Burt Bacharach In Concert: Royal Festival Hall
Monday 4th July 2016.
What do you expect an 88 year old man to do on a Monday Evening?
a) Struggle upstairs to bed around 8pm.
b) Doze off in his chair around 7pm – just after finishing his 5pm nap?
c) Stand on stage at the Royal Festival Hall in London for two and a half hours without a break, giving an unforgettable account of his life’s work?
Obviously, here, the answer is C.
I will also state, for the record, that it has to be the strangest concert I’ve ever attended. I expected a “Slick American” event. A big orchestra, running through their carefully rehearsed pre-planned set list, with the ‘leading man’ perhaps seated at a piano – occasionally speaking to us, or joining in a few of the songs. Cool and professional to the end.
What we got instead was “our friend Burt, inviting 2000 of his old friends round to his place for the evening, maybe a few tunes, a few stories, a quick sing-along.” The outsized hall shrank to the size of his lounge, as he casually chatted, shuffled piles of manuscript on top of his piano, told the odd story then decided that “this is the next one we’ll play.”
The full orchestra was present and correct, augmented by Bacharach Junior on keyboards (Junior’s sister was in the audience – horsewoman, not musician, apparently) and guitar-playing vocalist John Pagano.
Two more lady vocalists, the remarkable Josie James, and expressive Donna Taylor made the most of their spots, James stealing the first half, Taylor the star of the “Film Medley” in the second.
The middle section of the show also saw barefoot Joss Stone pad on for almost an hour of banter, stunning song (“I’ll Never Fall In Love Again,” “Close To You” “The Look of Love” ‘ ‘nice tune’ she quipped, you had to be there) and uninhibited giggling when things didn’t go totally to plan.
Still and all, it is Mr Bacharach himself who was celebrated and who celebrated himself. Growling his stories, some old, some new, always startling as he reveals just how and with whom he worked, his generosity shone. From acknowledging every member of his orchestra, to shaking hands with and signing programmes for fans in the front row. Always in charge, always given respect rather than having to command it.
For weeks leading up to the concert, as tickets became increasingly scarce, I admit I worried whether he’d be able to do the show at all. Last night, I heard the man himself sing “Magic Moments,” “Alfie” and “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” (that last one, twice). To have caught somebody deserving of the title “living legend” and found that he more than lives up to that billing – and goes far beyond, I honestly feel. Well, I am very happy indeed that I shared that “Magic Moment” with him. A memory that will remain forever.
Say, is there a song in that?!