Classical Music: Mae ball

Vanessa-Mae Coiston Hall, Bristol

This may not be an original theory, but has anyone actually seen Vanessa- Mae and Cliff Richard in the same place at the same time? Cliff, as every English schoolboy used to know, was born Harry Webb in Lucknow, India, so he's been out east and seen a thing or two, as well as recording for EMI, Vanessa's label. And Vanessa certainly has Cliff's patter off pat. She talks in the most charming way to the audience yet she doesn't appear to say anything at all. Write it down in your notebook and by the end of the gig the words have disappeared. Vanessa and Cliff even share the same kind of curiously sexless shimmy, and while wiggling her bottom as she plays is somehow seen as deeply expressive when Tori Amos does it, with Vanessa it's more like the oddly detached eroticism one might derive (if you're lucky) from watching the women's singles final at Wimbledon - another Cliff reference-point.

Whatever did happen to Vanessa-Mae anyway, apart from the arrival of a rogue hyphen, or was it always there? Like Vanessa's patter, it's difficult to remember. But she's gone rock, that's what, recording the new Storm On album and touring the world to promote it, performing at the grand opening of the Dubai Shopping Festival, and playing an exclusive concert for the Queen and 26 Asian and European heads of state at Buckingham Palace. Plus the Kremlin, obviously. She still plays the violin, of course, but it's now part and parcel of a whole spectacular entertainment, with rock band, string section, dancers, backing singers and a laser show.

When the show begins it even looks as if the combined casts of Cats and Phantom of the Opera have somehow got in on the opening number, but as Vanessa emerges from a platform high up on the stage nobody appears to recognise her and the grand entrance is rather undermined. They still don't recognise her when she next appears amongst them in the stalls, holding a radio mike and singing Donna Summer's "I Feel Love", and all but holding up a sign saying "I'm Vanessa-Mae".

This strange anonymity is, however, clearly part of Vanessa-Mae's great appeal. The weirdly incongruent personae - part compliant bar-girl, part posh private school prefect, part girl next door - never quite fit with each other, and what remains is this undeniably charming and talented young woman who has somehow become a really big star. The classical legacy is still attended to, as her mum accompanies her on the piano for a bit of Ravel (dedicated strangely enough to the late Frank Sinatra), but the main agenda item is pumped-up pomp-rock of a fairly lumpen sort. Dressed down for the first half in wrap-around skirt, T-shirt and boots, and vamped up (but still rather decorously) for the second in a leopard-print dress, Vanessa tries to be sexy but never really puts her heart into it, despite a brief bump and grind with the dancers in the disco number. Her innocence is also echoed by the audience, and even when she says she's going to get stripped down to basics for the next number, there's not even the shadow of a nudge-nudge from the very mixed crowd, many of whom look like they've gone out looking for a garden centre and somehow taken a wrong turning.

As mass entertainment the show is oddly anodyne, but you can't help warming to Vanessa-Mae, perhaps because she's so transparent. Introducing the band at the and, it's obvious that she doesn't know most of their names, but she's enough of a trouper not to even pretend to give a toss. After all, she's Vanessa-Mae. Well, either that or Cliff Richard in very convincing drag.

Vanessa-Mae's `Storm On' world tour comes to the Royal Albert Hall, London on 1 June, and continues around Britain until June 6th.

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