Picture the scene: it’s the Royal Festival Hall, it’s 30 degrees, and there’s a ration on ice cubes at the theatre bar. Not the ideal conditions for a trip down nostalgia lane, but we’re here to see Burt Bacharach with his orchestra, and that is that. We stand on the theatre balcony in desperate search of some last minute air before heading into the auditorium, but as soon as the lights go down all thoughts of temperature, sweat and ice cubes vanish…
Despite the fact that his backing vocalists sing most of the numbers you’d recognise (Dionne must have been busy), Bacharach himself is at the grand piano, central to everything and still very much in charge of the legendary catalogue of music he created. He’s wearing an England football shirt, and turns around to reveal ‘BACHARACH’ printed on the back (where do you get that done now that JJB Sports is gone?). There’s a huge cheer — this was before England lost — and it’s the closest I’ve ever come to caring about football.
I’ve dragged along a Gen-Z friend who can hum everything in the top 20 of the charts on a rolling basis, so it’s really satisfying to see the number of songs that she actually recognises, even though she didn’t know it was ‘him’ (I’m still not sure she knows who ‘him’ is). He sings parts of a couple of songs — The Look of Love & Alfie — and although his voice shows every one of his 90 years, it’s spellbinding to hear the master show his work; the backing vocalists by contrast do an admirable and professional job of recreating their predecessors, but I think we’re all aware that they’re following a recipe, not creating.
This makes me pine to have been around in the sixties to have seen the likes of Dusty Springfield, Dionne Warwick and the rest perform these tracks live and alive, and without thinking I loudly remark to my Gen-Z “I’d love to have lived in the sixties if they had iPhones and gay rights” — a few looks from surrounding audience members who care for or know little about either. But as soon as I have time to feel uncomfortable, we’re off with another classic: (There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me. This is where I start to see the value of that live 30-something piece orchestra, breathing life back into my heat-exhausted body with every string-soaked hit. The Royal Festival Hall, while not the venue du-jour for younger acts, is perfect to show off the musical prowess of a man who writes every note of every song, right down to the tap of a tambourine — it’s perfection. I try to hide the tears at several points — I’m not crying, you are.
I could go into the detail of every arrangement, every string movement, and every lyric that makes me wish I was in the sixties, when times were simpler and love was the only item on the songwriting menu, but I won’t. You have to experience it for yourself — and quickly too. The next time you see the word ‘Bacharach’ on a bill, get yourself down there, before it’s too late.
Photo Credit: Eric Ray Davidson