TheSpace @ Surgeons Hall (Venue 53)
15-26 August 2017
Chasing behind green peacock feather socks and Rapunzel shoes to the top of the stairs at Surgeons Hall was perhaps indicative that something sassy may lie awaiting behind the performance doors tonight, and we were not to be disappointed. Nicole Smit, a pint-sized diva, in a powder blue kimono and bubblegum baseball boots splashed onto the stage dripping with charisma and charm to begin her tale of the largely forgotten women who shaped the blues. She was flanked by a six piece band, complete with guitar, keyboard, brass and harmonica, on a spacious stage, which was roomy and audacious, befitting of the night.
She began her story back in 1920 with Mamie Smith, a vaudeville singer who was the first person to make a blues recording, then progressing through the years we stop for a celebration and recognition of Chicago blues. The audience are then treated, amongst others, to a glimpse of teenage superstar Esther Philips, Atlantic records’ Ruth Brown and Rosetta Thorpe, who inspired the likes of Elvis and Chuck Berry. Her voice changed seamlessly with the styles, and she crawled all over those lyrics like dirty piano fingers, leaving the audience mesmerised.
The tasty snack-sized parcels of history sandwiched between each song made perfect introductions that enhanced the performance with depth and richness. We are introduced to big Mama Thornton, whose hits included Hound Dog and Ball & Chain, the latter recorded and performed by Janis Joplin in the 70s. Her voice really was incredible, as she took us on a journey through a mix of styles, touching on gospel, Chicago and New Orleans and then onto some more modern influences, all the while holding the audience captivated and melting into their seats. An utterly enchanting performance, and a festival highlight.
Reviewer: Teri Welsh