Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, Jalen Ngonda: Arts Club, Liverpool

Martha Reeves & The Vandellas at East Village Arts Club

Martha Reeves & The Vandellas at East Village Arts Club

A self-confessed Motown nerd, Getintothis’ Shaun Ponsonby experiences a bona fide soul legend in the intimate surroundings of the Arts Club.

Here’s a question. What’s more important for a live performer? Unrivalled vocals or that certain je ne sais quoi?

Full disclosure: this writer is a complete Motown nerd. Martha Reeves is an undisputed legend. Jimmy Mack. Heat Wave. Third Finger, Left Hand. Nowhere To Run. Dancing In The Street. As far as we’re concerned, she could walk out on stage, play with a skipping rope, eat an apple and leave and we would be completely content with the performance. However, now in her 70s, her vocals have understandably weathered over time.

But does that really matter when you possess the sass and all-round bad-assness of one Martha Reeves? Although her vocals may not technically be what they were, she more than makes up for it with soul and by just being awesome.

The Motown girl groups were designed to be glamorous and classy. Think of the Supremes or the Marvelettes; elegance in abundance. The Vandellas had that too, but Martha always seemed tougher. The closest Motown ever had to The Shangri-LasMary Weiss or Ronnie Spector.

Making her way to the stage with an infectious smile, Reeves – flanked by her Vandellas – wasted no time in getting the party going, opening with Quicksand, an early hit written by the Holland-Dozier-Holland writing team who were also responsible for most of the Four Tops and Supremes hits. Straight away it’s her personality that is most evident. It fills the room, and it makes you feel good.

Miss Reeves also gives us a lot of history, with most songs coming with little anecdotes about her time at Motown. Given that she is in Liverpool, she tells a story early on about the time The Beatles made their way to Hitsville, USA, and how they performed a whole host of Motown songs…but none of the Vandellas! She had her revenge by performing a soul-ed up version of Something.

Naturally, it was the aforementioned big hitters that earned the biggest cheers of the night. Martha and the girls really cut loose, with Reeves yelling “Good morning Vietnam!” at the start of Nowhere To Run, in reference to the songs use in the movie.

The most rambunctious applause of the night seemed to greet Jimmy Mack. The cheers just kept going and going long after the song had finished. In the end Martha seemed to get impatient and quickly moved on.

An extended bout through (Love is Like a) Heat Wave gave way to a few obscurities, including 1972 album track No-One There and the relatively recent Home To You, which showed that Martha’s voice may be much better suited to jazz and blues these days.

Naturally, Martha kept Dancing In The Street for the very end. Arguably the quintessential Motown anthem, usurping Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations and any of Motown’s other, bigger stars from laying claim (with the possible exception of Marvin Gaye, who wrote the damn thing!). She introduced the song by thanking us for making the song so iconic and “if ever you heard this song in your car, pulled over, got out and danced like crazy no matter what your best friend or the po-po had to say about it!

Following the performance, Martha sat at the side of the stage and talked to anyone who wanted to. Class act all the way.

Unfortunately, at the start of the night it took a while for the room to fill up – to the point where we were a little worried that the show was undersold. It filled up nicely just before Martha took to the stage, but those who waited missed a great set from LIMF Academy “Most Ready” artist Jalen Ngonda. Actually looking a tad Curtis Mayfield-esque, he performed a wonderful set of laid back soul that fit perfectly for summer night vibes, with a little twinkle in his eye. He pitched his set perfectly, and we implore you to check him out. That’s an order.

Photos by Getintothis’ Peter Goodbody