Bournemouth Pavilion Theatre
Tuesday 26th May 2015
Louis Riccardi – electric and acoustic guitar / duet vocal
Richard Cardwell- keyboards, vocals, musical director
– drums, acoustic guitar, vocals
– bass guitar, vocals
– lead guitar, vocals
(I’d be grateful for the names above)
Ready To Go
Relight My Fire
Faith In You
The Man Who Sold The World
Where The Poor Boys Dance
I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight
Unchain My Heart
Every Single Day
Run To Me
To Love Somebody
Gotta Get A Message To You
The Answer Is Love
To Sir With Love
Try A Little Tenderness
I Can’t Turn You Loose
I’ve liked Lulu since she burst onto the scene with Shout in May 1964, showing that like The Beatles, she could take an Isley Brothers song and rock it even more raucously than the original. I also did the Toppermost article on Lulu (linked here). In the late 60s, I used to stay with a girlfriend’s family in Belsize Road, London, and a minor thrill was seeing Lulu trotting out in a mini to her Mini from the new mock-Georgian house she shared with Maurice Gibb on the corner of Priory Road.
She was SO famous then, cosmetic ads, fashion range, the obligatory instant TV series girl singers got with their second hit, film star in To Sir With Love, Bee Gee husband, then later a great comic actress in Adrian Mole. I think back to the alleged rejection of a duet by Jimi Hendrix on TV (only Noel Redding believed they were about to duet) and I think forward to now, and Lulu is a genuine rock star. No hard feelings either, as she covers Angel on her new album. I was mildly unsure what to expect in 2015. Would it all be beats, changes of frock and male dancers writhing about in a Madonna-lite show? Not at all. I was pleasantly surprised and delighted. Lulu is back where she always wanted to be, fronting a tight little 5-piece rock band and singing her heart out. Even better, she is justly proud of her late-achiever spurt as a songwriter. Only one change of costume, at the interval, and even the grungiest male star does that. The five piece band was led from keyboards by Richard Cardwell, the producer and main collaborator on her new album.
The last song before they started was Rod Stewart with Maggie May, an interesting comparison as both are powerful singers with raucous voices, a mid-Atlantic accent, great songs, good choice of stuff to cover, a tartan connection and both tend to get dissed by rock snobs. Before I went I read the Telegraph review of the Glasgow show on this tour which was extremely negative and bore no resemblance to the show I saw. I’ll hazard a guess. I’ve been writing a lot on accent recently, and since the referendum I notice Scots on TV are “bigging up” their accents … James McAvoy and David Tennant are noticeable examples. Maybe Lulu’s lack of an accent didn’t go down well with this journalist in her native city … she does go into Glaswegian for lines of humour, but her natural voice after fifty years in England and America is what you’d expect from someone with a musical ear: neutral.
Photo from Glasgow: but same costume, same hat.
Maggie May was clearly timed and chosen because they waited it out, before going into an instrumental build up to Ready to Go, which the band then sang the chorus of, before Lulu emerged to massive applause. The Republica 1990s hit was a good starter. It led into Relight My Fire and I thought Better Get Ready was part of a medley with it, but I mentioned it in the interval and others didn’t recall that. Anyway, Relight My Fire was her major hit with Take That. She was definitely leaning to her 90s / 00s audience, though judging by the crowd, which had a majority of women, most went back further. It’s slightly odd that so many of the audience are her peer group, but they … make that “we” … universally look older.
She showed great pride in her song writing in intros, and over the course of the evening she sang the first five songs on her new album Making Life Rhyme. It’s the third time I’ve seen an artist present the first five songs on an album (but no more) recently. It looks as if CD means putting all the favoured songs first. The first one was the opener Faith In You a strong start to the album. That was three songs in a row that rocked, with a dance beat influence. I looked at the age of the audience and wondered about the wisdom of that. But then one of the two guitarists moved to acoustic, and The Man Who Sold The World from 1972 absolutely brought the house down, making me think I was guessing the audience’s era right. It deserved to … it was a superb rendition of the great David Bowie composition, which he produced for her version.
Where The Poor Boys Dance was an early Lulu composition, and a hit in 2000, and another melodic piece. She continued the melodic theme with I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight. She told the story of how she wrote it with her brother, Billy Lawrie, and recorded it in 1993, then Tina Turner had faithfully followed the arrangement and had the US #1 hit. Actually she had the same problem in the 60s when she recorded Here Comes The Night before Van Morrison did it with Them. Lulu has reclaimed I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight by rearranging it as a duet with guitarist Louis Riccardi, who also plays on her new album. He’s an excellent singer, and the whole show was boosted because all five musicians add backing vocals.
