main thing was, of course, that there'd be a meet and greet with the stars after the show and that's what made it worthwhile.

We were escorted down to the hall and seated before the band walked on stage, fronted by Jack Ashford (in a red sparkly jacket this time) and his singers opened the show. And then the first star of the evening appeared, Mable John, in a sparkling lacy frock rather than her admiral's uniform from the Jazz Cafe. Once she was on stage she controlled it, walking slowly back and forth across the stage, talking to us, singing with her still powerful voice, joking, teasing the 'pretty guitar player' and reminiscing with Jack. She sang the same songs as at the Jazz Cafe, including 'My Name Is Mable' and 'Who Wouldn't Love A Man Like That' (only one version this time). And then she was gone, relishing the standing ovation, I hope.

Next up was the marvellous Brenda Holloway looking fine with her hair up and party frock tight in all the right places, and she was welcomed with a great wave of applause and love and quite a few shouts of 'Brenda!'. She opened with a song I didn't recognise, prowling and strutting across the stage, singing to us with a big smile on her face the whole time. And then she moved on to her big songs with her wonderfully rich voice, 'Operator', 'Every Little Bit Hurts' and 'When I'm Gone'. At one point someone shouted out for 'Land of A Thousand Boys' and Brenda joked that she'd sing it if she could remember it. In-between songs Brenda shared tales of Motown and her life - who'd ever believe that she has 17 grandchildren? She (really) looks more like she's in her 40s rather than 60. Her final song in a too-short set opened with her story about losing her boyfriend at the time that led to her writing 'You've Made Me So Very Happy' with Patrice. And then with kisses to the audience, touching a few hands and a big curtsy, she vanished from the stage to another standing ovation.

And then it was time for Chris Clark. By now we were all in the right mood and she was greeted with an ovation as she shyly came on stage, dressed all in black just as she was all in white at the Jazz Cafe. Chris stayed back in the mid-stage area near Jack and band, commenting at one point that it was a big stage, but, as soon as she opened her mouth for that first note the crowd were hers. She sang 'Love's Gone Bad', 'Do Right, Baby, Do Right', 'I Want To Go Back There Again' (commenting that this summed up her feelings for her Motown days) and the marvellously happy 'Do I Love you (Indeed I Do)' with her mighty gospel choir ending. And then she was gone! She left the stage while the backing singers were still giving it some heavy gospel singing but the audience stood up anyway to give her her just desserts of a standing ovation and she came back out onto the stage aways, looking a bit shy and flustered but she'd earned it.

We were then treated to a couple of songs from the band before half-time and back to the VIP room for more drinks and everyone very 'up' from the first few performances of the evening. On the way back we called in at the merch stand but there wasn't much for sale really, which was a missed opportunity. And back into the hall.

The second half was, again, opened by a song from the band and the excellent singers, and then on swanned the former ladies of The Supremes, resplendent in sparkly dark blue outfits, Scherrie Payne and Lynda Laurence (with a third lady whose name I can't remember who used to be in Dawn). Much as it was fun to see them up there doing their well-practiced routines and swapping lead vocals between them, it was also a little bit odd that most of the songs they sung were from the '60s but they were Supremes in the '70s yet they only sang 'Stoned Love' from the '70s. That made them feel a bit like a tribute act rather than the real thing. They put on a great show, though, with the best reaction to 'You Can't Hurry Love' and 'Stoned Love' as well as to an extended medley of Supremes hits. And then off they swept, a mass of sparkling outfits and big hair leaving stage-left.

Next up was Thelma Houston, all in sparkly black and hair in an interesting dread 'do', powerhousing across the stage and whipping up the audience even more. I don't really know much of Thelma's back catalogue but plenty in the audience did and gave her her just reward. The lady never stopped pacing across the stage and pulling dramatic shapes she got the audience to our collective feet with a great medley of '60s Motown hits before launching into her signature song, the discotastic 'Don't Leave Me this Way' and that's when I got excited - that was a real Disco star up there a few feet away from me! And what a show she puts on, pulling us to our feet by sheer force of personality and her great voice. She said that 'Don't Leave Me' was being re-released again in a new version so I'll watch out for that. And then she was off with her own standing ovation.

