Pop star turned soul diva turned international campaigner. In recent times we have seen Annie Lennox mostly in that last role, and so think of her as a highly serious, passionate and intense person.
The revelation of this evening was to discover that she is genuinely funny, warm, engaging and effortlessly charismatic.
The occasion was a fund-raiser for Lennox’s charity, The Circle, which aims to empower disempowered women across the globe. Interviewed by the broadcaster Jo Whiley, she went through her life and career, aided by screen projections of her right from a baby, through school, with parents and grandparents, outside the Aberdeen tenement building, with no bathroom, where she grew up, through to the years of fame and success.
It was a conversation full of amusing anecdotes and seeming ad-libs that drew to her still further an already adoring audience that included Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Her time at the Royal Academy of Music as a teenager was “grim” and “lonely”, she said. “I lived on £3 a week.” Pause. “Scottish people can do that.” Pause. “And we like it.”
She “slunk out the back door” of that institution, a mouse in the canteen apparently being the last straw. Then she met Dave Stewart, and together formed first The Catch, then The Tourists and finally Eurythmics. The show would have given an even better picture of her early career if the narrative had been punctuated with songs from those first groups. But she did step over to the keyboards to perform a Eurythmics number, and it turned out, for me, to be the pivotal moment of the evening.
She sang one of the band’s many memorable hits, “Here Comes the Rain Again”. But this was no longer the jaunty pop song of the early Eighties. Now the 63-year-old delivered it as a slow, poignant, hymn to sorrow, her voice if anything more powerful, more emotional, its range more striking. Noticeable too was what an accomplished pianist she is. It has been over 10 years since she last performed in concert in London, and one immediately felt that this was way too long an absence.
The hour-long first half contained just two songs, “Here Comes the Rain Again” and “Legend in My Living Room”, which didn’t seem quite the proper balance for “an evening of music and conversation”. The hour-long second half of conversation had no songs (until the stunning finale after the chat had finished). Lennox talked about her campaigning work, her trips to Africa to raise awareness globally of the 36 million deaths from Aids, her work with Oxfam (she said she was “disgusted” by recent revelations but urged the audience to carry on supporting the charity once it had its house in order and “not throw out the baby with the bathwater”), but also the deeply personal, such as how her life was temporarily shattered by divorce, (“it’s real pain, isn’t it” she said to the Islington audience, many of whom seemed to call back in agreement) and her difficulties in balancing being a famous musician with bringing up two daughters. Some tragedies went unspoken. A still-born child was not referred to. And all through the conversation, anxieties and life’s travails were laced with her idiosyncratic self-deprecating humour.
And then came the explosion. Conversation over, Lennox came back on stage with her band for a 30 minute set that included solo hits “No more I Love You’s”, which again showed off that extraordinary range in her voice, “Walking on Broken Glass” and a version of “I Put a Spell on You” that ranked with any of the divas that had made it their own over the decades. She ended with three Eurythmics anthems – “Sisters are Doin’ it for Themselves”, “Sweet Dreams are Made of This” and “There Must be an Angel”. At one point she lay prone; at another she literally crawled across the stage. It was impossible to take your eyes off her. And her voice was the epitome of pure soul.
Lennox’s campaigning work has been invaluable and her commitment to it unshakeable. But this mini-performance made one thing crystal clear. It is imperative that she make time and space to get back on tour. A performer as breathtaking as this, with a talent as evergreen, has a duty to be on stage.
Annie Lennox’s ‘Diva’ and ‘Medusa’ have been rereleased on vinyl
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