Factory Theatre, Sydney
In which a 71 year old black American singer, best known as a backing vocalist for everyone from The Small Faces to Peter Gabriel, from Steel Pulse to Ocean Colour Scene, and everyone in between, headlines her first tour in Australia, backed by a rhythm section and lead guitarist from a famous Australian indie band, with a backing singer and keyboard player from a long running Australian music TV quiz show.
Did it work? Was it good? Well, yes, no, and sometimes.
PP released her album The Turning Tide last year, although it was recorded in the early seventies, mainly produced by Barry Gibb with three tracks produced by Eric Clapton. The common denominator here is Robert Stigwood, who managed all of them, and caused PP’s record to be delayed because he wanted to get the Bee Gees back together after their brief split at the time.
PP is definitely a survivor, and an impressive one. She sings brilliantly. She talks and engages with the audience right from the start, she’s friendly and funny, telling us stories about the songs and the famous people she worked with, starting with Ike and Tina Turner, with whom she came to the UK in 1966 as an Ikette. (“I came to England, I’d never seen so many white people”).
Her first two songs were Whatcha Gonna Do and River Deep Mountain High. The first was sloppy and I thought my worst fears were going to be realised (these Aussie white boys can’t play American black music etc), but RDMH was great. Well, truth be told you can’t really go wrong with one of the greatest records of all time, and PP belted it out. And the band did too.
The band being members of You Am I, led by guitarist Tim Rogers in ghastly Rajneeshi-orange suit. Young Tim has been everywhere in Australia lately, fancies himself as an actor, kids’ performer and general celeb pop star. He’s a good guitar player and has all the rock star moves, but he basically has one sound on both of his guitars, which is a kind of dirty Keef noise. The songs needed more variety and subtlety in that department, but despite his inadequacies he got through it with what I guess you’d call musical chutzpah, and it was obvious that he and PP got on well.
We got several songs from PP’s first album, The First Lady Of Immediate, and then the inevitable and execrable Angel Of The Morning (points for crediting Chip Taylor, the songwriter – always a Good Move), a terrible version of God Only Knows and a not very good Different Drum. Then she introduced another FLOI song which she proudly said was produced by “Mr Michael P Jagger” (if you can drop the names why not?) And then If You Think You’re Groovy with big and heartfelt tributes to Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane. (“I loved the Small Faces – we were all the same age, and the same height”).
Then it was time for The First Cut Is The Deepest – brilliantly sung and performed, and again she acknowledged the songwriter Cat Stevens. And pointedly noted that SHE did it before Rod Stewart. And then we were into The Turning Tide songs, they’re not all that great I have to say but there was a lovely Medicated Goo, and Bury Me Down By The River to finish.
By this time there was a lot of love in the room, the audience on their feet, and back they came for an encore – chundering their way through You Can’t Always Get What You Want. And then the song I realised everyone was waiting for, and which I didn’t expect her to do, seeing as how she was the backing singer. But our Tim stepped up to the mic and delivered a pretty good rendition of Tin Soldier and PP and fabulous backing singer Talei Wolfram belted out the bvs and the house lights came on and we all went home happy. And keyboard player James Black, who with Talei is a mainstay of the Aussie music quiz show “Rockwiz”, nailed the keyboard parts, as he had done all night.
Just about all over 50s, unlike similar gigs with 60s/70s artists (eg Zappa, McCartney) it seems PP doesn’t have such a famous name and therefore interest from “the younger generation”
It made me think..
We still like a night out, even on a Wednesday, especially when it starts only 15 mins late (9.30pm). And, PP knew her audience (“I love being a grandmother – raise your hand if you’re a grandparent!”)