Gay Times review july 2014

Review: Mari Wilson at London's Crazy Coqs

She was just what we always wanted...

Sitting amongst the dim candle light of The Crazy Coqs jazz bar you’d be surprised to think the hustle and bustle of Piccadilly Circus is just a stones throw away. 

Quick off her nationwide tour playing Dusty Springfield, Mari Wilson performed to a packed house at the Brasserie Zédel on Tuesday night. Along with a pinch of Dusty, Wilson also performed a variety of cover songs and her own hits including the classics I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten, Spooky and Cry Me a River. 

Standing alone on a stage, just the pianist John G Smith to keep her company, not a single face was left disappointed. Thirty years since she recorded Just What I Always Wanted, Wilson showed us that the fire still burns bright. 

Between songs with a soft voice she entertains the crowd, joking about how getting old affects what she wears. When she talks we see Mari on the stage, yet with a melody in the air her voice transports you away as she embodies the character in her songs. 

The highlight of the night came with her rendition of The Ronettes’ Be My Baby that had the crowd singing along. For a smooth evening with just a hint of theatricality and the perfect entertainment, Mari Wilson is one you really shouldn’t miss.

Harry Dean
Musical Theatre Review July 2014

Mari Wilson continues at the Crazy Coqs, London until 12 July.
Anybody who does not know that Mari Wilson hails from Neasden could not be left in doubt for very long. Her cabaret set at the Crazy Coqs is littered with reference to her childhood years in the London suburb, sharing a room and a bed with the teenage sister who was obsessed with the Dusty Springfield look, helping her develop a love for the music of the era.
Wilson’s voice could have been tailor-made for exploring Springfield’s back catalogue, or the songs of Bacharach and David. And so it is in this evening of smooth lounge numbers. Starting off with her cover of ‘Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps’ – which brought Wilson renewed attention after being used as the theme for Steven Moffat’s BBC sitcom Coupling – Wilson and her musical director, John G Smith, deliver a series of pared down songs that showcase some of the era’s best songwriting.

That’s not to say that more modern songs are totally ignored, but they are presented in a similarly sultry sixties style. Such a treatment works well for The Pretenders’ ’Don’t Get Me Wrong’, the arrangement allowing the quality of Chrissie Hynde’s lyric writing to take centre stage. The slowing down from the original number’s pop tempo lends it a slightly more maudlin air than Hynde’s own guitar arrangement would suggest.
Indeed, several standards seem to be paced slightly slower than audiences may be used to. The laidback approach is generally not unwelcome by any means, but it does cast a rather subdued mood over the audience. Wilson is not one for scripted repartee between songs: one gets the impression that she is happy to talk just enough to drive the evening towards the next song. Which, when the singing is as good as this, is understandable.
Amongst the nostalgic numbers – from ’I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten’ and ‘Spooky’, to lesser-performed tunes such as the Beach Boys’ ‘Disney Girls’ and the Bee Gees’ ‘First of May’ – are a sprinkling of Wilson’s own writing. Having formed part of her musical The Love Thing, the themes of each number fit in with the sixties ethos to a T. The scenarios in each – a middle-aged woman struggling to get back on the dating scene (‘Hits and Misses’), taking the high ground when meeting a partner’s new girlfriend (‘Right For You’) and struggling with the signs of ageing (‘Forever Young’) – are often ripe material for comedic treatment. Here, instead, they are fundamentally touching, thoughtful numbers with flashes of wit that sit seamlessly alongside Bacharach and David songs.
And it is these new songs which give the second half of Wilson’s set a much-needed change of pace, injecting the occasional upbeat tempo in an evening of slower numbers. Nowhere is the dominance of a slow tempo more apparent than in Wilson’s attempt to get the audience to join in a singalong version of ‘Be My Baby’. Her plea for a little bit more oomph from her roomful of backing singers – “more Beyoncé, less Songs of Praise!” – would have been less necessary if some more of Wilson and Smith’s arrangements had a little more drive. But that’s a minor quibble for an evening where one gets to revel in piano playing and vocal performance that provides such an enjoyable evening of lounge classics.
Scott Matthewman
She may be an old-fashioned girl, but she’ll never get dated...
Portsmouth Guildhall - Alan Cooper/Portsmouth News
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She may be an old-fashioned girl, but she’ll never get dated. Solid-gold, five-star talent like Mari Wilson’s will always be in demand, and the cabaret setting of Live Lounge suited her style perfectly. Her voice, clear as a bell, yet soft and silky, is the kind you can dive into and luxuriate in. I was entranced as her vocals, sometimes soaring, sometimes soulful, took us on an unpredictable journey taking in songs as varied in style as the artists who have performed them. Glamorous and beguiling, Mari opened with Female of the Species and finished more than two hours later with her chart-topping hit from the ’80s, Just What I Always Wanted. The beehive hairdo that marked her out as a pop star is gone, but that voice endures, making her more than a match for How Can I Be Sure and Close My Eyes and Count to Ten by Dusty Springfield, and the joyful They Don’t Know by Kirsty McColl. Along the way were songs from the Bee Gees, David Cassidy, Pretenders and a singalong the The Ronettes’ Be My Baby, topped by a lovelorn Cry Me A River.. Self-penned songs from her own semi-autobiographic musical showed her skills also extend beyond singing. Thanks, Mari.
Alan Cooper/Portsmouth News

