Cabaret Val Doonican Green Room, London
Wednesday 01 May 1996
Doonican has taken the stage, unleashing that toothy flasher of a smile, which all too quickly starts to upturn... "You're supposed to be listening, not chatting. Now can I have a little bit of quiet please," he admonishes, which for an opening line, certainly scores over "Hello London". This is not something Frank or Bing ever had to deal with. At one point he resorts to a blunt "Shut up", and with one woman's strident cackling doing its best to compete with Val's resonant tones, it made for anything but easy listening.
But Doonican was not to be deterred. The initial uprising quelled, he soon had them joining in what threatened to degenerate into a Darby and Joan singalong: for this was no ironic young audience lured in on the back of the (alleged) easy-listening revival, but rather a collection of middle-agers there to relive the golden age of croon and tune.
And that was precisely what they got. Val doing his cabaret turn to Matt Munro, Burl Ives and Bobby Darin. But those few of us who grew up with The Val Doonican Show were getting restless. Halfway in and no sign of Val's own material. And then, when it did start to flow, it was mostly in that uniquely all-star light-ents format... the medley.
This was verging on the criminal. "Walk Tall", a gorgeous foot-tapper that fair skips along, was cruelly cut short, and the heartstring tugger, "Elusive Butterfly", fluttered to a halt before we could reach for the Kleenex. But medleys weren't the only part that made Doonican unrecognisable from his Seventies' incarnation. For starters, what was he doing in that suit? Had moths been at his cableknit? Surely he could have rustled up the orange polo-neck he wore on the cover of The World of Val Doonican, Volume Two?
And what of his choice of seating? On TV, the closest Val ever came to rocking an audience was on his chair, but tonight we didn't even get that, just a saloon stool, which he perched on, hands clasping microphone as if in prayer. To cap it all, he didn't even pick up a guitar.
So what of this Orwellian rewrite of popular culture? What were we to make of a singer who chose to remind us of "Let There be Love", but deny all knowledge of "Delaney's Donkey"? We did at least get a taste of "Paddy McGinty's Goat", but of "O'Rafferty's Motor Car", not a parp.
And what, in particular, did this tell us about Val's perception of himself? All along, it seems, he has fancied himself as the Irish Sinatra, when what we had him down for was a Saturday-night nursery rhyme warbler with a penchant for farmyard animals. Perhaps it was his way of telling an unruly rabble of an audience, "Don't get my goat".
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