Soul Sisters. May 2016.

Dear Rowley,

An unexpected pleasure last night when the divine Suzi Perry invited me to see British Queen of Soul, Beverley Night, play the London Palladium: her first solo tour for four years.  The diva’s West End star has since risen in The Bodyguard, Cats and Memphis: The Musical. Beverly Knight and Miss P were at school together in Wolverhampton hence the friends and family tickets and after-party wristband.

Contrary to popular belief, the last gig I attended at the London Palladium was not Gracie Fields. I am a massive fan of soul divas like Aretha, Chaka, Dionne, Diana and Etta. I genuinely did not know that Beverley Knight was up there with the greats. What I loved about Knight’s set list was how seamlessly she eased through twenty years of her own recordings interspersed with tracks from her new album, Soulsville, covers of her beloved Prince and dirty blues in a bawdy Big Momma Thornton arrangement of Hound Dog.

There’s a new maturity in Knight’s voice and a discipline – possibly from singing eight shows a week – that allows her to nails every damned note seemingly without effort. She is a generous performer with the instinct to embrace her band and backing singers rather than soaring over these talented musicians. Knight’s musicality is now such that voice and body move as one.

Physically, Knight acts each song like a mini movie and the set list is choreographed to play the audience’s emotion and adrenalin as smoothly as a tenor sax. Ordinarily when a soul singer plays a big theatre, there’s an awful lot of awkward ‘seat dancing’ that makes one look as if your panty girdle has twisted  and is causing pain. In the friends and family seats we were all on our feet for Beverley Knight rocking it out in the Upper Circle. Quite steep mind. One black mama in our row almost shot over the balcony like a lemming.

Can’t tell you how much I adored the Soulsville standout track Middle of Love. Knight establishes drama with the first line – ‘I’m a whole lot of lady’ – giving a feline growl and the song is sold. The album was recorded in Memphis’s Royal Studios and Knight apparently sang into Al Greene’s mic so there is such a thing as soul karma. I want to buy Soulsville on vinyl because I think it merits respect for authentic, old school soul. Get me!

I don’t like to compare vocalists but, having seen Beverley Knight singing like a gypsy on fire for the best part of two hours,  she reminded me of the great Tina Turner. She is going back into The Bodyguard after the tour and sang a definitive If I Don’t Have You that even topped the late, lovely Whitney Houston. If I were Beverley Knight’s management, I’d be developing I Tina: The Musical or reviving the great Doris Troy’s autobiographical musical Mama I Want To Sing.

Beverley Knight’s closing set and encore was a masterclass in taking the show home. The cover of Prince’s Alphabet Street was my personal favourite. When Knight whipped off a white silk robe to reveal a sparkling silver mini dress for I’m Every Woman, the Palladium went wild.  As I said to Suzi, ‘quite the chorus of male voices’ suggesting that I wasn’t the only gay soul sister in the house.

Can you imagine how it must feel to have the London Palladium take you in its arms and love you?Beverley Knight does  and shed a tear or two that was pure gratitude, I’d imagine, not stagecraft. We tottered down to the after party that was made all the more pleasant because Miss P knows the star. I love the red coat waiters in tailcoats and white bow ties who pass round the Pol and the canapés. They are the chorus boys from Hello Dolly in all but name.

Highlight of the night after Beverley Knight was meeting DJ Munro who produces a lot of her new music. Apropos of nothing, I asked DJ Munro what it was like to be onstage at the London Palladium and – kid you not – he said ‘I’ll show you’. Be still my beating heart.

The London Palladium is sacred ground for me. That stage was home to the legendary Judy Garland and the mies-en-scene for her last movie I Could Go On Singing in 1963. Garland virtually plays herself in the film and the opening scenes see ‘Jenny Bowman’ in the wings at the Palladium psyching herself up. It is electrifying to see Garland beating the band, with adrenalin pumping, before she straightens her seams, walks out on stage and pulverisers the audience.

I cannot tell you what a thrill it was to stand on the empty Palladium stage with the house lights up as the roadies broke down Beverley’s set. Call me sentimental – many have called me much worse – but it was a London magic moment I will never forget. And what do you think was on the wall opposite the star dressing room? The last thing an artist sees before s/he takes the stage? A poster for Judy Garland at the London Palladium. To share this experience with Suzi was pure gold.

Suzi is one of the few people in this world with whom I only have happy memories. The laughs began in the crush bar over mini bottles of Prosecco when I told her I’d been auditioning new husbands. Without missing a beat, she arched an eyebrow and said, ‘you’ve been auditioning for years. Had a few call backs as well…’.

We were still laughing when we said goodbye to Beverley and DJ Munro. It looks like Suzi can come to my Turnbull & Asser book launch at the Getty Images Gallery next month. This is a good omen. Suzi wasn’t in London for the last one and we all know what happened at that unfortunate evening. Until next time…