Burt Bacharach at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall (29 Jun ’16)

This blog continues to deal with a backlog of gigs – I’ll be back on track soon. This time let me take you back to a warm night when Burt Bacharach came to the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall.

TicketI got to the venue just in time for support act, AJ Brown, who was a very smooth, swing-tinged piano man, introducing his first number, “ladies and gentlemen this is my soulful song”.

As none of his music is on Spotify, here’s a video of him performing In The Moment live, which had a touch too much of the schmaltz histrionics on the night:

He’s from Yorkshire and clearly trying to be a bit of a showman, telling the audience that a song called Cowboys Don’t Cry had been written in South Africa, apropos of pretty much nothing. It was quite a jaunty number in a Jamie Cullum style.

AJ Brown

AJ Brown

The set closed with a cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s immortal Bridge Over Troubled Water. See him do it here:

I then headed to the Phil for a pint of Liverpool Organic’s reliable 24 Carat Gold between acts.

I’d never seen Burt Bacharach in person before, and I’d ummed and ahhed about coming to this as the tickets were pretty expensive. However, I decided that as he’s already 88 it was probably now or never for a man who’s written more beautiful pop tunes than pretty much anyone either alive or dead.

Just look at the playlist at the bottom of this review for a list of some of the greatest, loveliest melodies in the history of popular music. Walk On By, I Say A Little Prayer, Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa, Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head and (They Long To Be) Close To You, to name just five.

Burt Bacharach

Burt Bacharach comes on stage

He’s never been much of a singer himself, and he only took on brief snippets of songs tonight, with his voice very croaky, while he was pretty frail-looking (although very dapper), often making odd little hand gestures to the music. Instead, there were three singers who took on most of the vocals – Josie James, John Pagano and Donna Taylor.

After an introductory What The World Needs Now Is Love (originally a 1965 hit for Jackie DeShannon) sung by all three, Burt addressed the crowd, saying “let’s have a love fest” before hastily vowing that he would “never say that again”. He then made an odd reference to Luis Suárez and ears.

They then ran through a medley of a whole host of classic songs he wrote with long-time lyricist partner Hal David, many of which were first recorded by Dionne Warwick. Unfortunately, I was sat next to a woman who was determined to sing along to pretty much every song of the evening – especially frustrating as she was singing the way the songs were originally recorded (when she managed to get the words right), with the live renditions obviously being phrased and paced slightly differently in concert, meaning she was often out of sync (and tune…).

Burt, Donna Taylor & John Pagano

Burt, Donna Taylor & John Pagano

Burt told the odd story in between songs, including the famous one about making Cilla Black do multiple takes of Alfie when he came over to arrange the song at Abbey Road Studios, before allegedly finally settling on the very first one!

The great songs, like Do You Know The Way To San Jose, Make It Easy On Yourself and I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself, kept coming, while he rather strangely introduced Baby It’s You (covered by The Beatles on debut album Please Please Me) by saying that he was honoured to be one of “very few American composers to get a song recorded by The Beatles (there were five more tracks written by Americans on that same album!).

On a couple of occasions, his son Oliver came out to play keyboards, while Any Day Now (originally recorded in 1962 by Chuck Jackson, with Elvis Presley amongst others to set it down) featured quite a trumpet solo by the big man responsible.

Josie James

Josie James

(They Long To Be) Close To You, first recorded by Richard Chamberlain and one of the very many Bacharach & David songs cut by Dionne Warwick (but made most famous by The Carpenters) was unnecessarily lounge-ified to my ears, but most songs were treated well, despite the somewhat cabaret nature of the evening.

The last part of the main set was a medley of movie music, with Burt taking on more of the vocals at this stage. He returned pretty quickly after going off, revealing that he had first met the orchestra which was backing him and his other musicians that afternoon, which says a lot for their skills, and the timeless nature of the material, in being able to gel so well.

He then promised that he would move to Liverpool if Donald Trump won the US Presidential election. Something I really, really hope doesn’t come to pass.

The one new song he played was Hush, from an imminent musical, sung by Bill Cantos. Then, after fragments of Magic Moments and Three Wheels On My Wagon the show ended with That’s What Friends Are For and then a second, singalong version of Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head.

The whole event was a little too ‘golden oldies’/cabaret for my usual tastes, and not the type of gig I want to attend all that often, but I’m still very pleased to have got to see Burt Bacharach. Let’s face it, my chances of doing so again in Liverpool are probably very slim, considering his age, apparent health and regularity of touring.

Tonight’s t-shirt

I wore my brown Beatles t-shirt, and sadly didn’t spot a single other musical tee in the audience, though surely there must have been one of two others.

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Here is much of the music from the evening on Spotify, including some of the tunes played between bands:


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