By Jay Darcy
I have been anticipating June 2022 for a long time – in the space of a fortnight, I got to see Dionne Warwick, Diana Ross, and Gladys Knight – three African-American female icons!
Warwick is being very candid about her tour being her last – it’s billed as She’s Back: One Last Time. Ross has not said as such, but it is her first UK tour in 15 years, and she’s going hard – she closed the Jubilee celebrations, and she’s got the Legend’s slot at Glastonbury – she’s going out with a bang, isn’t she?
Knight, meanwhile, was last in the UK a mere few years ago, and whilst I presumed this tour would be her farewell – like Ross, she’s 78 – I have changed my mind since seeing her. The woman is as fit as a fiddle! It is hard to believe that she is 78 – she looks, and sounds, so much younger. She has aged like fine wine, and her voice, too, has gotten better with age – becoming richer over time. She is showing no signs of slowing down!
Knight’s opening act was Mark Kingswood, a friendly crooner who took the audience back in time. He has a lovely voice, though crooning is difficult – you’re always going to be compared to the greats (and Michael Bublé, of course).
Like Warwick’s concert, everybody stayed sat for Knight’s. Warwick makes relaxed music that you appreciate aurally, so that was not surprising, but Knight’s music is a mix – much of it is sit-down music, whilst some of it is groovy, yet most of the audience stayed sat for the full duration of the show.
Knight began her set with the little-known Gladys Knight & the Pips song ‘Make Yours a Happy Home’, before blitzing through some of her many hits with the Pips: ‘The Nitty Gritty’, ‘Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me’, ‘Baby, Don’t Change Your Mind’, ‘Part Time Love’, ‘Come Back and Finish What You Started’, ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’ (the biggest Motown hit until Marvin Gaye‘s version took that spot), ‘Neither One of Us (Wants to be the First to Say Goodbye’, ‘The Way We Were’, ‘Love Overboard’ – and, of course, ‘Midnight Train to Georgia’, which she saved until last (save the best for last, right?).
She also sang her only solo hit – ‘License to Kill’, the theme from the James Bond film of the same name. Surprisingly, this song was not a US hit, much like Ross’ mega UK hit ‘Chain Reaction.’ This beautiful ballad was wisely placed in between the two brilliant bops ‘Come Back and Finish What You Started’ and ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’ – a dramatic tonal shift followed by a return to bop-tastic excellence!
She did not sing the hit collaborations she had as a solo artist – ‘That’s What Friends Are For’ (Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Knight – billed as “Gladys & Friends“), which Warwick closed her concert with, and ‘Missing You’ (Brandy, Tamia, Knight and Chaka Khan).
She sang a few little-known songs and even had a superb section in the middle, in which she covered two songs by The Beatles, including ‘Hey Jude’, which really got the audience going, and Queen‘s ‘We Are the Champions’ – which Queen + Adam Lambert closed their concert with when I saw them last month. This was followed by a gospel section, which heavily involved her three brilliant backing singers, all of whom looked as fabulous as they sounded – especially the older woman with short red hair and red eyebrows!
The only criticism I have of the setlist is that it was a little anticlimactic to not have an encore.
Unlike Ross, with her endless costume changes, Knight stuck to the one (like Warwick) – and she looked splendid. She appeared to be wearing a grey vest and a see-through, sparkly top over it, complete with winged sleeves. Her grey pants had the same mesh-like material below the knees. She looked stunning, without trying too hard.
Gladys Knight tours the UK until the end of the month, with two nights at the Royal Albert Hall in London on 29th and 30th June, respectively. She then take a month off, before touring her home country of the US from 30th July until 14th August and again from 8th October until 17th December.
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