A magical evening in the company of Scott ‘Bespoke Banter’ Wimsett and the legendary Liza Minnelli who headlined at the Hampton Court Palace Music Festival tonight. I’ve told you all my stories about hustling an interview with Liza in Las Vegas a million years ago when I was a cub reporter at the Sunday Express. I blagged my way into the backstage interview at Bally’s Casino after Liza’s show having positively stalked Eleanor Lambert and Liza’s godmother Kay Thompson by telephone for weeks.
Suffice to say, I’ve been in love with Liza ever since. Cabaret is the only number I can sing karaoke with any conviction or the ghost of a tune and I have seen Liza’s every appearance in London since the early 90s. Anda and I saw her Tony Award winning Liza’s At The Palace show at the London Coliseum in which she was her most electrifying. Scott and I caught Liza at the Royal Albert Hall last year and had the night of our lives. We’d had a few sips before she went on and had front row seats in a box in the Grand Tier. Suffice to say, before Liza had even cleared her throat we were weeping buckets and hollering ‘Go Liza!’ at the top of our lungs.
Now I don’t like outdoor concerts. I think they lose some of the intimacy and importance of a grand concert hall. But seeing as the gig was at Hampton Court Palace, I couldn’t resist booking the tickets. This being British summertime and an open air gig, rain was mandatory. Scott decided to drive and we didn’t get it together to organise a picnic in the palace gardens so breezed into the Mitre Hotel on the river for dinner.
I love hotel restaurants, don’t you? It all stems from my grandmother Gandy who would take my mother and I to lunch at the Peacock Hotel in Rowsley for posh lunches when I was a child. The Peacock is the dower house to Haddon Hall in Derbyshire and a very grand old Tudor edifice it is too. I will never forget Ivy in the oak panelled snug of the bar: a dead ringer for Annie Walker with bosoms like a battleship and a heart of gold. I remember Robert the head waiter with a waxed moustache longing to be twirled who would serve me my usual Pokey Pola on the rocks. But I digress.
Back to Liza. She went on at 9pm accompanied by Billy Stritch and a pretty small group of marvellous musicians. By now it was raining fit to flood. The entire audience were trussed-up in clear plastic condoms with hoods that made them look like the dwarf in Don’t Look Now and I have never, ever seen such a motley crew who clearly had a collective weak bladder problem. You’d have been so proud of Scott and I Rowley, I wore my green velvet Edward Sexton smoking jacket and Scott a black DJ. We sat sans umbrella in the front row with ramrod straight posture – rain water pouring down our collars – and had the time of our lives.
How’s Liza? It would be kind to say the lady’s voice needs a little more time these days to warm up. It’s a tough call to belt Maybe This Time and Cabaret in the first half of a set when it is cold, you’re only performing a one-nighter and the audience is not entirely hers. The gays were out in force as were Liza’s ladies who adore her ‘been there, done that’ patter. I think I spotted Mia Farrow in the audience and definitely clocked Sir David Frost.
Liza was clearly loving playing a real Palace rather than the theatre in New York where she and her mother triumphed in their time. She cracked a lot of wise about failing to hit the high notes. When Liza’s voice occasionally cracked, she’d turn to the audience and mug ‘off with her head’. Liza is a consummate professional, a tryer and she becomes more endearing with age. She started the second set with voice and piano arrangements from her new album Confessions duetting with Billy on absolute beauties such as He’s A Tramp. It was at this moment that she touched the sublime.
I’d have given the entire first set to Confessions and allowed the pipes to mellow into the showstoppers at the top of the performance. What I absolutely love about Liza is her guts, her nerve and her absolute dedication to giving her audiences her all. She will crank out the big guns because it pleases us although I think she really came to life singing Confessions with Billy. I can see Liza playing the cabaret at the Brasserie Zedel and performing only new material that she loves to sing and challenges her voice and her audience.
True to form, Liza reached heaven when she performed her favourite Kander & Ebb number The World Goes Round. It’s always at this moment in the show when my head gravitates towards Scott’s shoulder. Those lyrics are the wisest ever penned: ‘Sometimes you’re happy, and sometimes you’re sad. But the world goes round. Sometimes you lose every nickel you have. But the world goes round. Sometimes your dreams get busted in pieces. But that doesn’t matter at all. Take it from me, there’s still going to be a summer, a winter, a spring and a fall’. You ‘aint just whistling Dixe.