Burt Bacharach, AJ Brown: The Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool

Burt Bacharach

Burt Bacharach

As legendary singer and songwriter Burt Bacharach smooches into The Philharmonic Hall, Getintothis’ Cath Bore tries not to swoon, and fails.

Yorkshire jazz singer AJ Brown provides support tonight, and he’s delighted to be here, cracking jokes, songs with double entendres we see coming a mile off. He’s Finbarr Saunders and Michael Buble on a sugar rush. He should do well.

Burt Bacharach takes to the stage. He’s still a handsome sod, and dapper in a navy blue blazer with a cheery red handkerchief tucked neatly in the top pocket, and gets cracking quickly enough, talks about how the next ninety minutes will be a love fest. Burt’s a cheeky one.

The songwriting master starts with a medley of songs made classics by Dionne Warwick, Say a Little Prayer, Walk on By, and others. But there’s no room to breathe in between, songs running into one another, back to back. We feel he wants to get them out of the way, these, some of his most wonderful songs. We’re miffed on their behalf they aren’t getting the full treatment.

That’s it, you see. We think Burt Bacharach songs are our own, especially the ones co-written with Hal David, we get protective and want the red carpet rolled out for them, each and every time. These are our songs, ones to be savoured.

Read about Van Morrison’s forthcoming visit to the Philharmonic Hall here

His songbook is thick and hefty, and he and the orchestra and band pack in as many as they can. This evening most are delivered by a long serving trio of singers, Josie James, Donna Taylor and John Pagano. We don’t envy these three. The big singers from the 1960s and 1970s who recorded the definitive versions of Bacharach’s songs are a lot to live up to. The orchestra, who Bacharach only met at 2pm today, are faultless, but Make it Easy On Yourself is turned into a duet of smiles, a downward plunge from The Walker Brothers’ sorrows from fifty one years ago. Pagano can’t compete with the smooth brown baritone of Scott Walker, and to be fair he doesn’t try to, but the ultimate tale of true love’s loss is softened into a schmaltzy ballad. Pass the Stilton, please, and some Cheddar while you’re at it.

Any Day Now, another Bacharach & David song also done by Walker, and Elvis Presley, is manhandled, a loud vulgar trumpet slap bang in the middle.

Tonight Burt Bacharach himself, his own voice thready and as dry as a flour bag, sings just a handful of songs. His rendition of Alfie is surprisingly effective, eerily poignant, especially compared to the rude nasal honk from Cilla Black on her version, a hit single back in 1966.

The fragility of Bacharach’s voice in The Look of Love causes a shiver. That’s heartbreak for you, right there, right in the sweet spot.

He talks fondly of Cilla, Cissy Houston, Dionne Warwick, all the singers who made his songs beautiful over the decades. Makes a joke about Luis Suarez, says how made up he was when The Beatles covered Baby It’s You. As he should; on it, John Lennon’s voice kills us, no matter how many times we hear it.

He finishes the night with That’s What Friends are For and everyone is swooning, on their feet, madly in love with Burt Bacharach and his performance. And we’re with them, part of the way; the twinkly blue eyes have it. But the records themselves, recordings from decades ago, to us have a much firmer and lasting hold.

Pictures by Getintothis’ John Johnson.