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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
 
LINDA LEWIS AND HER BAND Pizza on the Park, London, March 18th 2006

Linda Lewis' first LP (1971)

When I heard the words “welcome to our little knees-up” I confess I panicked. Surely not Chas and Dave again? But no worries, this was chirpy Cockney Sparrow Linda Lewis, of 1970s folky soulish disco crossover fame, in the plush (well – at least in the dark) and slightly posh Pizza in the Park in London’s rather knobby Knightsbridge, performing for the most part songs from her ‘comeback’ album, itself a live recording (Live in Old Smokey) made at Ronnie Scott’s, and her extensive back catalogue. Linda ‘went’ after her hits ‘Rock-a-doodle-doo’ and ‘It’s in his kiss’ in 1973 and 1975 respectively, and her last UK chart appearance in 1979.

Recording only periodically thereafter (‘though she has a gold-plated list of session work) she went big in Japan – almost Spinal Tap style - in the late 90s and is clearly now making a concerted attempt to re-stake a larger claim to fame. However not all the audience are here to see the right Linda Lewis – the two groping ladies sharing the shadowy and intimate table behind us keep on shouting for her to sing ‘Loving you’, whilst the American honeymoon couple on the other side of the stage are impatiently waiting for her to sing ‘Love and affection’. Fame? Linda, Minnie and Joan, eat your hearts out.
And let’s talk about the audience. Well they must be here for Linda because to be frank you wouldn’t come here for the food. One suspects that, pizzas apart, the kitchen has something of the microwave about it (even the salads). And the pizzas? Well you said you didn’t have them in France yet Serge, but now I know you have very nice pissaladiere. Unfortunateley ours were nowhere near as good as those tasty little treats. The venue is close by the hyper-posh Lanesborough Hotel, and a number of other similarly overpriced gaffs, so it’s an obvious draw for tourists and out of towners, who probably make up half the ample crowd.
They’re the ones wearing the Christmas present jumpers and black trouser suits, with that look of permanent distrust about them, as if they’re expecting the waiters (who, along with waitresses, are quite excellent) to stab them in the back, steal their wallets and handbags, and kidnap their husbands or wives at any moment. They also look unaccountably disconsolate (maybe because they’ve just realised that Linda Lewis isn’t Minnie, or Joan), but by the second set as the wine (good and reasonable wine list) kicks in and Ms Lewis’s very genuine and disarming charm wins them over, everyone gets pretty mellow. Both the groping ladies and the honeymooners are close to coupling by the end of the night, whilst adjacent tables of Australians and Americans have struck up a strange and very loud sort of entente cordiale. The obsessive fan with the crazed check jacket is in the Gents sharing stories with anyone who will listen about fantastic e-bay triumphs searching for Linda memorabilia (“I even got a pair of her knickers”). In the midst of this touristic League of Nations there are also clearly a lot of Linda’s extended ‘family’ – here to celebrate the new album release – and if it’s not exactly a who’s who of the London seventies scene that Ms Lewis was such a part of (which it ain’t) then it’s certainly a group of whom some, like Linda, have survivor written all over them.
Linda’s a nice soul, wears her heart on her sleeve (or in her songs) and isn’t afraid to share her vulnerability with her audience. She’s got no side, and easily takes us into her confidence. She’s been through the mill a bit since her meteoric rise to fame in the company of her boyfriend and later husband, Family member Jim Cregan (actually he’s got a rock CV as long as your arm, but that’s another story). He’s the one she sings about in Fathoms, an old song but one of the nicer ones from the first set. Of course he’s an ex – and we’re told there have been a number since. “I went out with him for two hours” she confides of Cat Stevens, before singing his ‘Schoolyard’ – and she doesn’t quite explain how she’s playing a guitar she’s had for 40 years, but which once belonged to Eric Clapton’s “girlfriend”. “She’s dead now, but I’ve still got it. Gosh – that makes me sound like a real cow doesn’t it?”. Nor does she care for Andrew Lloyd Webber, and found working with Mike Batt “the worst experience of my life”.
Ms Lewis’s most recent and apparently reticent husband is in the audience, and there’s a song written for him, the pleasant enough ‘Don’t do don’t’; “he hasn’t got long to go,” we’re told.
Well you can tell from all this that it’s a pleasant and very friendly sort of evening, if not a little lightweight. Ms Lewis has not lost her trademark high pitched voice, nor her ability to use it – even if she does start singing a little flat and ends chatting with friends, and nicely with the Photographer (“I could see your lovely headscarf from the stage”), over a pint of wine and constant cigarettes. She has a band who are really working for her, but with sadly limited material; many of the tunes sound as if they could merge seamlessly and effortlessly into ‘The road to Sante Fe’ and go all the way along the middle of it to Radio Twoland. There’s a lingering seventies feel of ‘love and peace, black and white’ about the songs (old and new) that sounds woefully misplaced in the callous and cynical first decade of the twenty-first century. I trawled out an old review of her, supporting Cat Stevens, when the reviewer wrote that Ms Lewis couldn’t decide if she was Joni Mitchell or Aretha Franklin.
Tonight it’s mostly Aretha, and occasionally Aretha meets Shirley Bassey, which is a shame, for the one Joni moment we get at the start of the first half, ‘Light years away’ and ‘Keep a wish’ is quite delightful and has the audience spellbound. I could have hugged her it was so good (it almost made the pizza worth it), and listened to it all night. I puzzled that Ms Lewis’ only fault seemed to be that she was a singer bereft of a song - or The Song that would put her back on the map. Never mind – she’s a thoroughly engaging personality on stage, a good live act to catch, and you could always lash out on ‘Live in Old Smokey’, or if you’re feeling nostalgic one of her many ‘greatest hits’ compilations. But just remember – it’s Linda, not Minnie, or Joan. - Nick Morgan (concert photographs by Kate, pizza by Nick)



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