Poison Kiss followed, another outstanding track from Making Life Rhyme. I’ve been playing this one in the car a lot, and it really freminds me of Robert Palmer circa Addicted To Love … which the lyrics echo in fact. There is something of that era of Robert Palmer swagger about the song, and indeed the album.
Lulu does soul. She always has, and her first soul number came next, a stunning version of Ray Charles’ Unchain My Heart. Being in the Pavilion Theatre, it took me right back to hearing Zoot Money do the same song in the Pavilion Ballroom, directly behind the theatre in the same building. The band could do it justice too.
Before Every Single Day, another from the recent album, Lulu announced there would be a twenty minute interval after the song. She was fine, she said, but the kids in her band couldn’t keep up! She had mentioned her fifty years (51 actually) as a singer, and the person next to me whispered in shock, ‘So how old is she?’ I said 65 (66 actually) and they were amazed.
The second set started with a contrast. The drummer moved to acoustic guitar, the keys focussed on a piano sound, Louis Riccardi moved to acoustic too and they sat in a circle. Lulu is a fine raconteur and talked about her masterclass in songwriting from the Bee Gees, and did Run to Me showing how Maurice and Barry worked on it, then Robin arrived and joined in. To Love Somebody inevitably followed, with first rate backing vocals from the whole band. As we were in the Bee Gees segment, I was desperately hoping for The First of May or Marley Purt Drive, but was happy enough to hear Gotta Get A Message To You instead. The Answer is Love, another from the new album completed this semi-acoustic segment. The drummer moved back to his kit.
We got the story of To Sir With Love, or part of it. It is an astonishing tale. US #1 for six weeks, best selling single of 1967 for the USA. The British branch of EMI relegated it to a B-side and wouldn’t relent. So although it’s her biggest selling record worldwide, it’s eclipsed by Shout, Relight My Fire, The Boat That I Row and the Song We Do Not Mention in Britain. OK, the song we do not mention and Lulu reportedly loathes (don’t we all) is that Eurovision classic Boom Bang-A-Bang. But To Sir With Love is a signature song. She has decide to radically re-make it with a reggae beat, with her female bass guitarist pulling out a perfect reggae lurch. Does it work? Well, you can certainly reggae it, but you can with most things. I had my doubts. The reggae was fun, but I’d have either preceded it with a verse in a straight version, or followed it with a verse in a straight version. This is particularly important as she has remembered and restored the significant third verse that ended up on the cutting room floor.
The full dramatic ballad treatment instead went to Cry from Making Life Rhyme, the last of her compositions for the evening. We were into covers time, soul time, fun time.
The starter was Hound Dog, another duet with Louis Riccardi, with lots of acting up, posing, humour … and yet a really powerful rocking take on the song.
Then came Otis Redding’s Try A Little Tenderness. You might point out that Bing Crosby did it in 1933, Aretha in 1963, and Sam Cooke in 1964 … but Lulu is channelling Otis 1966.
The shade of Otis Redding was hovering over us, because Lulu then did a long, long teasing intro. We all knew that it was going to get to Shout, but it must have taken five minutes. She used every soul singer trick in the book, she got every one of us on our feet, she built it brilliantly, then she did a fantastic performance of the song. I’ve seen a lot of 60s soul singers, and frankly few are in Lulu’s physical shape, but she was as powerful as any of them and belted out the WELL … just as she had at fifteen. Astonishing work. In fact, she ranks with P.P. Arnold as Sixties female soul vocalists who have retained full power … and ability to rock on stage too.
The encores had to stick with soul. Actually, for the first time in the evening the band sounded a bit ragged in I Can’t Turn You Loose but it is inevitable behind so much soul singer improvisation. It’s an Otis Redding composition. I’ve often said the only British man who can get away with saying ‘y’all’ is Mick Jagger. Lulu chucked a ‘y’all’ in too and she got away with it. Only just, but she did.
She finished with Edwin Starr’s 25 Miles and the band sounded back on solid ground. A great ender, and as with Van Morrison, the band kept going for a minute or two after she left the stage. All in all, a great show. The sound balance was very good all evening … just right. it sounded loud, but never “too loud” and vocals were all clear, drums didn’t overpower, bass was clear and unfuzzy too. As she said, this is a new band. She obviously feels part of it, and she’s at a lot of festivals this summer.
She only did three of my Toppermost list of ten, but nevertheless I went home fully satisfied. Don’t miss her if you get the chance.
Making Life Rhyme: rear sleeve