I wonder if the rock world underestimates Bonnie Tyler. Allied to the fact she has been more of a singles than an albums artist, and an interpreter of other people’s songs rather than her own, the overblown power ballads and hair to match condemn her, just like many other artists prominent in the eighties, to being a product of their time, reduced to the kitsch nostalgia circuit of Rewind festivals and the like.
This headline show at the London Palladium, I would wager, was part of a sustained attempt to reclaim her legacy as one of Britain’s greatest female singers, alongside her first full length album in many years, ‘Between the Earth and the Stars’, released earlier this year and boasting both duets with big names and songs written by people ranging from Barry Gibb to leading contemporary hit makers.
An additional bonus for me was one of my favourite current acts Cats in Space being added to the bill at relatively short notice. While a proud occasion for them- not least keyboardist Andy Stewart whose grandfather Arthur Askey used to call out ‘hello playmates’ many a time from the boards here- it was also a testing one for a couple of reasons.
One was the audience, older and largely female, was not the most obviously receptive to unfamiliar material from an original rock act, even one that harks to the seventies for inspiration. The other was that this was a challenging environment for the Cats new singer Mark Pascall to play easily his biggest show to date.
Any concerns were unfounded- he had an engaging modesty and while lacking the instant flamboyance as a frontman of his predecessor Paul Manzi, nailed the latter’s vocals in a way which made it difficult to see the join.
Opening with ‘Johnny Rocket’ from last album ‘Daytrip To Narnia’, in a 40 minute set it was probably a wise setlist move to focus on shorter songs, though ‘Too Many Gods’ still has a magnificently pompous arrangement, complementing their trademark harmonies, and ‘Silver and Gold’ was equally enjoyable.
While a back to back pairing of ‘September Rain’ and ‘Scars’ – albeit with exquisite harmonies on the latter – took the set slightly too far into soft rock territory for my liking, the balance was redressed with ‘Hologram Man’- one of their many clever lyrical snipes at the current state of the music industry – with guitarists Greg Hart and Dean Howard pulling some classic poses together and the Who-style power chording of ‘Five Minute Celebrity’.
The latter used to be a traditional closer but the disco-flavoured ‘Thunder In The Night’ – a bit of a marmite song, but I am quite fond of it – seems to have taken that mantle and was a good choice for the evening: indeed they received a much better reaction from the Bonnie Tyler fans than I expected. Roll on the December tour, where hopefully some of their more epic songs can be restored to a full length set.
Any fears that Bonnie Tyler might veer too far into cabaret territory were swiftly dispelled, as opener ‘Flat On The Floor’ was muscularly up tempo, and her band was a conventional rock line-up of guitar, bass, drums and keyboards with some familiar faces- keyboardist John Young being one of the prog world’s most respected and prolific players and musical director Ed Poole the bassist in Romeo’s Daughter.
Bonnie herself, clad in sparkly black, was in lively form – though she did joke ‘thank God for Botox’ – while that trademark voice was in fine fettle, backed up where needed by sensitive band arrangements and backing vocals. I did hear some criticism from friends but they seemed to be missing the point – she has had that throaty rasp for over 40 years now.
The new album was featured extremely heavily in a way that a festival format would not permit, while the evening almost had a ‘This Is Your Life’ feel. Not only was every song preceded by anecdotes about their place in her career history or, in the case of the new songs, their genesis, but friends and relations were repeatedly namechecked and identified in the audience in that typically Welsh warmth towards extended families captured so well by ‘Gavin and Stacey’ a few years back.
The first song familiar to me was ‘Have You Ever Seen The Rain’, though John’s keyboards were more prominent on this arrangement than the Creedence original, while the new songs from ‘Between The Earth And The Stars’ covered a variety of bases including ‘Move’ which saw the band dabbling in a funkier sound. All were decent and ‘Bad For Loving You’ particularly impressive, but it was the title track that made the most favourable impact of all.
I did regret though there wasn’t more from her late eighties period when AOR tunesmiths supreme Desmond Child and Diane Warren were penning songs for her- ‘Hide Your Heart’, ‘If You Were A Woman’ and others.
Nevertheless, fortunately the greatest hits were all present and correct, even her breakthrough ‘Lost In France’ though it was John’s keyboards rather than a real accordion player creating the sound, swiftly followed by the classic ‘It’s A Heartache’.
I was surprised the latter did not rouse more people in the stalls from their seats, and indeed it was not until halfway through a typically melodramatic ‘Total Eclipse Of The Heart’ that a fan at the front succeeded in getting people on their feet to start swaying to the second half of the song.
‘Faster Than The Speed Of Night’ had all the Jim Steinman trademarks. John’s keyboard again predominated but there was a great climax as he duelled with tidy guairst Matt Prior, the latter belatedly removing his cap and playing behind his head, but surprisingly after exactly an hour that was the end of the main set.
Fortunately there was a generous encore period- after Bonnie gave numerous thanks and even brought her husband on stage, she talked of her twin inspirations of Tina Turner and Janis Joplin, and the latter’s ‘Turtle Blues’ became a rather too lengthy band jam followed by another blues from the new album in ‘Slow Walk’.
Briefly going into Michael Caine ‘not many people know that’ mode, she correctly reminded the audience before ‘The Best’ that she had recorded her version first, though listening to it I did think that the Tina version was marginally superior. There was then the inevitable ‘Holding Out For A Hero’, though on this occasion I felt for once she was struggling to catch her breath and the band seemed a little uncomfortable with the arrangement too.
I assumed that would be the set closer, but wisely hadn’t joined the rush for the exits as she asked if we wanted to hear another one, a poignant ballad from the new album, ‘Older’, her voice doing justice to some quite beautiful lyrics. It was proof that Bonnie Tyler is more than just a curious relic of a bygone hit making age, and made a fitting conclusion to a show that exceeded expectations.
Review and photos by Andy Nathan
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