Jack told us that the ladies would give us an encore without us having to demand one and on they came, one by one, in performance order, with Mable first, then Brenda, Chris, Scherrie and the Supremes and then Thelma leading them in a collective version of 'Dancing In The Streets'. As they came on we could see Brenda holding Chris's hand and showing her some dance steps, which was a lovely sight, my two favourites together having a bit of fun. A collective standing ovation later they were all gone amid wide smiles and much waving and the show was over, leaving us all with happy memories of some of the real stars of Motown. They might not have been that big back in the day but, as Brenda mentioned, they were brought back and kept alive through the Northern Soul scene, great songs and great performances from some great ladies who still have the voices and personalities to keep existing fans happy while gathering new fans all the time.

Of course, it wasn't over for me and Chris, since we were due to meet the ladies after the show. Back to the VIP room to wait, wandering round the upstairs bar that was sealed off for the private meet and greet and the bar was already quite crowded with various liggers and hangers on. And then the ladies appeared, instantly surrounded by fans and liggers, all wanting something signed, a photograph and a short word with the stars. It must've been a bit bewildering for them but they were courteous and free with smiles, autographs and happy to be photographed.

Chris Clark had the biggest crowd around her at the top of the stairs (I worried about her standing there) so I thought I wouldn't add to it and headed for Brenda, and, when it was my turn, congratulated her on a great show, got a CD signed and my photos taken with her (I've had my arm around Brenda Holloway - yay!). Then Chris Clark, and she signed the photo of herself and Chris I took the other day, chatting away to Chris. And then Jack and Mable and Thelma, just a brief word of thanks for the show. I missed the Supremes because they seemed to be having fun chatting to themselves and a coterie of fans around them. It was interesting listening to snatches of conversation from other people as they talked to the stars, such as the bloke saying a new 'Cellarful Of Motown' compliation will be released next year with two new Brenda songs from the '60s (that Brenda was surprised at!) and Ian Levine (as he made sure people knew) trying to monopolise the stars for what seemed like business chats (that's what phones are for, Ian, not fan do's). And then back to Chris to have my photo taken with her and say 'thank you' again and then out into the midnight rain and a taxi home, with some great memories stored away and some photographs of the big night...

Thursday, 12 November 2009

X-ray Spex Live @ The Roundhouse

My world turned day-glo on 6 September 2008 when I finally saw Poly Styrene and X-ray Spex at The Roundhouse and heard her sing all those wonderful songs from yesteryear. The live CD and DVD is finally available so, obviously, I had to grab it at the first opportunity and watched the DVD this evening.

As soon as I heard those magical words, 'Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard, but I think Oh bondage! Up yours!' I was transported back in time and a big grin spread over my face as Poly appeared in black frock, shocking pink scarf around her waist and a sparkly beret and, like me, she couldn't stop grinning. She looks like she's having fun up there on the Roundhouse stage, a sold-out audience pogoing in front of her and all of us worshipping her from near and afar.

I still remember the audience for that gig, all sorts of people from freaks and wierdos to straights, all ages and all there for one purpose, to see Poly. It felt good. We were happy people.

The set is nicely packaged in a hard-backed book format with two discs on the inside covers, the CD and DVD, with the middle of the package given over to a 24 page glossy booklet of Poly's diary of the '70s and lyrics to all the songs played at the gig. It's a package to be treasured and it will be. There aren't any extras, but this will be a DVD to put on when I need to smile and bounce round the room a bit. The same for the live CD with its excellent sound and new Spex song, 'Bloody War' with the chorus of 'We've had enough man of bloody war!' with full on guitars and sax from 1978.

The DVD is a great record of the event at The Roundhouse - no fancy light shows or anything, just great music and a real legend on stage giving us her all. People like Poly should be treasured.

