Sinatra: Raw – Richard Shelton at Cadogan Hall

As if by magic, Richard Shelton seemed to convince his audience he was Sinatra, even if phrase and timbre sometimes belied it

Richard Shelton plays Sinatra

I approached this performance as one who has been a fervent admirer of Frank Sinatra since I became old enough to form cultural tastes, which wasn’t yesterday or even the day before, and, by definition, someone aware that the unique timbre of Sinatra’s vocal cords makes it difficult, if not impossible, to replicate the Sinatra sound; even Sammy Davis couldn’t quite bring it off.

But that is Sinatra the singer; what of Sinatra the man? Within 10 minutes I had reached the conclusion that what I was witnessing was nothing more or less than pure alchemy. Somehow, and so subtly that they were totally unaware of it, Mr Shelton had contrived to convince the audience that he was Sinatra, despite not taking a single puff of a cigarette from beginning to end, something, of course, that the real Sinatra would never do.

Speaking of the audience, and given that, were he still with us, Sinatra would be weeks away from his one hundred and eighth birthday, I fully expected to have to fight my way through a combination of zimmer frames and hands proudly holding aloft telegrams from the late Queen and present King, and whilst it’s true that 60% had perhaps travelled via bus pass, that left 40% of 20- and 30- somethings, all the way up to retirement age.

Working with the minimum of props – bare stage, piano, occasional table, bearing a fifth of Jack Daniel’s, one tumbler full of ice, and one to drink from – Mr. Shelton took us through something like the first 55 years of Sinatra’s life in a combination of two thirds narrative to one third vocals, from All Or Nothing At All, to Fly Me To The Moon, I’ve Got You Under My Skin, It Was A Very Good Year and New York, New York, which he offered as an encore.

Shelton has a powerful voice and can both hold and bend a note when he wants to, and although he has clearly studied Sinatra in detail, there are moments when he ignores Sinatra’s phrasing, biting off notes that would be held and vice versa. It could be a matter of style, even individuality, but in any event, accompanied by just pianist Graeme Taylor, he held an SRO audience in the palm of his hand, and left them yelling for more.

It was convincing enough that I sat through the whole thing soaked to the skin. Demonstrators were causing havoc in Central London, so I had to abandon my car off Oxford Street and walk in pouring rain to the nearest tube station. Though there is only the remotest chance they will ever read this, I would like to record my very sincere thanks to the two Mexican girls who insisted I share their umbrella, and went out of their way to ensure I got to the performance on time.

Richard Shelton, Sinatra: Raw at Cadogan Hall, Sloane Terrace, London