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Burt Bacharach Together with Joss Stone, Eventim Apollo review - an evening of timeless classics | reviews, news & interviews

Burt Bacharach Together with Joss Stone, Eventim Apollo review - an evening of timeless classics

Burt Bacharach Together with Joss Stone, Eventim Apollo review - an evening of timeless classics

Anyone who has a heart is unable to resist the pop maestro

Burt Bacharach, 91, still saying a little prayerEric Ray Davidson

Whatever age you are, in whatever era you grew up – wherever you grew up – you will know, perhaps unknowingly, a large handful of songs by Burt Bacharach, almost all written with lyricist Hal David. The two men met in 1957 in New York’s celebrated Brill Building, where the creative talents positively jostled for attention.

Some of the songs came from film soundtracks – Bacharach scored many major movies – and the songs have had many lives, Dionne Warwick and Dusty Springfield both enjoyed success with “Wishin’ and Hopin’” and “I Say a Little Prayer”, Warwick and Cilla Black with “Anyone Who Had a Heart”. George Martin commissioned an arrangement from Johnny Pearson for Cilla, producing the session himself as usual and it was this version that was the bigger success. Warwick was not pleased but Bacharach admired Black’s version and would soon work with her on “Alfie”, putting her through 31 takes – the most demanding of her life, the singer reported.

Both “Heart” and “Alfie” are clear demonstrations of what makes a Bacharach song several cuts above. The unexpected key changes, unusual chord progressions, syncopation and time changes, and phrasing that emphasise very particular words – all are hallmarks of the Bacharach style that is insultingly referred to as “easy listening”. Like another Brill graduate, Neil Sedaka, only more so, Bacharach’s songs are intricate, carefully wrought, bigger productions but still comparable with the composers of the Great American Songbook. The two Gershwin awards were well deserved.

The audience at the first of two nights at the Eventim Apollo were thrilled to see Bacharach. He’s 91 now, and walked slowly on-stage to a standing ovation. He’s got conductor’s hump and it looks as though he has a dodgy knee. The shoes were for comfort rather than style. But none of that mattered because Bacharach is in every other respect unimpaired, playing the piano, conducting and bantering with his fellow performers and the audience, obviously having a good time. There was an orchestra of around 30 players who probably hadn’t had long to rehearse but who carried it off well, despite the odd moment of sound imbalance. All credit to the wind and brass soloists. The three backing vocalists, all of whom took solos, were excellent: Donna Taylor, Josie James and John Pagano, the last also playing a fine bossa nova guitar.

Joss Stone was frankly surplus to requirements, easily outclassed by Taylor. She played with Bacharach in 2016 and presumably he found the experience agreeable. But “the white Aretha Franklin”? Her best moment came with “In Between the Heartaches”, a difficult song to pull off, with its high tessitura, tricksy time signatures and elusive harmonies, but which she’s been singing for some time – it featured in BBC TV’s all-star salute to Bacharach in 2016. Her other contributions to the evening included “Walk On By”, “Wishin’ and Hopin’”, “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself”, “Close to You” (one of the gloopier numbers forever associated with the Carpenters) and “A House is Not a Home”, which might have had Miss Peggy Lee spinning in her grave. Stone suffers (or did last night) from Cilla Syndrome: fine in the pianissimo moments but ear-rending when she lets rip. Part of the problem may be down to poor microphone technique which, in the 16 years since her Mercury Prize, she’s had plenty of time to learn.

Taylor and James acquitted themselves well, the former on “Falling Out of Love” and a medley of “Make It Easy” and “On Your Own”, the latter on “Anyone Who Had a Heart”. Pagano’s spotlight moments included “With a Voice” and “This House is Empty Now”, written with Elvis Costello.

