CD Review: Singer, The Musical – Composed by Steve Gray and Georgie Fame, featuring Madeline Bell

Singer, The Musical  – (Composed by Steve Gray and Georgie Fame, featuring Madeline Bell)
(Proper Records. PRPCD120. CD Review by Jeanie Barton)

Singer, The Musical was first conceived back in 1984 in collaboration with the Metropole Orchestra, a renowned Netherlands based jazz/pop ensemble (a 60 piece big band and orchestra). The project was eventually given the go-ahead in early 1985 and recorded in Holland in March that year with Madeline Bell as the protagonist and Georgie Fame as the narrator.

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This recording is a live matinee, a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the show, performed in Tilburg, Holland in 2004, which is now released on CD thanks to Dutch Radio. The formidable instrumental and vocal line up are joined by a 30 piece choir, and the 13 musical tracks tell the story with no additional dialogue. The release is dedicated to composer/arranger Steve Gray (1944-2008, REMEMBERED HERE ). Georgie Fame contributed to the music as well as penning the lyrics.

The plot explores the ‘true’ story of a girl singer from a poor background, who has a successful professional career at the expense of her artistic integrity, she is left unfulfilled and unwisely pursues destructive thrills. There is a heavy injection of blues and Gospel within the sweeping Hollywood style score which is brought to the fore in My Second Home and From Now On. The cheesy arrangement of That’s How Hit Records are Made (The Crap Song) has echoes of big Gershwin stage show numbers as well as Big Spender from Sweet Charity and the more camp Broadway musicals. The irregular intervals built into the melody of Big Town are reminiscent of a big Leonard Bernstein stage number which morphs into a funky, glossy, soundtrack similar to the big budget TV series of the era; Dallas and Dynasty. Where Do You Go From Here embodies a similar vibe, while other numbers have echos of Ellington among other jazz and roots references.

Madeline herself is an extraordinary singer who gives an authentic interpretation to all of the many musical styles the score presents; her range, power and timbre are simply glorious. Georgie as ever delivers great feel, annunciation and accuracy. The two have a real chemistry together that I was lucky enough to witness when they performed in 2011 with the Guy Barker Big Band and the BBC Concert Orchestra for BBC R2’s Friday Night is Music Night (from which I reported for LondonJazz News at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival). Their voices blend beautifully here in the duet Be True to Yourself, which makes the hairs on my arms go up.

While the story’s concept may be a little pretentious, I imagine Georgie made a direct connection with it; being a performer who has had pop success at the same time as a jazz and blues career. I witnessed him leaving an audience disappointed by refusing to play Yeh! Yeh! at a gig my band supported. I have limited sympathy for performers who won’t play the music their audience want to hear, but I can understand the frustration of an artist whose repertoire is consistently dumbed down by their management or label. It is good when modern day singers like Will Young are able to shake off this commercial control and still go on to have success in their own right. I too would like the best of both worlds!


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