Westminster Central Hall is an impressive venue in an impressive building. Built in 1912 the Great Central Hall has a capacity of 2,300 who sit beneath the largest self-supporting domed ceiling of its kind in Europe. It’s a big venue that needs a big artist to fill it and Katie Melua did exactly that on December 8th in a show that confirms she is one of the best popular singers around. I had to check exactly how long she’s been in the public eye and was quite amazed to see that her début album Call Off The Search was released in late 2003 and there have been six more albums since.
Despite that, and the obvious loyal following she has, Katie remains a very down-to-earth performer. There’s no big build up, no MC encouraging the audience. Instead, as I’ve seen her do before, she quietly enters a darkened stage and starts on the first song with just her and a guitar. The audience were immediately captured, “their Katie” was back on home territory and they loved it.
Katie lets her music do the talking so there are no long stories or introductions, we didn’t get an “Hello” until after song three. Instead we had twenty songs over two sets, and then the encores. The show was beautifully paced with plenty of movement on the stage to break the evening up. As well as her sole songs she had her band consisting of Tim Harries (bass), Mark Edwards (keys), Nicky Hustinx (drums) and little brother Zurab Melua (guitar) being used in different combinations. In addition we were also introduced to the Gori Women’s Choir from Katie’s home country of Georgia and who featured on her 2016 album In Winter. The choir consisted of fifteen members plus conductor Shalva Mosidze. They made a wonderful contribution to the evening.
With that many people the staging had to provide a backdrop rather than completion and this was done through animations by Karni & Saul which were muted and restful. It took me a while to get in to them but they did complement the music which was, of course, of the highest standard. Although, as mentioned, the songs weren’t introduced most were familiar to the audience and several were greeted with applause including ‘Belfast’ from that very first album and ‘Nine Million Bicycles’. Of course ‘Closest Thing To Crazy” made an appearance and I was half expecting a sing-a-long, but it wasn’t that kind of evening although it got a huge cheer at the end. The audience were quite quiet, they’d come to listen, and even the one shout out was noted by Katie as being “very polite”! Only ‘The Flood’ encouraged a slight clapping along, and that was rewarded with a smile.
In an evening of such lovely music there were some stand-outs away from the big hits. ‘The Carol Of The Bells’ (Shchedryk) was beautifully presented with just Katie and the choir but I think it was ‘Diamonds Are Forever’; was the one that really caught me by surprise. We’re all used to Shirley Bassey’s belting anthem to avarice but Katie turns it into a rather bittersweet song of somebody who has probably learnt the hard way that men are not to be trusted so only diamonds give the permanence she seeks. The evening ended with a well deserved call for an encore and ‘What A Wonderful World’ was a suitable choice, greeted with a standing ovation. It was a wonderful evening that left a very satisfied audience who will no doubt be back for more in the future.
Before finishing, there are several mentions to be made. Support came from London based Keeva, who impressed me with her soulful voice and good presentation of her songs. She’s somebody who is now on my watch list to see again. Bryony October did an excellent job on sound balancing, at times, sixteen voices and five instruments none of which ever dominated. Thanks are also due to Sue Harris at Republicmedia for her help and chasing down the photo pass, and to the staff at Central Hall who were unfailingly helpful throughout.
Katie Melua and The Gori Womens Choir – ‘Carol Of The Bells’: