Speech Debelle, Night and Day Café, Manchester
Sir Cliff Richard and the Shadows, O2, London
Rapper Speech Debelle might not have had as hard a life as her publicity suggests, but she puts on a convincing show
Sunday 04 October 2009
When she rhymes, disarmingly, "Got more lies in my CV than pros got STDs," she's not wrong. The initial backstory behind south London rapper Speech Debelle, surprise winner of the Mercury prize, was all to do with homelessness.
The fact that Corynne Elliot, now 26, had spent some time with no fixed abode was a potent piece of award bait, and it worked. In the aftermath, however, one gets the impression Elliot is embarrassed by that angle. She admits to having grown up a middle-class "spoilt brat", albeit one whose father left when she was six.
At 19 she fell out with her mother and, like a lot of young people, spent a few itinerant years kipping in hostels or on friends' sofas, while remaining in touch with her family. She never sat outside King's Cross station begging for a highly specific 28p.
Nevertheless, her prize-winning debut album, Speech Therapy, draws upon the street life she witnessed during that time. Tonight, "Searching" – the album opener – hits home like an even grittier cousin to Estelle's "1980", with its talk of cat-sized rats and such lines as "I know the Blair Witch, I seen her yesterday/She collapsed naked on the bed with a needle in her crotches/And the baby sniffles as he watches ...". This is no-punches-pulled realism, and it's why Speech Debelle deserves better than to be dismissed as a soft option for guilty liberals.
This is rap, but it ain't hip-hop (a distinction many find hard to grasp). Her backing band play a blend of acoustic reggae and Latin jazz on an upright bass, Spanish guitar and simple drum kit while Debelle, shaking her volcanic baby dreads and pushing her specs back up the bridge of her nose, wrestles heroically with tongue-twisting verses which probably seemed a much better idea at the writing-down stage.
She's hugely likeable, chatting to the audience as if she's actually having a conversation rather than rattling off rehearsed stage-spiel. Here's hoping she never loses that. "I'm from south London," she jokes after an alcohol appeal comes up trumps. "You can't just leave an open bottle of wine and expect me to drink it." Her look is library, but her accent is ghetto. I guess that makes her libretto.
From the introductory film of Sir Cliff Richard pulling on his patents and shooting his pink cuffs, almost erotically slow and close, it's clear that his final reunion tour with The Shadows is going to involve more cheese than a Babybel factory.
Then again, if you can suppress your giggles when the lights go up and the 68-year-old growls the words "Mammy says no ...", there's something really sweet about seeing a group of silver foxes, a little whistly-voiced now with their gleaming dental veneers, getting back together one last time to do what they used to do in the unimaginably distant days of National Service.
Incredible as it may seem to anyone whose main memory of Cliff involves swinging his arms to "Saviour's Day", there was a time when he and his band really rocked: listen to "Move It" for starters, or "We Say Yeah". OK, they weren't exactly Gene Vincent and the Bluecaps, but they weren't Pat bleedin' Boone either.
The almost three-hour, 41-song (count 'em) set involves plenty of naffness and bad cabaret banter. Cliff talks about being inspired by Elvis, whereupon Bruce Welch interjects, "Did you know Elvis sold more records after he died?" to which Cliff pouts, "Yes ... well, I'm not that competitive."
"Livin' Doll" brings out the granny-claps, and the urge to let out an Ade Edmonson "FIES MY SOUL!" is overwhelming. "Bachelor Boy" may be awful, but it's taken on a new resonance since Cliff revealed he's been living with his "companion" Father John McElynn since 2001 and – how cool is this? – has been urging the church to accept gay marriages.
"Summer Holiday" is strangely moving. The film from which it is taken says as much about freedom, escape and youthful possibility, and British ideas thereof, as does Easy Rider about the American equivalents (and I mean that most sincerely).
The best moments, though, come when Cliff vacates the stage altogether and The Shadows – now comprising founder members Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch, bassist Mark Griffiths, drummer Brian Bennett and his son Warren on keys – get to practise their co-ordinated circular duck walk.
Hank Marvin is surely the least rockin' rock guitar legend ever. But none of that obscures the fact that, back in the days when Norrie Paramor was producing them, they knocked out some killer surf-twang instrumentals. Above all, there's "Apache" whose intro still sends tingles down your neck. Has Quentin Tarantino used it yet? And if not, why not?
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