tue 29/07/2014

Mari Wilson, The Komedia, Brighton | New music reviews, news & interviews

Mari Wilson, The Komedia, Brighton

The 'Soul Queen of Neasden' performs gentle - and occasionally soporific - cabaret

Mari Wilson, three decades a showbiz trouper

Long before Amy Winehouse, there was a north London retro soul'n'jazz girl with a beehive hairdo making inroads into the Top 40. However, after a short run of hits in the early Eighties Mari Wilson never achieved the epic popularity of her dark-haired successor. Thus we find her in a Brighton basement playing a cruise ship set to a chicken-in-a-basket audience.

The Komedia is laid out Vegas cabaret-style, all tables, wine bottles clinking and late middle-aged couples of all sexualities tucking into deep fried calamari, burgers, lasagne and, of course, chicken. Wilson’s show is gentle, designed to aid the digestion and cause an occasional chuckle rather than anything more. She performs two sets, accompanied by pianist John G Smith and acoustic guitarist Seb Wesson, and she’s affable, undemanding company. If I hadn’t been in a very lazy mood caused by too little sleep, I would have grown bored fast, but tonight Wilson’s kitsch, old-fashioned evening of easy listening songs and anecdotes suited fine.

Although it's more like overheard bus chat than cabaret, there are amusing moments

The beehive is long gone, although her mentions of it are regular. Instead, Wilson has a blonde bob and spends the first set in a garish, plasticized leopardskin top and the second in black lace. Her singing voice is neither strong nor striking, but she makes a good hash of choosing material that suits it, typified by the mambo-tinted Doris Day number “Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps” (which she once sang as the theme song to BBC sitcom Coupling). She kicks off with a pleasing, jazzy stab at The Pretenders’ “Don’t Get Me Wrong” but the artist she repeatedly returns to is Dusty Springfield - she once starred in Dusty: The Musical - and renders a particularly effective “Close My Eyes and Count to Ten”.

Her line in self-deprecation is well-observed and, although it’s sometimes more like overheard bus chat than cabaret, there are amusing moments. Notably, she compares how she lost out on the James Bond theme “All Time High” from Octopussy but is happy to receive repeat fees for a TV advertisement for anti-thrush pills she once sang. She later performed a film theme she actually did record - to the Rupert Everett/Miranda Richardson vehicle Dance With a Stranger - but the most feisty fare of the night was taken from her own musical The Love Thing, including the snappy, gag-filled snipe at cosmetic surgery, "Forever Young", which, among much else, rhymed “forehead” with “Agnes Moorehead”.

As the second half wore on, Wilson appeared to acknowledge the bland, slightly lacklustre nature of the evening, commenting during “Be My Baby” that she wished the audience sing-along she’d requested could be “a little less Songs of Praise and a little more Beyoncé”. I left as she encored with the Partridge Family hit and lounge standard “I Think I Love You”. Maybe she went on to do her only Top 10 hit, “Just What I Always Wanted”, from 1982. I shall probably never know. I only hope that the CDs laid out neatly on a table at the back, many featuring Wilson kohl-eyed and beehived in the days when she toured Europe with a 12-piece band, sold well. She assured us throughout that she’d be around afterwards to sign them and have a chat.

Listen to "Hits'n'Misses" from Mari Wilson's musical The Love Thing

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