"Seventy-two, and I'm still pretty", says the bewigged, sparkly white-clad figure before us. He's yet to play or sing a note, but Little Richard is already dabbing his brow with Kleenex.
"Seventy-two, and I'm still pretty", says the bewigged, sparkly white-clad figure before us. He's yet to play or sing a note, but Little Richard is already dabbing his brow with Kleenex. After half a bar of honky-tonk piano, he pauses to display a poster of himself, informing us that he will later sign copies at £20 a shot. This shameless plug is punctuated with one of his trademark "whoo!"s; the wide-eyed expression accompanying it making him look as though he is being goosed.
Though cancelled shows and less-than-gung-ho performances have blighted Richard's latest UK jaunt, he raises his game a little tonight. Backed by a tight, hyperactive band that might have been assembled by Noah (two drummers, two bass-players, two guitarists...), he delivers a convincing take on Al Lewis's "Blueberry Hill" and a version of "Keep a-Knockin'" that's surprisingly vibrant, given he's been singing the song for almost 50 years.
"Good Golly Miss Molly" sounds tired, but as Richard battles to keep his baggy, new trousers aloft, and spars entertainingly with well-wishers who keep interrupting his rambling anecdotes, his performance acquires a fatal fascination.
"I may be of age, but I can still ink a page", our host quips when a Marilyn Monroe lookalike engages him from the balcony. Despite the presence of his showboating, camp dancers, the woman seems unaware that Richard prefers male suitors. As if to underline this fact, he switches his attention to a good-looking, young man in the stalls, whom he says he can "feel a real good energy" from.
But Richard is much more than the Graham Norton of rock'n'roll, of course. And when he talks, as he always does, of his friendship with Sonny Boy Williamson and of Jimi Hendrix, it brings a little tingle to the spine. But bathos is ever near: the worst thing about his time washing dishes in a Greyhound Bus station in Georgia for $10 a week, the singer says, was that it ruined his "pretty hands".
Much of the show has a kitschy, end-of-pier quality and the singer's regular reminders that he'll be available to sign those posters become increasingly wearing. But the softly played blues "Directly from My Heart to You" is thrilling; Richard's husky voice a thing of wonder.
As he cavorts stiffly to a loose take on The Rolling Stones' "It's Only Rock'n'Roll (But I Like It)", you sense that this may be Richard Wayne Penniman's last trip to Blighty.
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