By Gary Coleman
It’s not every day that you see a true musical icon and legend and as far as I am concerned Ronnie Spector, lead singer of famed early 60’s girl group The Ronettes and survivor of a marriage to the somewhat eccentric genius music producer Phil Spector, certainly qualifies for that description.
There is no support act tonight so at the stroke of 8.00pm the backing band (guitar, bass, drums, 2 keyboard players and 2 new Ronettes backing singers) strode on to the stage to the sound of ‘Spanish Harlem’.
The band launched into an instrumental melody of Ronnie’s hits and as the song closed the woman herself made her appearance clad all in black with her trademark bouffant as wild as ever.
It’s a Christmas show so what better to start with than ‘Frosty The Snowman’ and what a voice this woman has! She already has the audience in the palm of her hand as she then sings ‘Because’ a cover of a Dave Clark song.
This woman is 76 years old (not that it showed) so we can forgive her for having a seat between songs and chatting to the audience. A large screen behind her silently plays old footage of the Ronettes (Ronnie, her older sister Estelle, and their cousin Nedra) and Ronnie reminisces. She tells us that Santa was her first crush and for years she believed that he lived on top of Macys in New York.
It is the next song which starts to get the audience going as she sings old Ronettes number ‘Do I Love You’ which brings the first standing ovation of the night. It may be Christmas but it’s the Ronettes hits the crowd want to hear.
Next up is a Frankie Lymon cover ‘It’s Christmas Once Again’ before she brings the house down with ‘Baby I Love You’ followed by another Christmas song ‘Under The Mistletoe’. The pattern has been set non Christmas song followed by Christmas song!
Ronnie has another sit down and as footage of the Ronettes being interviewed by Dick Clark is played followed by images of the Peppermint Lounge, she tells of how the group got their first break dancing at the Peppermint. She then launches into a raucous version of Ray Charles ‘What’d I Say’ where the “new” Ronettes come into their own and provide tremendous backing to Ronnie who also encourages audience participation with a bit of call and response. This brings the first set to a close as Ronnie exits the stage leaving the band to bring the number to an end.
After a 15 minute wait the band reappear and play an old Amos Milburn tune ‘Christmas (Comes But Once A Year)’ before Ronnie reappears singing ‘Sleigh Ride’.
Ronnie talked about her love of doo wop music and told us that one of her main musical inspirations was Frankie Lymon before singing a version of The Students ‘I’m So Young’ which again showed off how good her voice was. Next up was ‘Best Christmas Ever’ followed by 2 Ronettes numbers ‘Walking In The Rain’ and ‘(The Best Part Of) Breakin’ Up’ which had the crowd in ecstasy.
‘How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?’ a heartfelt tribute to Estelle who died in 2009 was followed by Irving Berlin’s ‘Happy Holiday’.
The screen above Ronnie’s head now showed Amy Winehouse in a record store looking at a Ronnettes album. “Oh look” her companion said “They have hair like you”. “No” replies Amy “I have hair like them” as she paid homage to their iconic status. Ronnie treated us to a fantastic version of Amy’s ‘Back To Black’ to bring us to the song that everyone had come to hear.
The song that Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys described as the “greatest record ever produced.” and who would argue with that? The song that Billboard ranked at No. 1 on its list of the greatest girl group songs of all-time. The song with one of the most iconic drum intros of all time (three beats of a bass drum followed by a snare). The song that exemplified Phil Spectors Wall Of Sound, ‘Be My Baby’.
The whole audience are up and singing to this one, hell people are even leaving their seats and going to the front of the stage! This song is a stone cold classic and tonight it was delivered as fresh as it first was over 50 years ago, what a song, what a performance!
This brings set 2 to a close and the demand for an encore was overwhelming. Back comes Ronnie dressed as Santa for ‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus’ after which she tells us about her first night in England back in 1964 which was spent with The Beatles which leads her to sing John Lennon’s Christmas tune ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over) before bringing the night to an end with the last Ronettes hit ‘I Can Hear Music’.
What a wonderful night, what a wonderful woman. What a wonderful start to Christmas this was!
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