thu 18/08/2022

Neil Sedaka, Royal Albert Hall review - sparkly veteran defies the decades | reviews, news & interviews

Neil Sedaka, Royal Albert Hall review - sparkly veteran defies the decades

Neil Sedaka, Royal Albert Hall review - sparkly veteran defies the decades

A joyful evening of vintage pop classics with an old master

As pretty much everything but a plague of locusts is visited upon this grim old world, an evening in the company of Neil Sedaka is the greatest of pick-me-ups. At the Royal Albert Hall on Monday, as his UK tour drew to a close, the capacity audience clearly felt uplifted, borne aloft on a raft of enduring songs and the evident enjoyment of the man who wrote them.

Sixty years ago this year, Sedaka made his first appearance on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand and signed a recording contract with RCA. Since then he’s written some 600 songs, the latest so recent he needed the lyrics propped up on the piano. Not for him an autocue – Sedaka has it all in his head and under his hands. Here’s one man unlikely ever to suffer from brain fade. Only the knees and the hips have aged – when he gets up from the piano stool, occasionally for a little bop, you notice his stiff gait.

Sedaka's is still the voice of a young man, pitch-perfect and secure

In recent years, he has played with an orchestra. This time round he was completely solo, a man and his piano. Alone on stage, a screen projecting his image to those in what his friend John Lennon (for whom he wrote “The Immigrant”) would have called “the cheaper seats”, he cut a cheerfully unstagey figure. Sedaka is what an old-fashioned men’s outfitter would call “short and portly” – rather like Elton, who did much to rejuvenate his career in the mid-1970s, but the threads are more sedate: a blue sport coat atop an open-necked black shirt and slacks (as he’d surely call them) and comfy-looking shoes. His silvery hair is combed over and he has jowls – in other words, he’s happy to look onstage like the 78-year-old grandfather he is offstage. His eyes twinkle and when he refers to himself in the third person it’s mostly to poke fun.

The back projection offered close-ups of his hands and it’s fascinating to watch him play. For Sedaka is a real pianist, one who would most likely have pursued a classical career had he not heard the siren call of 1950s pop. He won a junior scholarship to the Juilliard when he was just eight years old, travelling to Manhattan from Brighton Beach for lessons. At 16 he played Debussy and Prokofiev for Arthur Rubenstein.

These days, he told us, his songs are written over a vodka martini or two, but those early hits which emanated from Broadway’s celebrated Brill Building were fuelled only by Coca-Cola and teenage effervescence as Sedaka teamed up with Howie Greenfield to write a string of hits that remain as fresh today as when they were written and which have been recorded by a roll-call of singers, from Frank Sinatra to Sheryl Crow via Elvis, Tom Jones, the Carpenters, Andy Williams, Peggy Lee, Rosemary Clooney and Connie Francis, and he’s featured in The Simpsons.

At the Albert Hall, the hits just kept on comin’: “The Queen of 1964”, “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do”, “Standing on the Inside”, “Our Last Song Together” (the last song he wrote with Greenfield following a 25-year partnership), “Solitaire”, “Where The Boys Are”, “Laughter in the Rain”, “Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen”, “Next Door to An Angel”, “Love Will Keep Us Together”, “The Hungry Years”, “Betty Grable” and of course “Oh Carole”, written for his high school sweetheart Carole Klein, who the world came to know as Carole King. During a brief comfort break, a Cinebox video of “Calendar Girl” was played, Sedaka in red jacket and perma-tan, “the girls” in bikinis and furs: the American 1950s preserved in aspic. Returning, jacketless, to the stage, he quipped that “Miss January” had recently reintroduced herself to him in an LA club. “She looked so old,” he joked, pausing for a beat. “Of course I hadn’t changed at all!”

And vocally he hasn’t, for Sedaka’s is still the voice of a young man, pitch-perfect and secure, the tessitura and timbre as distinctive as ever. The audience would have had him sing all night – and he looked as though he’d have been perfectly able to oblige. Long may he play on, his perfect miniatures bringing joy to our lives. Michael Eavis should book him for Glastonbury.

Overleaf: Watch Neil Sedaka play a medley of his greatest hits on BBC's The One Show


Agree with all of that. He's someone I'd always wanted to see in concert and I was so pleased he lived up to,in fact surpassed my expectations. In these days of auto tune,miming etc to see and hear the guy play and sing to songs he'd written was a real joy

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