Alfie Boe’s one off show on the Isle of Man was this week and regular reviewer, Cecelia Powell, was there for us.
On Tuesday 6th November some good pals and I trampled through lashing, windswept rain in Douglas, Isle of Man to the Villa Marina hall in all its Edwardian grandeur for what was billed as ‘An Evening with Alfie Boe’. Half the fun of an Alfie concert is meeting up with old friends and making new. Once you’re hit by the Alfie bug, you never know where he’s going to take you – musically, or for that matter, geographically! There were fewer familiar faces and the audience was predominately Manx residents, but there was a real buzz in the air. With a new album coming out, none of us was sure exactly what was to come.
The audience was warmed up by the talented Lauren Samuels, who treated us to musical theatre songs and the music of Burt Bacharach, ending her set with, what else, Bacharach’s Alfie. After the break, four men walked on stage: Ross (the brilliant pianist who accompanied Alfie on his recent radio tour), Pete (the wonderful Australian guitarist who joined Alfie’s band for the summer concerts), Murray, (Alfie’s MD whom we’ve all learned to know and love) and the man himself. That was it. No backing singers, no horns, no drums. So from the beginning we knew we this was going to be a different performance to what we’ve been used to of late. Just four superbly talented men seated on a stage in a darkened concert hall. Dressed semi-casually in black trousers and jacket, with a white shirt hanging out and a pair of clunky boots, Alfie almost immediately asked for some lights to be turned on in the hall so that he could see the audience. And so the concert began.
First came a few of the new New Orleans jazz songs that have been trickling out from the new album: Sing, Sing, Sing, followed by Minnie the Moocher and Stompin at the Savoy, ending with The Way You Look Tonight. But these weren’t the big production numbers that we’ve been hearing from the album. The whole feel was much more intimate, much more inclined to draw you into the feel of that smoky jazz club where the music was originally heard. For these numbers, and throughout, Alfie contributed to the musical arrangements with a tambourine. People weren’t up dancing in the aisles, but feet were tapping, hands were clapping and the focus was entirely on the man and his music. The diamond in his pocket, Bring him Home, had to come, but he preceded it with a few cheeky bars from Master of the House because there had to be a bit of banter – like the fact that he’d dressed up as Jean Valjean for Halloween wearing his jacket from Les Mis, and everyone thought he was The Greatest Showman!
A short break for people to get drinks and refreshments was followed by a selection of Neapolitan tunes. The sublime Parlalmi D’Amore Mariu from La Passione was followed by Serenata’s Mama, Volare and Mambo Italiano, and he left the stage to Buona Sera, which left us feeling like we’d all been kissed. There was banter, there was audience participation, but it was more the feel of being at a private party than at a concert.
Another short break, and we were treated to a folk/country section. First, Keep Me in Your Heart in the heart-wrenching way it’s sung on the album. But, of course, there had to be some audience participation on those Sha La La Las. When it came time to get the men to sing, and a voice cried out “Bring it on!” Alfie had the perfect foil. Little did Alfie know that Lester was a music teacher, and he not only joined in with the singing but belted out an accompaniment on the piano! Tom Petty’s evocative Wildflower came next, and then The Old Crow Medicine’s Show’s Wagon Wheel. Now this is a number that really allows his accompanists to shine, but there was ample time throughout the evening to let the musicians showcase their talents with fabulous guitar riffs and almost ragtime piano solos. This was topped off by a version of Guns & Roses’ Sweet Child of Mine. Not a rock star version, but one that was packed with so much raw emotion and longing it left me breathless. The Together albums that he recorded with Michael weren’t to be forgotten, of course. First Hero and A Thousand Years, and then He Lives in You, Pete joining in brilliantly on the vocals. The set ended with Run, for which Alfie called Lauren Samuels back on stage to join him. And then came the encore of Elton John’s Rocket Man. An extraordinary performance that took me up to the stars.
Over the course of the evening, there was plenty of interaction with the audience in his own inimitable northern style, including comments aimed directly at Manx residents that drew much laughter. My favourite was a story of his visit to the island as a ten-year-old lad on a school camping trip, on which the nuns kept the children in order by relaying tales of the “Moddey Dhoo”, a phantom dog said to haunt Peel Castle. And there was a collection taken up at the end of the evening for a hospice on the island, of which he is an ambassador and had visited that morning.
The man can sing absolutely anything so, unlike most performers, he attracts fans with very disparate tastes in music. Luckily for me, I love the man in all his musical guises. He can be any of them, or all of them. For me it’s all about the voice and where that voice takes me, and believe me I travelled a lot of miles that night! For this one night, we were treated to something that I found very, very special, and who knows if it will ever be repeated. Most of the songs were entirely delivered seated. There was power, but it was controlled. There was no razzle dazzle, no gimmicks, no distractions. The songs were stripped down to the bone. I heard things in familiar songs that I’ve never heard before and, as always, they were sung note perfect. It was like having a private gig with the man. I was sitting in packed concert hall, but it felt like he was singing directly to me. This really was Alfie unplugged, and for me the evening was magical. I was wrapped up in a musical bubble and floated out of the hall. In fact, I don’t think I’m still quite down on terra firma yet. For me, this concert was billed exactly right. We were treated to an evening with Alfie Boe, and I feel blessed to have been there.
What a fabulous review Cecelia and I’m sure I speak for many fans when I say that I wish I had been there.
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