Bacharach chatted engagingly about his songs (Ursula Andress inspiring “The Look of Love”, working with Aretha) and about waking up daily under “the cloud” of current American politics. His croaky performance of “Alfie” was touching, the maestro’s solo piano highlighting the song’s incredible musical architecture: the vocal line, often chromatic and full of challenging wide intervals; the harmonic palette as rich as can be; that whole-tone scale after “you’re nothing, Alfie” as the song moves towards its close, tonality arrested mid-flight. "That's What Friends Are For" followed by "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head", with which the audience was invited to sing along, provided the encores.

Bacharach learned classical piano as a child but preferred jazz, sneaking off to Manhattan clubs to hear such greats as Basie and Gillespie. He studied music at Montreal’s McGill University and New York’s celebrated Mannes School among other places and his teachers included Darius Milhaud, Henry Cowell and Bohuslav Martinu all of whom were adventurous boundary-pushers. He could have been a conservatory composer himself but instead he provided us with many of pop music’s greatest moments.

Liz Thomson's website

His croaky performance of 'Alfie' was touching, the maestro’s solo piano highlighting the song’s incredible musical architecture

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Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Comments

Does anyone know why Joss Stone didn’t come out for encore or get thanks from Butt?

Perhaps he didn't think she was very good either!

The reference to Peggy Lee doesn't make sense. I think Liz Thompson must be confusing 'A House Is Not A Home' with 'The Folks Who Live On the Hill', the song forever associated with Ms Lee.

apologies, senior moment - though both I and my guests were sure she'd sung it

Replying to both:

Perhaps he didn't think she was very good either! (You call him Butt btw: slightly Freudian in view of her attire which was not, shall we say, flattering.

Apologies if that is the case, though both my guest and I thought Peggy Lee did, or that she at least sang it. It's not on the webpage list of songs she didn't record however. I guess Warwick's must be the best known. My point is that Stone's version was very poor.

Joss Stone suffered from a terrible case of distortion on her mic....not her lack of technique or vocal quality. Quite frankly the guy on the sound system should have been fired as the appalling mix and sound diminished the incredible performances. The distortion on Stone’s radio mic was unforgivable.

It's really interesting for me to read these comments. I just got home from the concert. I was so excited all day, I've loved these songs with a passion for 50 years. But it started, Joss sang, and there were no goosebumps. I didn't enjoy her voice at all. There was hell of a lot of screeching. It really dawned on me how important Dionne, Dusty, Aretha .. and possibly Cilla, are to hearing these magical songs. The lighting was horrible, the people on stage, their faces lit badly. We had horrible strong lights shining into our own faces for much of the performance. The whole thing lacked intimacy and magic. And I was so distracted by people constantly going to the toilet or going to buy their vile plastic cartons of beer. The whole event felt more like being at a holiday camp watching a tribute act. It really does have to be said the backing singers really shone, and they rightly got much appreciation from the audience. I had no issue at all with Burt's strained croaky version of Alfie. It was in its own way rather touching. Rather sad there was no Trains and Boats and Planes ...but I guess you can't have every fabulous hit. But it's very true, Joss Stone added nothing to the experience at all. I was very relieved she didn't do every song all the way through. The ending was a little odd. I think the orchestra and backing singers half expected there to be an encore. The ending was confused. I'm very pleased to have finally seen Burt .. but stick with the fabulous backing singers, or have a real star who can carry the songs.

There may have been distortion but essentially she's just not very good. The white Aretha? Do me a favour

I felt it finished a bit abruptly, I don’t think Burt was 100% himself I am afraid, and for the first time in seeing his performances over the past 6 years time is beginning to tell on him sadly.

sadly like all the greats he us getting on. And there is no one really to match the talent of all these giants

‘‘This was a terribly boring show. Utterly tedious and a waste of time. It seemed he was dismissive of what Joss Stone could do with his music - maybe Burt and his unrelenting ego was fearful of being upstaged by a powerhouse that could put her imprint on these beautiful songs if allowed to.

Really? I don't think so. This is a man who has worked with real talents

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