Calli Hughes – Songs of the Poets

Calli Hughes - Songs of the Poets

Capstone Theatre, Liverpool
14th April 2018

Reviewed by Joe Coventry
Photograph by ‘Waistcoats and Flappers’ of Cains Brewery of Liverpool

The poets in question? Who else but Canadian icon Leonard Cohen and ubiquitous American singer – songwriter Bob Dylan. At first glance not the obvious choice of songs for a female singer but Calli and her entourage came up with the goods in a concert very much of two halves. There was not a big audience to see it but the lead singer eloquently charted the soundscape while backdrop videos showed what was driving the lyrics.

Dour, gruff and grizzled Cohen’s voice may have been, but it could not dint Calli’s enthusiasm for the task as she drove the collective of keys, drums, support singer, guitars and violin along with her in ‘First we Take Manhattan’, which was as upbeat as it got before the interval.

Cohen’s introspection into the religious spectrum predominated from then on with Bernadette of Lourdes, (co-written with Jennifer Warnes), which had a lovely violin accompaniament. Joan of Arc surrendering her soul to the flames did not change the mood but Cohen’s love for Suzanne recollected a happier emotional interlude. So Long Marianne was a tribute to a former lover as well, but was devoid of comfort or solace.

(Photographs by ‘Waistcoats and Flappers’ of Cains Brewery of Liverpool)

Calli never got downbeat as she tried to keep the tempo up, her flowing golden tresses and shimmering gown the centre of attention, but there was little oxygen for her backing group in these sombre tunes. Famous Blue Raincoat, another distraught affair, morphed into the lovely sounding but tragically Death Camp sourced Dance Me To The End Of love. Again the violin led.

Everyone knows Halellujah, and she belted that out to bring some sort of release, before reflections on the best things in Cohen’s life, (his wife and kids) I Came So Far For Beauty, took us to the interval.

It had been sober listening and a bottle of beer was in order. Suitably fortified, the second set burst into life with an all in Mr Tambourine Man. Calli now sported a slinky trouser suit and foxy high heels and her female support singer had upgraded too. Blowing In The Wind and Forever Young, covered by Adele, were the perfect vehicles for the singer to stretch her tonsils.

There is such an embarrassingly big catalogue of songs to choose from that the next one, Masters Of War, came out of the dark like an Exocet missile. Calli blasted it out and could not be faulted, but perhaps her backing videos could be brought up to date as the world is no better off than when Dylan first penned it.

Like A Rolling Stone charted the demise of socialite Edie Hardwick, who chose wrong in Andy Warhol and ended up nickel-less on the streets. Calli urged those present to contribute to a collection for the rough sleepers a lot nearer home when introducing that song.

Sassing her way to the finishing line fine style the band started to enjoy it more themselves as they formed different combos of their own. In A Simple Twist Of Fate a deprived lover mourns his lost lady of the night … ‘she was born in Spring … I was born too late’, Then we were all Knocking On Heaven’s Door. That was it, except for the encore, which was back to Cohen for the timeless search for freedom in Bird On The Wire.

The nice evening ended with warm applause.

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