Time to add another name to the list of people whose music I grew up with and whom I never thought one day I would actually see live on stage. Lulu’s been recording songs for almost as long as I’ve been listening to pop music. Her only UK No 1 single was Relight My Fire which she shared with Take That; she had a No 2 with her Eurovision winning Boom-Bang-a Bang, and a No 3 with her version of Bowie’s Man Who Sold The World. Guess which of those three songs she didn’t perform last night? That’s right. Come closer and cuddle me tight. #mustwriteeurovisionoutofthehistorybooks.
But as Mrs Chrisparkle pointed out, her career really has taken a new direction with her latest album, Making Life Rhyme, and a lot of the early stuff would have sounded out of place on that stage last night. Yes, I confess, I had hoped for The Boat That I Row, Me The Peaceful Heart, I’m a Tiger, Love Loves to Love Love as well as her Eurovision winner; and I am sure the audience would have been very happy to hear those songs again too – in fact, there was a massive sigh of relief when we all realised she was just about to perform To Sir With Love. But I accept that there’s a time and a place for everything and Lulu is currently in Try Not To Mention the 1960s mode. It’s something of a running joke, is it not, that the one thing no one wants to hear when they go to see an act they’ve known and loved for decades is “now I’m going to play some tracks from my latest album”. NOO!! We came for nostalgia! We want to be reminded of when we were slim and still had hair! But to be honest, the second song she played was from her new album and within a minute or so of the band striking up, I knew I had to buy it.
But I’m leaping too far ahead too quickly. The show started on the dot of 7.30pm with an unassuming bearded guy wandering on to the stage with a guitar. Blimey, that Lulu’s sure let herself go, we all thought to ourselves. But no, this was Mr Darren Hodson, one of her guitarists, come out to warm us up with three songs from his group’s latest album. First he gave us The Leaving Kind, then Feels Like Years, then Crash. I’m not normally one for too much of a country sound, but I must tell you, gentle reader, that I really enjoyed these songs. Terrific guitar work, an excellent sense of story-telling and a genuine warmth in his voice. His group’s called The Southern Companion and the album is 1000 Days of Rain. I commend them to you most heartily. Sold.
Then it was time for the main event. The rest of the band members took to the stage; as well as Darren, there were two other guitarists, John-Louis Riccardi and Yolanda Charles, drummer Ricci Riccardi, and musical director and keyboard player Richard Cardwell. Over the course of the next couple of hours, I really grew to appreciate how talented those musicians are. In the middle, all in black, Lulu. She cuts a petite figure, enhanced by an attitudinally perched hat, and, after the interval, a glitzy red jacket and less uncomfortable boots. Now at the age of 67, she’s no longer the bumptious teenager who cheekily grinned her way through her repertoire. Now she comes across as someone who’s had a serious reappraisal of her life, has worked out what it is she wants from it, is still learning from life’s mistakes, and is using song-writing as a way of re-establishing not only her music career but also her identity. No wonder, then, that she comes on stage, mainlining cool, focussed on her performance more than on her interaction with the crowd. Slowly gaining a relationship confidence with us as each number gets a good reaction, it’s part performance, part therapy.
We started off with what I would have bet good money would have been one of her encores – Relight My Fire. It didn’t have the party feel that the old Take That single has; I’d say that Lulu (not necessarily the band) was still in warm-up mode for that one – it was good but it didn’t soar. However, that quickly changed with her second song, the brilliant Faith In You from her new album. It’s got such a deliciously funky rhythm, it captivated me from the start, and it really brought out the best from the band. As did the next song, her 1974 hit of David Bowie’s Man Who Sold The World. I’ve always loved that recording, as it’s so slinky and sensual, and was one of those instances when a cover version revealed hidden depths to what was already a superbly recorded song. Vocally Lulu gave it some fascinating rephrasing which made it very exciting to listen to, but the performance was really made by the brilliant guitar accompaniment by Louis Riccardi. He emphasised all the mournfulness and innate beauty of that melody. Even if nothing else that followed were to be remotely as impressive, then the evening would not have been wasted.
It was at this point that Lulu started to open up, and become a little more confident about talking directly to us, and this became the pattern for the rest of the show, introducing each new item from a personal perspective. Her next song was Where The Poor Boys Dance, that she recorded as a single in 2000. I had heard it before – a long time ago – and it’s a refreshingly honest and sincere number, that I really enjoyed. Other songs she performed included a track about obsession, Every Single Day, from her new album, and Cry, for which she was joined – as a rather heartwarming surprise – by members of the Military Wives Choirs.
After the interval, we were treated to a couple of wonderful Bee Gees songs – Lulu having been married to Maurice, of course, recollected a few warm memories of her being with the group and watching their songwriting process just organically grow in her presence. She gave us a beautiful rendition of To Love Somebody, and then a very emotional I Just Gotta Get A Message To You, one of my personal Bee Gees favourites. I ended up singing it all the way home, much to Mrs C’s alarm and critical response – she didn’t comprehend that I was doing the descant. Amongst other nuggets, Lulu gave us a fantastic version of To Sir With Love – she said that originally on the tour she had performed a reggae version, inspired by the Reverend Al Green. Apparently it hadn’t gone down too well with the fans. So they’ve pared it back to a very plain and simple version, relying heavily (and exquisitely) on Yolanda Charles’ bass guitar contributions, and it was a thing of beauty. There was also a very different version of Hound Dog, the old Elvis favourite, transformed into a kind of love duet, where us the audience would also lose our inhibitions and join in. And with a knowing wink of recognition that she hasn’t completely abandoned her roots, we ended up with a rousing performance of Shout, a song that stands the test of time surprisingly well; even in an evening of cool there’s always room for a little raucous abandon.
To my amateur eye, Lulu’s tour schedule looks absolutely punishing. Last night Northampton, tonight Barrow, day after tomorrow, Grantham. With 34 dates between 2nd March and 20th April, there’s no room to swing a cat let alone sing I’m a Tiger. If you haven’t seen Lulu live before, or only have memories of her 60s/70s youthful output, go along to one of her concerts. You’ll be amazed. We absolutely loved it.