Cassandra Wilson – the show must go on at the Royal Festival Hall

As they say in football 'it was a game of two halves'. First you had the deeply modest and unassuming figure of Lionel Loueke, sitting in a pool of light and patiently crafting some beautifully intimate songs using a variety of electronic effects to enhance both voice and guitar to great effect. He seemed a little unsure how long he was supposed to play for and went off stage to check and was sent back out to play another song, and looking back, he was playing for time. Forty-five minutes into the interval the audience started the slow handclap. Eventually Serious came out and announced that the main act was yet to leave her hotel room. Hang in there, they said. Or not, and we’ll give you your money back.

I hung on. On Twitter, people were already muttering about divas and no-shows. Whatever the reason for her tardiness, we may never know, but finally Cassandra Wilson, slightly underdressed for the occasion, came on stage 90 minutes late (in fairness, not much of a delay compared to some pop gigs I’ve been to), which her middle-aged, middle class jazz audience found unspeakably rude and told her so. If Wilson felt any embarrassment, she didn’t show it. Instead she opened with ‘Don’t Explain’, coolly dispelling any tension in her audience, and if she was feeling unwell, she still managed to present a set of remarkable quality.

We had ‘All of Me’ played so slowly with the harmonic progression so well disguised by the long instrumental intro, it was quite a surprise when she uttered the first lyric. There was a laconic ‘You Go To My Head’, a very affecting ‘Good Morning Heartache’, and judging by the printed set list there would have been other equally powerful renditions of Billie Holiday stalwarts like ‘Strange Fruit’, but time was running out. Wilson had a little word in the ear of her bassist and much to my delight she decided on the spur of the moment to do ‘Run the Voodoo Down’ to close. So, while short but bittersweet, Wilson rescued the night and even bagged herself a bit of Billie Holliday’s insouciant vulnerability into the bargain.

– Sarah Chaplin

– Photo by Tim Dickeson

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