Friday, December 04, 2015

Ronnie Spector at the Barbican

Wonderful? Magical? Mesmerising? You can pick your own superlative to describe Ronnie Spector's show at the Barbican in London last night and I don't think anyone in the audience would argue. It seems that Ronnie pays a visit to London every few years around Christmas time to remind us how good she still is. There was no Santa outfit this time, as she's donned once or twice in the past (although she did sing Frosty The Snowman as part of her encore), but as a seasonal present to her fans the show was just what we wanted.
A few years ago Ronnie was playing in small, intimate venues like the Town and Country 2 and Dingwall's and it's a sign of her 'living legend' status that she now plays the all seated Barbican. The place may lack atmosphere but the sound was top notch, as was the band, and Ronnie, backed by some new young Ronettes, two of whom look very much like the originals, showed that her excellent voice, along with her beehive hairdo, is very much intact.
The show consisted of her life story, with spoken reminiscences introducing each song. Introduced as the Rose of Spanish Harlem she began with the Ronettes' second big hit Baby I Love You which gave an indication of what was to come. Between songs Ronnie sat at a podium, briefly forgetting her microphone at times, and recalled the first paying gigs with sister Estelle and cousin Nedra when they were known as Ronnie and the Relatives. The three girls got their first break when they were waiting outside the Peppermint Lounge, dressed up to the nines no doubt with Cleopatra style eye make up, when the manager mistook them for the dancers and invited them to do the twist in the club with Joey Dee and the Starliters. They put Kleenex in their bras to fill out their slim teenage figures she recalled. Keep On Dancing, a track unreleased at the time, illustrated this period in her career, followed by What'd I Say, another early track from The Fabulous Ronettes LP.
Ronnie's early inspiration was Frankie Lymon, who she remembered having recorded a live album at the London Palladium, and she loved doowop, she said, as she moved in to the Students' So Young, another early track. In early 1964 the Ronettes toured the UK with the Rolling Stones and in memory of this she sang Irma Thomas's Time Is On My Side, which was covered by the Stones. More Ronettes numbers followed with Is This What I Get For Loving You and Paradise, a track unreleased at the time written by Harry Nilsson. Throughout the show, archive film clips were being shown at the back of the stage and one of them featured the girls on Dick Clark's American bandstand, where their song Do I Love You was introduced strangely as 'native American music'. Other classics followed in the form of You Baby, Chapel Of Love (a hit for the Dixie Cups), (Walking) In The Rain, The Best Part Of Breaking Up and I Wish I Never Saw The Sunshine, a tribute to her late sister Estelle.
All of these numbers were sung with energy and emotion and reminded me how poor many of today's songs are compared with these wonderful Brill Building efforts. Ronnie referred briefly to her 'seven years out of show business', but there was no mention of the reason for that - her murdering ex husband and genius record producer Phil. Instead she moved on to her later career with You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory, a Johnny Thunders song she recorded with Joey Ramone. If Frankie Lymon was her inspiration in the fifties then Amy Winehouse still inspires her today, she said, as she sang Back To Black sounding very like Amy I thought.
Finally it was time for the Ronettes' biggest hit Be My Baby, which brought the rapt audience to its feet. After a pause she returned for Frosty The Snowman and I Can Hear Music - a suitable song to end a show which will remain in the memory for a long time. Come back soon Ronnie.


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