There aren’t many of the original 70s blues and soul ladies left that are actively performing around the world, so when a chance comes up to witness at close range the warm and tender vocals of Rita Coolidge, I’m not hesitating. So I travelled over 200 miles from North England to a Canary Wharf dinner and music venue in London.
The Boisdale has hosted some stars from the photographs I can see on the walls, and the assembled crowd tonight includes David Soul who is hosting his own candlelit table with friends, as they sit down to a 3-course meal with wine.
It’s all very relaxed and laid back and years ago would have probably been filled with smoke from the cigars on sale and have tables full of whiskey bottles and tumblers. The perfect place for a diva from the Southern States of America to entertain.
Her band tonight includes drummer Lynn Coulter who introduces her to the stage and describes her as a mix of honey and Tennessee whiskey, plus some other colourful stuff that I’m failing to recall. She does look incredible in a full length blue outfit and with her trademark long dark brown hair, but this 73 year old is more than a visual treat, it’s all about her voice too.
Tonight, we get a showcase of her new album Safe In The Arms of Time and a selection of the hits she is associated with – either covers she has recorded, or tracks that she co-wrote. No sign of the piano coda from Layla though, which would have been an interesting sojourn into her book Delta Lady: A Memoir – Coolidge claiming to have written that piece and never being credited.
However, we do get some anecdotes about Clapton’s attraction to women in the 70s, and an incredible version of Born Under A Bad Sign with guitarist and musical director John McDuffie lending his years of experience to some killer lead breaks. Never over stepping the mark but proving a point that these older guys really know the blues inside out.
New tracks that stand out in particular were the Graham Nash written Doin’ Fine Without You, and both of the Keb Mo alliance songs Walkin’ on Water and Naked All Night. Coolidge jokes that she used to get people coming up to her to say, “This is our song”, and now it’s more “That was our song”. Making a point that her songs could be played at both marriage or divorce parties.
Superstar, a song probably made more famous by Karen Carpenter, had a life of its own with Coolidge’s honeyed soothing vocal. It started a series of classic Rita Coolidge live numbers and her voice just oozed warmth and class tonight with just the right level of vibrato and huskiness. She may have dropped an octave or two – due to her advancing years, but the emotion in her voice remains unblemished.
The Jazz club I’m in has probably heard plenty of versions of Fever in past, as the Peggy Lee famed tune is trotted out following an attempt to get the room all clicking their fingers and accompanying some fine double bass work by Randy Landas. The highlight for me though was hearing her stunning version of the Boz Skaggs written We’re All Alone, if there were cigarette lighters handy we’d all be holding them up and swaying. This was perfectly delivered and prompting a big audience reaction.
A superb medley of The Way You Do The Things You Do, How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You followed by Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher And Higher got a handful of people dancing in-between the tables and brought this definitive set to a close.
Introducing her band, she let them all have a few minutes in the spotlight before ending the show with an encore of I’d Rather Leave While I’m In Love and then a more up-tempo Country thumper Lover Please that she recorded with ex-husband Kris Kristofferson.
This was a look back at the career of a very talented lady and celebrating some of her biggest records from the 1970s. New songs stood equally alongside them, and throughout the night Rita Coolidge naturally floated through the set with ease and professionalism. If you get the chance and if she decides to return for a full UK tour go and see her. I, for one, wouldn’t hesitate to travel those miles again.
Live Review & Photography of Rita Coolidge at Boisdale Jazz Blues & Soul Club by John Hayhurst on 16th May 2018
John also has his own gig photography website www.snapagig.com