Review: Marlene VerPlanck UK tour

Leon Nock follows the veteran singer's 2016 UK tour from Rochester to Eastbourne and finds her in fine form, whether the venues or the bands are large or small

Spring, 2016: First cuckoo? Check. Bluebells? Check. Easter Eggs? Check. Crocuses? Check. Marlene VerPlanck annual UK tour? Check and double check.

Yep, you got it in one; it’s that time again and MVP (pictured right by Gordon Sapsed) is back doing the business, ushering March in like a lion in Rochester and watching it leave like a lioness in Eastbourne, leaving a crowd of never fully sated but highly satisfied fans in a wake that embraces south (Eastbourne) and west (Southport) coasts plus inland venues from London to Louth (where, theatre buffs note, the Riverhead Theatre brings pro co standards to am dram) with accompaniment ranging from the conventional (piano, bass, drums), to the slightly irregular (piano, bass, vibes) to two different big bands and venues ranging from the intime (Crazy Coqs, 60 tops) to arena-lite (St David’s Hall, 2000) to slightly bizarre - The Verdict where even as your eyes tell you there’s no room to swing a cat your ears bask in these four cats (Marlene, John Pearce on piano, Paul Morgan on bass and Bobby Worth on drums) swinging the bejeezus out of it even as sardines are kvetching to Brussels about their yuman rights.

As is her wont when she has a new one out Marlene devoted her first set to her latest CD (five stars in Downbeat) doing so with such élan that all copies were sold by the middle of the second week to her chagrin (private joke: don’t reach for it, that way lies nosebleed), dispensing gems from previous albums after an oxygen break for breathless fans.

These previous albums comprise a healthy sampling of The Great American Songbook, with whom MVP continues to slug it out, Best Out Of 1001 Nights, going to the mat toe to toe till someone yells Uncle; hasn’t happened yet but maybe, just maybe . . . that’s why we keep coming back to hear her keep going back to Joe’s. One by one the Big Hitters – Cole Porter, Dick Rodgers, Larry Hart, les frères Gershwin, Jerry Kern, Irving Berlin - entered the lists from the left and exited right lances tilting just a tad downwards, then a distinguished Second Eleven – Dorothy Fields, Duke Ellington, Alan Lerner, Hank Mancini, Burton Lane, Jimmy Van Heusen, Johnny Mercer, Hoagy Carmichael, Bobby Troup, Harry Warren, Mack Gordon – stepped up to the mound and gave it their best shot, fast ball, curve, slider, change-up, spitter even, only to watch them converted effortlessly into inside-the-park homers.

The tour wrapped in Eastbourne, a new date in MVPs ever-expanding diary, a town where the late music-hall performer Sandy (can y’ear me, mother) Powell made his home, a fact that brings out the perverse in me for in my imagination I hear Marlene in full throat sending a vocal message (something she would never do in real life in a million years) to all those light years away from the same league female "singers" out there; can you hear me, mothers. Let’s face it, you’d hate to be me.

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