GIG: A Life in Song: Lyrics by Don Black
DATE: Thursday 3rd October 2013
VENUE: Royal Festival Hall, London
COST: £29.50 plus small transaction fee
OUR VERDICT: Black Magic

It was back to the Royal Festival Hall, one our favourite venues for tonight’s gig, “A Life in Song: Lyrics by Don Black”. There are not too many people who have a career as just a lyricist, but Don Black has to be the top dog in this profession.

We got the tickets because the Beeb has always been a fan, and he knew Don was a good raconteur. So with this evening’s format set to be a mixture of his songs being performed, and a bit of chat with Don himself, it was definitely primed to be an entertaining night. Interviewing Don would be Michael Grade, and the show was being recorded for future broadcast on the BBC.

BBC Concert Orchestra

The BBC Concert Orchestra filled the stage and after settling into their seats, kicked off the proceedings before the first guest of the night, Michael Ball, came on and sang “Love Changes Everything.” Even though Michael Ball may not be our cup of tea, it was impressive to hear such a powerful, theatrical voice booming out over a 50+ orchestra, in a hall built for sound and the audience were already thrilled.

Don and Michael had a good rapport throughout the evening, with Michael having to rein Don in at times for getting ahead of himself in his story. Don, as expected, was very amusing all night.

Michael Grade speaks with Don about his long career

It must have been very hard for the show’s producers to whittle such an impressive catalogue of songs down to a mere handful for a two hour show but the choice was pretty good.  Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for all of the artists who performed the songs…..  one singer,  who we didn’t recognise, was a bit of a screecher and kind of ruined (for us at least) what is probably one of Don’s finest works, “To Sir With Love”. If only Lulu could have been there!

A major surprise and much to The Beeb’s delight was the introduction of Gregory Porter, who sang a wonderful version of the Michael Jackson hit, “Ben”, ably assisted by Eliza Doolittle (who wore a beautiful, figure hugging fishtailed cream gown). This was the first of a few surprise guests that we knew nothing about. Gregory’s voice was just sublime.

Another was the appearance of Marc Almond. After Don telling the tale of Tom Jones passing out after hitting the last note on the recording of “Thunderball”, it was a brave man who was going to attempt it. Well Marc was quite stunning. Looking stick thin, it’s a wonder where the power came from.  But powerful it was. He acted out the song in that over the top “Jackie” type of performance. He really did wow the crowd big style and sounded terrific.

As if this wasn’t enough, again to The Beeb’s astonishment, Brian May came on and did a wonderful bit of loud guitar work on maybe Don’s most famous song, “Born Free” sung by Kerry Ellis. You’d think with all the money he’s earned from Queen he’d buy a new pair of shoes. He’s been wearing those white shoes since the Beeb last saw him live 30 years ago! Don also reminded us that he wrote the lyrics to Mrs May’s big hit, “Anyone Can Fall in Love”, the Eastenders Theme.

In the middle of all these wonderful orchestral arrangements, out came an absolutely gorgeous looking Katie Melua. She picked up her acoustic guitar, and with a minimal number of chords, threatened to bring the roof of the RFH crashing down with the highlight of the night, a totally stripped down, “Diamonds Are Forever.”  What Eva Cassidy did in making “Over the Rainbow” hers as much as Judy Garland’s, Katie did just the same with Shirley Bassey.

Don’s James Bond collaborator, David Arnold played piano with the orchestra and made a very decent fist of it when it came to singing “The World Is Not Enough.”

Another highlight, and a further  ‘bring the house down’ moment was Richard Stilgoe who took his place behind the grand piano and reeled off a wonderfully funny song, piecing together a load of unused abstract rhyming words that Don has so far, not been able to include in songs! We were in stiches as he cleverly weaved his way through these rhymes.

The guests were numerous, and mostly high calibre. Marti Webb did a couple of songs from the stage hit “Tell Me On a Sunday”, including her huge hit, “Take That Look off Your Face” which sounded as good as it did on vinyl 30+ years ago (Minty has the ’45!). Other guests were Gary Wilmott and Maria Friedman amongst many others.
Don Black soaks is applauded at the end of the show

This show will be shown on BBC4 in December, and is definitely not one to be missed. And it looks like they are going to tour this a bit in April next year (Nottingham Symphony Hall and Manchester Opera House) so you will have the opportunity to experience it live as well.

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