Luther Vandross Tribute Concert – Bridlington

March 2, 2019

So abandoning my pre-occupation with banjos, fiddles and stetsons. My current wife and I departed to the Yorkshire coast to see a Luther Vandross tribute concert. For a man who should agonise about authenticity, accomplished musicianship from men with beards and discovering the true meaning of life through profound lyrics then you may ask what came over you?

Back in the day we used to worship the man. We saw him in Sheffield and London; inevitably I’ve got loads of his CD’s and vinyl. We couldn’t get enough. Despite poor Luther shuffling off this mortal coil in 2005 he still has a considerable UK following. A good friend posted a video of one of these shows and it looked so good we thought why not go?

We rolled into Bridlington, which in all honesty is on the edge of the world. A town of just over 35,000, which clings onto life in the face of the ravages of industrial decline typical of many Northern towns. Sustenance is maintained through fishing and tourism. It seems on ‘life support’. The photo below is of one of the gardens we passed on the way to the venue.

Such is the town’s isolation that Harry Cambridge, Luther for the night, made some observations about wandering around the town in the afternoon surprising the locals telling them that Vandross was dead and his is a tribute show. In fairness Vandross is unlikely to have made it to East Yorkshire. 

We parked up near the venue, close to the start time, and expected that a sparsely populated auditorium would mean that the ushers would be waiting for us before starting the show. Not a bit of it. We lurched towards our seats with a G&T for Mrs Ives and a pint for me.  Around us appeared to be a near sold out show of around 500 hardy souls braving a mid week February night.

My amazement was further increased when I noted nine performers on stage. A band of five with three backing singers. Straight into “Give Me The Reason” and any doubts were dispelled that this would be anything other than superb. The hits and album tracks flowed. Harry replicated all Luther’s vocal idiosyncrasies with his slightly deeper baritone compared to Vandross’ tenor. His backing singers were well drilled with perfect harmonies and dance moves.

The audience, many of whom I suspect were seeing the show for a second time, loved it. Several fuelled by alcohol and high spirits created some distractions as thirty something nurses and call centre operatives chatted to their mates about little or nothing. This was in stark contrast to a recent Americana concert I attended. It was here that a member of the audience complained to my wife that I was distracting him by him being able to see my mobile phone screen occasionally as I made notes about the songs. With this audience he’d have needed police protection if he complained.

 We grooved in our seats to “So Amazing’, “Any Love”, “Stop To Love” and Stephen Still’s completely baffling “Love The One Your With”. When the pace slowed he knocked “Superstar” out of the park (and into the sea about 40 metres away). I had chills during my favourite “Dance With My Father”. 

More delight came when Harry introduced one of the backing singers – ‘Happy Holly’. She stepped into the spotlight and duetted on “The Best Things In Life Are Free”. Whilst she was fantastic it has to be said that anyone can sing better than Janet Jackson. Another chanteuse – ‘Gorgeous Gemma’ made herself available to become Mariah Carey on “Endless Love”. These girls could really sing.

Harry had a lot of banter with the audience. On one song he invited a sing-a-long and as the carousing females butchered the melody he pithily observed: “this is called music and you can at least try and sing the same song!” He had stage craft. A quick Google notes his West End stage career and other tribute impersonations. He was well aware that some of the audience would only know three Vandross’ songs and maybe the rest would know the whole catalogue.

I’ve previously written about how hard the vast majority of musicians find it to make a living. At the end of the day pursuing your muse must be satisfying, not least, if you can sell concert tickets and produce volume selling albums that dwell on your personal suffering over politicians you don’t like. However at £22.50 a ticket and a nearly full house there may be a way of getting larger audiences, more satisfaction and a bigger bank balance.

Toward the end we had lift off as we peaked with “Never Too Much” and “Searchin’”; there was dancing in the aisles. One might say that there was a lot of flesh out of control and it wasn’t pretty. For my part I well remember a quote from a member of AOR band, Kansas, when asked what would get him up and dancing at a wedding he volunteered ‘a shotgun’. I wasn’t as difficult to please but my dancing resembled a man shuffling barefoot over Lego. It was a brilliant night. Viva Vandross! 

Oh well back to being serious…

Post Script…

I posted the above link onto Facebook. ‘Luther’ saw the review and posted the following. Many artists read my reviews but somehow this was completely unexpected and delightful.

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