Crazy Coqs in Piccadilly Circus and The Pheasantry in King’s Road are the joint go-to venues for the finest in cabaret-style jazz in London and promotor John Billett has just launched a second season of Jazz Divas which will showcase nine of the breed between March and July. In a nutshell, on the first Friday and Saturday of succeeding months a different diva will strut her stuff in the King’s Road.
From my point of view the series started disappointingly given that my music of choice, Elaine Delmar, say, caressing her way through The Great American Songbook, is light years away from what these first two divas were offering, but let’s be clear, that is not the same thing as saying the divas in question leave something to be desired: Both have achieved fame and carved out successful careers with large fan bases; it was more a case of expecting a Debussy buff to appreciate and enjoy Wagner. On Friday evening I was at an adjacent table to promoter John Billett and his wife, and on Saturday John and I actually shared a table. On Saturday he enquired if I had enjoyed Friday’s performance and I answered truthfully that I had not enjoyed one single minute, endured rather than enjoyed. Saturday was marginally better inasmuch as I was on first-name terms with all but one of the 18-song repertoire.
On Friday Polly Gibbons, accompanied by James Pearson on the piano, performed songs associated with Nina Simone and Ray Charles, neither of whom light my fire, but even I am familiar with Let The Good Times Roll, You Don’t Know Me, Unchain My Heart, Hit The Road, Jack, I Put A Spell On You, My Baby Just Cares For Me. Somewhat bizarrely Ms. Gibbons included Oh, What A Beautiful Morning, giving it the same hog-calling delivery (plus the same two-fisted accompaniment) that informed the rest of the set.
Liane Carroll accompanies herself on piano and her repertoire embraces the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s, but in terms of vocal delivery and piano accompaniment should you close your eyes you would be hard put to distinguish between the two performers. In the case of Ms Carroll they should create some kind of special award to bestow upon her for successfully contriving to make material as diverse as My Favourite Things, I Get Along Without You Very Well, They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Witchcraft, Summertime, Both Sides Now appear interchangeable with only the lyrics to distinguish them. That, of course, is in addition to the medal for having the balls to double-time all sensitivity and meaning out of Hoagy Carmichael’s I Get Along Without You Very Well.
Let me now attempt to balance what may appear harsh, apologise to the two ladies for not being my cup of tea, which is hardly their fault, and say that it seems that had this notice been the work of any member of either SRO audience, even if they struggle with “the cat sat on the mat”, it would be an unqualified rave. I’ll be attending the performances of all five remaining divas, inch allah, and with luck my reviews will be more positive.
Jazz Divas: Polly Gibbons & Liane Carroll. The Pheasantry, King’s Road, Chelsea, London, SW3 4UT. 6 & 7 March 2020