November, Dionne Warwick tells us, will mark the 58th anniversary of her career in the entertainment industry. It is a career that has seen the American singer achieve legitimate legendary status, something to which her being the second most-charted female vocalist of all time (behind Aretha Franklin), racking up more than 100 million worldwide record sales and bagging no less than five Grammy awards along the way will firmly attest.
Tonight Dionne Warwick takes us on a journey through her musical past, one that will last for two hours, stretches across the length of her recorded output and touches upon no less than 37 songs in total. It is a nostalgic journey that traces the contours of the history of popular music.
Despite the fact that she is performing in a contemporary, state-of-the-art auditorium full of 1600 people, Dionne Warwick initially transports us all back effortlessly to the ‘60s and the intimacy of a supper-club show. This could just as easily be the Sands Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada as it is on the banks of the River Tyne in Gateshead such is the mood that she creates and the songs that she sings.
Dionne Warwick’s five-piece band – conductor and pianist, Rob Schrock,Todd Hunter on keyboards, percussionist Renato Brazo, bass guitarist Danny Demoralis and her eldest son David Elliot on drums – the nucleus of which has been with her now for a quarter of a century are all decked out in black evening suits and matching bow-ties. With her neatly-coiffured silver hair, black shimmer top and white trousers Warwick is also a picture of refined elegance and sophistication. The fact that they choose to perform all of Warwick’s best-known songs as one mammoth medley merely adds to the sense of it being such an old-fashioned occasion.
But before they begin, Dionne Warwick lays down some ground rules for the evening. Singing along, clapping and cheering are all to be encouraged; the use of cell phones to record video footage or take photos is not. For all of Ms. Warwick’s kindly and convivial demeanour, you do feel that she is not a woman to be crossed.
After a lengthy introductory monologue in which she nods obliquely towards her bankruptcy filing some five years ago – “boys and girls have continued to buy my records and have kept that wolf from my door” – Dionne Warwick gets down to the serious business of what she describes as “us all having a good time”.
She begins with ‘Don’t Make Me Over’, her first single to reach the American Billboard chart way back in 1962. It is also the record that gives its name to the current tour of which tonight’s performance is the last UK date. Written by composer Burt Bacharach and lyricist Hal David – two men who almost single-handedly soundtracked the Sixties and one of the truly outstanding songwriting partnerships – it commences a sequence of what are surely some of the greatest pop songs of all time. ‘Walk On By’, ‘Anyone Who Had A Heart’, ‘Reach Out For Me’, ‘You’ll Never Get To Heaven’ and ‘Always Something There To Remind Me’ pass by in a blur of reminiscence and yearning for another time, the only regret being that these classic songs are invariably presented in severely truncated form – ‘Trains and Boats and Planes’, for example, is only afforded a couple of lines – and as such we are not given the opportunity to properly luxuriate in their glorious arrangements and the sheer wonder of Dionne Warwick’s voice.
Dionne Warwick may well now be 77 years of age and cannot quite scale those dizzying heights of her upper register of yore, but she is still more than capable of producing moments of breathtaking beauty. On ‘(They Long To Be) Close To You’ – perhaps more famously recorded by The Carpenters – her voice is silky-smooth as it just glides over the song’s sumptuous melody. ‘Make It Easy On Yourself’ is infused with heartfelt power. And when some half-way through the show Dionne Warwick alights from the stool where she has been sat all evening for the Movie Medley part of her set, things really begin to take off. The sequence of ‘The Look of Love’, ‘A House Is Not A Home’ and ‘Alfie’ comes complete with all of her familiar elongated phrasing and is absolutely thrilling for that.
For the closing sequence of the evening we can perhaps forgive Dionne Warwick the indulgence of bringing her granddaughter Cheyenne Elliot out to join her on stage for the last four songs because the memory of her outstanding delivery on her 1979, Barry Manilow-produced hit ‘I’ll Never Love This Way Again’ – where she sounded eerily like her cousin, the late great Whitney Houston– is still fresh in our minds as it moved way beyond the confines of its MOR sheen with such an incredibly powerful edge that the song, and indeed the entire performance, easily transcended mere nostalgia.
God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.