I, of course, needed the CD/DVD package as soon as I got back from Paris so picked it up yesterday from HMV on Oxford Street where it was labeled as an 'import' at a cost of £17. That seems to be a total rip-off considering the label is based 2 miles away from Oxford Street and, as far as I know, the package is only available in this country. I'm disgusted at HMV for that pricing policy which, indirectly, says, 'don't buy me', particularly at a time when record shops need to maintain its clientelle. As far as this is concerned I say sod HMV since Poly won't see much of that price, and buy it from Future Noise for £10.99 since I suspect Poly earns more that way. It's a great CD/DVD and released in time for Christmas - I know what people will be getting from me!

Outdoor Paris

I didn't do much outdoorsy stuff on the recent trip to Paris, most of my time was spent in galleries, but I thought I'd share a few photos of a grey and chilly city.

The Paris Opera is one of those buildings that just screams opulence from every crevice and carefully cleaned stone. It's lit up at night, which is a slight hint that Paris is proud of it. I've never been inside but I'd like to go in one day - they probably do tours. This photo was taken from a traffic island that is also one of the entrances/exits from the Opera Metro station - one of the all-too-brief moments without a stream of traffic honking its way in front of the building.

It doesn't take much to make me happy and this extraordinary 'crown' made me happy. It's outside the Comedie Francais, one of the old theatres of Paris and covers the entrance to the local Metro station. When we went back on the way to the Pompidou Centre after dark I was disappointed that it wasn't lit up, what a grand vision that would've been.

The Louvre is an old and impossibly grand palace, the kind of place that probably couldn't be built today because of the sheer size and expense, a big 'fuck off' statement to the world. The Pyramid is new and is probably one of the main symbols of modern Paris. It's now the main entrance to The Louvre, going through security and then descending by boring old escalator or by a spiral staircase. If you look in the centre of the photo there's a box-shape that is the robot that cleans the Pyramid. As well as being the entrance to The Louvre, it's also one of the entrances to a large underground shopping centre.

The Christmas lights of the Galeries Lafayette attracted me from afar. The building fills a full block behind the Opera and it was covered in lights, very carefully switching on and off to create a magical and spectacular light show. The windows were all decorated with Christmas scenes presided over by a small gingerbread man, sometimes with a hoarde of teddy bears to do his bidding or join in the party, all moving and held up by thin wires, a most unexpected sight. The Galeries Lafayette fully puts to shame the measly and rather boring lights on the main department stores on Oxford Street. I loved the Lafayette lights but cringe at the carbon footprint, but you can't have it all.

A view from the top of the Pompidou Centre at night, with the golden glow of the Eiffel Tower in the distance with it's spotlight slowly twirling round over the city keeping an eye on things. It's a very flat city, with almost all buildings being about five stories high, so things like the Eiffel Tower and the odd office block on the outskirts really stand out, as does the hill of Montmartre.

The Pompidou Centre at night, with the glass escalator on the outside rising up five floors to a viewing area from which you can see Paris stretching away into the distance. The ground floor seems to be just an empty space where you can buy tickets to the galleries above. The ground isn't grass, it's cobble stones but the external lights seem to have coloured it green.

Here's a glimpse of an autumnal Tuileries gardens that run along the side of the Seine from The Louvre to the Champs d'Elysses. It's a big public space with statues and fountains dotted around, but we only cut through to get to the nearest bridge over the river to get to the Musee d'Orsey. The Eiffel Tower is in the background. I've only ever seen the gardens in spring or autumn so would like to see it in full summer growth and colour some time.

The Motown Sessions at The Jazz Cafe

Last night I accompanied a nervous Chris to the Jazz Cafe to see The Motown Sessions with Jack Ashford's Funk Brothers, Mable John, Brenda Holloway and someone he's waited over 35 years to see play live, Chris Clark, the First (White) Lady of Motown.

The Jazz Cafe has had a bit of an upgrade and refit since I was last there, sitting upstairs for a meal and a guaranteed view of the stage. The meal was so-so but it was the music we were there for. One of the good things about sitting upstairs is (other than sitting rather than standing in a crowd) that you stand a chance of meeting the people you're there to see since they walk past you on the way from the dressing room to the stage. More of that later...

