Live at Zédel, London
I grew up in a house without music. We didn’t own a record player, and I didn’t know – apart from the signature tune to Listen With Mother – that music came out of the radio until I was about 12, as it was permanently tuned to the Home Service.
So once I got a holiday job and bought my first trannie – as transistor radios were called in the dark ages – I discovered the delights of Radio 2 and the glamorous-sounding singers with the BBC orchestras.
Lorna Dallas is an artist whose name is always preceded by ‘Miss’ whether announced on the radio, or as a popular guest artist in The Good Old Days by chairman Leonard Sachs. It’s an accolade she has rightly earned, perhaps more honourable than Elaine Paige’s OBE or Cleo Laine’s Damehood for being so freely given by her peers in the theatre and broadcasting fraternity.
Dallas came to London, and to prominence, when cast as Magnolia Hawkes in the 1971 revival of Show Boat – a production in which also featured Laine as Julie LaVerne. If you now listen to the album, you hear Cleo Laine merely singing songs from Show Boat, but Dallas acts every word.
So she does in her current set at Brasserie Zédel, extensively celebrating Spring in 16 tightly themed numbers. Dallas is almost as remarkable a song archivist as she is a song stylist because her pieces are the opposite of easy listening, being carefully chosen from a back catalogue which may feature Kern, Gerswhin, Lerner and Cole Porter but – with the exception of a delightful ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’ – will almost certainly not be familiar to the majority of her audience.
So you have to listen, which is not a pain because she has a persuasive range, from a chest voice which invites smoky blues, through a clear head voice and into a still-strong almost operatic high soprano with which she decorates every piece.
Anecdotes about Ivor Novello and Olive Gilbert make her sound older than her years, but while warm and generous this is an intensely researched and meticulously rehearsed production which can feel slightly documentary.
To pay her a sideways but well-intentioned compliment: with her firm jaw, journalistic preparation, super precise diction and elegant cardigan and slacks, it’s the performance the redoubtable Angela Rippon might give were she a singer rather than a news reader.