Hailed as the “Soul Queen of Neasden”...
The Hippodrome - Conor Nyhan/The Upcoming
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Hailed as the “Soul Queen of Neasden”, Mari Wilson is more famed for her successful stint in the early 80s, where she achieved chart popularity with her song Just What I Always Wanted. Since then, the London-born singer has been performing in musicals (including Dusty, the biographical work on Dusty Springfield, in which Mari had played the leading role). Her performance at Leicester Square’s Hippodrome Casino was an intimate event, which ultimately made the show much better. The setting had a personal atmosphere, which was best suited to Mari’s onstage presence as it enabled her to carry off melancholic tunes without the distraction of any extravagances that would otherwise have diminished the power of her songs. Backing the singer was a band that consisted only of three: a pianist, guitarist and bassist, all of whom proved to be exceptional musicians, aiding Mari’s performance brilliantly. The singer mainly sang covers, from her latest album Cover Stories and opened with an impressive reworking of Space’s Female of the Species, which was then followed by The Pretenders’ Don’t Get Me Wrong. Later on in the set, she was covering recognisable classics including songs from Doris Day, Louis Armstrong and Dusty Springfield. Her rendition of Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying was especially moving. Aside from her ability to elevate these songs, Mari’s relationship with her audience is quite extraordinary. She is witty (she remarked after one of her songs, “There could have been a pleasant rumba if there was enough space”), graceful, and often humble as she speaks about failed relationships and how certain songs that she had performed enabled her to overcome difficult events in her life. There is always a danger with shows that consist mostly of covers that the singer will either fail miserably or rehash popular songs unremarkably. Mari Wilson has steered clear of these pitfalls with a voice and persona distinguishable from hundreds of others in the same musical genre. She is capable of captivating the audience with her voice and entertaining them with her charm, making Mari unique and worth watching. Verdict: ••••
Conor Nyhan/The Upcoming

Girls get your nail varnish out.
Elly Roberts/
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Get stuck into the real thing The High Priestess of Hairspray or Neasden Queen Of Soul - Mari Wilson - who bounces back with 10 sparkly retro-infused pop classics. Dazzlingly sharp production by Wilson and York. If any tracks sums the direct 60s influence of this album is the whopping string and brass arrangement of the (1947) hit by Cuban Osvaldo Farres, Quizas, Quizas, Quizas - Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps to you and I, with Wilson bringing it bang up to date.
If you're going to make a 'comeback', this is the way to do it.
File under: Sumptuously delicious.
Elly Roberts/

Last of the Divas.
Pizza Express Jazz Club - Jack Massarik/Evening Standard
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Where are the jazz-cabaret divas, the Lena Hornes, Eartha Kitts and Julie London’s of today? Can the video-nasty world of pop have suckered every soubrette under 35, white or black, into electro-conformity? Surely not, but the gap in this market is now a yawning chasm.
The sassy Mari Wilson, an artist of indeterminate age (Fan:” “Are you wearing a bra?” Mari” “No, I swim a lot”) underlines this last night with a performance of sexuality, integrity and charm.
The beehive girl of chart fame remains blonde but now wears her hair in a luxuriant Lady Di sort of style over a lacy pink top that enhances her stage persona. And very welcome this all was too…
By far the most valuable musician on view was pianist Adrian York whose funky solos were a bonus to his status as London’s premier cabaret accompanist. Nobody wraps up a singer’s final note as tidily as he does. The relaxed Mari, therefore, stretched out, mixing Broadway standards like My Romance with modern classics by the BeeGees, Bill Withers, Todd Rundgren, Anthony Newley and Ron Sexmith (“the Cole Porter of today”) and meaty originals such as Getting There, co-written with York, that seem assured of a long shelf-life.
Her major hit, Cry Me A River, added poignancy to tired lyrics and her whispered finales a touch of soul. “She’s great” said newlyweds Fiona and Alex of NW7 at the next table, a couple incapable of objective analysis but definitely having a good time.
Pizza Express Jazz Club - Jack Massarik/Evening Standard