On came the 10-piece band, squeezed onto the relatively small stage and there was Jack Ashford, original Funk Brother who played on hundreds of hit records in the '60s and beyond, a staple of the Motown sound. The sounds he can get out of a tambourine are astounding and they're always there in the mix of a Motown record. And there he was on stage in his pinky-purple sparkly jacket giving it some heavy tambourine and chatting and telling stories of the old days. The first part of the set was Jack and the band plus three singers giving us their versions of some classic Motown songs before leaving the stage for 15 minutes for a break.

When they came back on, Jack was followed past our table by a little old lady in a black jacket covered in gold braid and I realised that this was Mable John, one of the original Motown singers from about 1960. Both Jack and Mable were helped down the stairs to the stage but once she was there there was no stopping her. She still has a great voice - she may be small but her voice is enormous - and she commanded that stage and the audience like the old pro she is, chatting, joking and telling tales - she was great! Her bluesy voice is still powerful and she could knock a few current singers off the stage without a second thought.

She invited all of us to go back to America with her to celebrate her 80th birthday next year - once she was on stage you'd never think she was 79. She sang a few songs including, 'My Name Is Mable' and two versions of 'Who Wouldn't Love A Man Like That' merged together, the original Berry Gordy arrangement and then the Stevie Wonder version that gave her a second hit with the song. Admiral Mable was excellent, and I told her so when she walked past on the way back to the dressing room.

All through Mable's set, a lady in white was hovering round the balcony, clapping and singing along, having a great time and, when Mable left the stage, she was introduced to the audience. Chris Clark was finally on a stage in London for the first time in decades. She was obviously nervous and happy and excited all in one bundle and when she opened her mouth to sing her voice proved why she was signed to Motown back in the mid-'60s and she still has an excellent voice. She didn't seem to be as comfortable on stage as Mable but that just added to her charm - she was doing this for the love of doing it rather than as a seasoned professional. She commented a couple of times about how she loved being in the UK for the reaction form the crowds when she can't even get arrested in America.

Chris told some tales of the old days as well, like being told by Berry Gordy to start singing before going on stage at Motown shows so that the audience would get used to her soulful voice before seeing that she was white. She couldn't stop smiling and her songs were all crowd pleasers, 'Loves Gone Bad', 'I Want To Go Back There Again' and, one of my favourites and a big surprise, the incredibly happy, 'Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)'. It was a delight to see her on stage and a fun moment when she walked back to the dressing room, spotted Chris with the cover of her first album, 'Soul Sounds', on the front of his tee-shirt and gave him a great big hug as a reward. She promised she'd sign it after the show and, true to her word, she did!

By this time, Brenda Holloway had taken the stage and the audience and her wonderfully warm and rich voice was filling the air. Brenda should have been a great big star if that was based on sheer vocal talent but it didn't happen. She commanded the stage like Admiral Mable, in her emerald green dress (matching my shoes) and giving us some serious emoting in her songs about love and lost love. She opened with a song I didn't recognise (to my shame) which I think is from her 'It's A Woman's World' album and then went into her Motown classics, 'Every Little Bit Hurts', 'When I'm Gone' and 'Operator'.

Brenda also shared some memories of Motown days, both singing and song-writing, telling us how Berry Gordy had encouraged her to use her own experiences in trying to write songs, so, when a boyfriend left her she channelled it into a song. She said her sister Patrice helped her with the words and structure and launched into 'You've Made Me So Very Happy', adding that she's sold four million records with that song. A consummate professional, curtsying after songs, laughing and flashing her big smile at everyone, Brenda is a fun performer, responding to shouts from the crowd with one-liners and keeping control of the stage and us. And, when she walked back to the dressing I had my moment of meeting her, shaking hands and telling her what a great performance she's given us. I shook hands with Brenda Holloway... I couldn't bring myself to be so intimate as to hug her.

And, afterwards, there was an opportunity to meet and greet, to get things signed and to buy other things. I had the booklets from both Brenda and Chris's Motown anthologies signed and I will treasure those. Chris was a mad thing at this point getting things signed and, as promised, Chris Clark signed his tee-shirt. I took photos but I'll leave those to Chris to post (or not).

I'm seeing the ladies again on Friday in a bigger show at Hammersmith and fully expect to meet them again - I'm looking forward to that!