Gladys Knight review – a masterclass in enduring talent
4 / 5 stars
Royal Albert Hall, London The empress of soul is on top form, injecting material from Sam Smith to Marvin Gaye with her effortless vocals
￼Article by Betty Clarke of The Guardian, my bit tagged on the end in Bournemouth..
Six years after a farewell tour of the UK, Gladys Knight is met with a standing ovation. Dressed in sparkling white, the 71-year-old hides her face with her hands and gives a gracious curtsey. “The young ones say: ‘What you doing out here?’ she says, gesturing to the stage. I tell them: ‘I guess they aren’t through with me yet.’’’
But the “empress of soul”, whose talent carried her from a 1950s TV contest to R&B’s Chitlin Circuit in the segregated south of 1960s America, and on through Motown, 70s disco and 80s pop, isn’t here for devotion. She’s on a mission, dipings into her seven-decade career, imparting positivity and sharing homilies. “We can share our spirits, we can share our love,” she says. Never a diva, Knight sounds more like a concerned parent than a lay preacher, and she sings every word with sincerity.
Midnight Train to Georgia, Baby Don’t Change Your Mind and Licence to Kill are masterclasses in effortless control, but Knight is even more impressive on the funky, Curtis Mayfield-penned Hold On and I Heard It Through the Grapevine, which starts in simmering, Marvin Gaye-style before Knight returns it to its aggressive, R&B roots.
She’s just as at home with contemporary songs. Bruno Mars’s If I Was Your Man seamlessly blends into Knight’s sultry If I Were Your Woman, while Sam Smith’s Stay With Me proves a popular choice. Her brother – and Pip – Merald “Bubba” Knight joins her on stage for the Beatles’ Something and a joyful version of Pharrell’s Happy. Despite having performed Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me “at least 1,500 times”, the veteran sings with fresh emotion. And this time round, there’s no hint of retirement. “When you leave here, please drive carefully,” Knight says. “I need to see you next time I come.”
and from me….
In Bournemouth, Gladys was a sprightly 71, her 72-year-old brother was great fun and provided a fab link to the Pips days, and the backing musicians/singers and producers all very professional. Gladys and Bubba have still got the voices – one of the frequent comments I hear when going to see veteran acts is that they’ve “lost it” or are “has-beens” or “the voice is shot”. Not true, Gladys can still flawlessly belt out the vocals with passion and class – witness Sam Smith’s Stay With Me: where Sam’s version is more simpering and self-pitying, Gladys’ is more of an urgent demand. The merger of Bruno Mars’ If I Was Your Man was a nice surprise, but Gladys’ response, her classic If I Were Your Woman was elevated in comparison, what a great song largely forgotten these days. In fact, Licence To Kill apart (which was great) it was her early Motown funk stuff with the Pips and the funky Buddah stuff that came over best, along with the crowd-pleasing contemporary stuff, and the Motown anecdotes of Michael J, Marvin G and co and the covers were nice tributes, what can I say I got to hear I’ll Be There (Jackson 5) a Marvin version of I Heard It Through The Grapevine and Gladys’ hit version, not to mention a great Something Beatles riff! No room in the setlist, sadly, for Take Me In Your Arms (And Love Me), It Should Have Been Me, Help Me Make It Through The NIght, The Look Of Love and other tracks that were more famous in the UK than the USA, which is a pity, but maybe next time, Gladys? (Plus, put out your version of Stay With Me as a single immediately!)
Wot I loved most
1 – If I Was Your Man/If I Were Your Woman
2 – Midnight Train To Georgia
3 – I Heard It Through The Grapevine (2 versions mix)
4 – Licence To Kill
5 – I’ve Got To Use My Imagination
6 – Part Time Love
7 – Neither One Of Us
8 – Something
9 – Happy
10 – Baby Don’t Change Your Mind
11 – Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me
12 – I’ll Be There
The big crowd pleasers though were The Way We Were, Midnight Train and Happy.