Promoter John Billet has come up with a new concept which could well be a winner if my experience is anything to go by. His lunchtime concerts are exactly what it says on the tin – mini gigs running from 1.10-2.00 pm at Crazy Coqs in London’s West End more or less daily.
I caught the third concert, Elaine Delmar accompanied by John Pearce on the piano, and, with most of the audience, I was blown away. In an audacious acknowledgment to her age she kicked off with a number that was new to me and may well have been written specially for her. While I’m Young resembles Alec Wilder’s While We’re Young only inasmuch as two of the three words are identical but where Wilder’s standard is wistful the new number is witty and upbeat and Delmar put it over in a way reminiscent of Mabel Mercer extracting every nuance out of Alan Lerner’s When We’re Sixty-Five at Tony’s or The Byline Room.
I can pay no female entertainer a greater compliment than to mention them in the same sentence as the doyenne of cabaret performers and whilst Delmar and Mercer are not really alike, the comparison on this occasion is apposite: Mercer invariably worked with just a piano accompaniment and almost always in small rooms – what the French call “intime” – where, motionless on an armchair, she metamorphosed into Scheherazade for 90 minutes at a time.
Delmar works mostly with small combos or even full orchestras and is nothing if not animated but at Crazy Coqs even John Pearce contrived to sound like William Roy or Bart Howard, just two of Mercer’s regular accompanists.
The bulk of the set comprised standards from the cream of the crop – Gershwin’s I’ll Build A Stairway To Paradise, Dick Rodger’s Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered, Rodgers again – this time with Hammerstein instead of Hart with It Might As Well Be Spring – and an exquisite ballad reading of Cole Porter’s I’ve Got You Under My Skin. Even as she inches her way into late middle age the pipes remain as fluid as ever, reminiscent of no one so much as Sarah Vaughan in her prime.
The 50 minutes went by in a flash and finally, with a nod to the season, she bowed off with Mel Tormé’s The Christmas Song. All in all it was 50 minutes of the kind of magic you don’t see any more since Camelot dropped off the radar.
Elaine Delmar with John Pearce: Crazy Coqs, Sherwood Street, London, W1F 7ED; 11 December 2020