Hardly seeming a day older...
Steve Burbridge/
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than she did when she shot to fame with the classic hit, Just What I Always Wanted, Miss Wilson showed that, a quarter of a century later, she’s still got what it takes. Although the trademark beehive has gone the golden voice still remains intact. Mari has now adopted a softer, more sophisticated image and her musical style of pop-soul reflects this, too. The evening encompassed a varied selection of songs from the albums Dolled Up, The Platinum Collection and her stunning new album, Emotional Glamour, all of which were beautifully arranged and magnificently delivered. An evening of wonderful entertainment from a living legend.
Steve Burbridge/

The setlist was a cocktail...
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which blended the frantic dance of early singles 'Beat The Beat' with signatures tunes Cry Me A River' and 'Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps'. Promoting new album 'Emotional Glamour' was also on the agenda, which meant airings of harmony-lead songs, including 'Forever Young' - a paen to Heat Magazine, 'circles of shame' and defying age. Rousing covers of 'Wild Horses', 'Close My Eyes And Count To Ten' and 'I Think I Love You' provided further proof of Wilson's ability to deliver other people's songs with panache. An enjoyable evening complete with the right amounts of irony, kitsch, coolness and witty repartee sprinkled over a killer songbook.

Old friends and occasional collaborators.
Piers Ford/
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As double acts go, they don’t come much more dynamic than Mari Wilson and Ian Shaw, who dusted Stoke-by-Nayland Golf Club’s Garden Room last night with a touch of glamour, a smattering of camp asides, the odd ribald show-business tale and, above all, majestic vocal talents that temporarily made this unpromising venue feel like the epicentre of musical sophistication. Old friends and occasional collaborators as they might be. But their Fleece Jazz gig only came about at the eleventh hour - Adrian York, Mari’s regular pianist and co-writer having been taken ill the previous weekend. Shaw stepped into the breach with alacrity, consummate keyboard skills and that resonant voice that swings absorbingly between husky soulfulness and the yearning ache of a consummate male torch singer. Despite Mari’s request to bear with their lack of preparation, they were so obviously – and professionally - at ease with each other’s musical strengths and instincts that on the rare occasion that meltdown threatened (most hysterically as improvisation came to the rescue when the lyrics deserted them for “Something Stupid” at the start of the second set), they readily pulled themselves back from the brink. There was a comically awkward start: the room was long and when they were introduced, they were so far back that by the time they actually arrived, the audience’s greeting had petered out. “The applause grew as the artists reached the stage,” joked Shaw with just the right hint of acid, and we knew we’d have to be on our mettle as they batted anecdotes and memories to and fro between songs. “Whoop as much as you like,” said Mari. “We don’t mind – we’re common”. But in truth there was nothing common about the two sets that followed. Shaw’s jazz-accented playing, always sympathetic to Wilson’s fluid, smooth phrasing, also spurred her to invention. By the end of the evening, she was letting fly with some exhilarating gospel-tinged soul riffs. In a recent interview, she told me that “Cry Me A River” – pretty much her signature song – was, like any one of those well structured, well-written standards, the musical equivalent of a football pitch. Its lyrical truths allow the singer to take it and try it out in any direction. Last night, she took it out to the left field with some dazzling extemporisation, steered by Shaw’s ominous, subdued accompaniment. It was as fine an interpretation as you’re ever likely to hear. But there were numerous other highlights. “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps” (which Wilson sung as the theme to the BBC comedy Coupling), “Just What I Always Wanted” (her biggest chart hit from the 1980s, key helpfully lowered by Shaw, revealing that it remains one of the era’s best crafted pop songs) and “My Love” (an interpretation of touching emotional maturity), all demonstrated what an accomplished singer she is these days. So, too, did a couple of Dusty Springfield numbers – “I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten” and “Son of a Preacher Man” – in which, while paying homage to an all-time-great, she triumphantly applied her own nuances and melodic lines. No ghosts were invited to this party. From time to time, she retreated to a corner of the stage. We were, as she pointed out, getting two for the price of one, and Shaw seized his moments with grace and vocal power – particularly for a resonant “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” (sung as a retort to Wilson’s “Be My Baby”) and an extraordinary version of Joni Mitchell’s “Amelia”, which had the entire room transfixed by its beauty and eloquence. It might have been “thrown together” as Mari put it, but this was a memorable evening, defined by the innate class of two performers at the top of their respective trees.
Piers Ford/


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