Dionne Warwick, Fairfield Halls, Croydon
Monday 25 February 2008
Her entrance was so low-key that half the audience hadn't realised that she'd arrived. No band intro, no following spotlight. There followed several faltering minutes during which she explained why she'd come, reprimanded her backing singers for talking during her opening spiel (well, I guess you can do that to your sister and your cousin), and called for the ushers to check on some poor unfortunate who'd started sneezing and yelping from the stalls. "Where was I? What next?" she said. "A song?" someone yelled.
And so – finally – began My Music and Me, a lengthy trawl through "all the hits and more" in her 40-year, Grammy-studded career. The "more" bit was the chat, delivered in the third person, with a healthy smattering of bitchy asides. She warmed up with a little gospel from her Baptist roots back in New Jersey – and as she did we could hear that the years had taken their toll on this most distinctive of soul/pop voices. The engaging huskiness is still a feature of the croony middle range but the rasping top is clearly a lot less predictable now.
Her first anecdote was almost too fanciful to be true, telling how her first single grew out of a tiff with Hal David and Burt Bacharach over exclusivity. Her warning – "Don't Make Me Over" – was the hit waiting to happen. She sang it with determination, relaxing now into those soulful melismas, really flying in the final measures. Warwick still takes the risks, she's still a gospel singer at heart, going where the spirit moves her. And even when the notes don't land she unlocks memories.
And it's the memories that most of us hear now. The stories help them along. Like the one about her first Paris gig ("Paris, France, that is") where she was met on the tarmac by a strange woman with a limo – Marlene Dietrich. Bacharach was, of course, Dietrich's music director and that was effectively the beginning of an extraordinary musical symbiosis. It's probably safe to say that there would have been no Warwick without him. She, in turn, put the soul into his quirky meters and deliciously dislocated melodies.
And so the songs tumbled out, one winner after another, with a few lethal left hooks at Cilla ("she had a degree of success with 'Anyone Who Had A Heart' but this is the original"), Sandie Shaw, and others. And then she left, thanking us for the memories. Ditto.
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