“She clearly loves the material, which she delivers with a belt!”
Tori Scott made the move to London from New York City about a year ago – arriving here with three bags and one cat (with a touch of dramatic license thrown in no doubt). Since then, she has swiftly and firmly established a growing popularity this side of the pond. Her two-night stint at Crazy Coqs shows us why. Her lively, breathless whirlwind of a ninety-minute set leaves us wanting more, if not a little glad we can catch our own breath by the time she dances out, mid-song, through the venue’s double-doors.
She loves the venue, she claims. “It tricks me into thinking I can afford the drinks”. She loves her new home here too, despite the cost-of-living crisis; “It’s too expensive to stay alive”. The title of her show – “Tori with an I” stems from her discovering how hard it is to live in the UK with a name like Tori. This theme (one of casting an outsider’s eye on the many eccentricities of British life, culture, politics and personality) informs the banter that occupies the gaps between songs. Between verse and chorus even. Such is her gift of the gab she can slot a hilarious anecdote into the short sixteen bars of an instrumental break.
Scott is an actress, singer and comedian and all three attributes are in full swing as she sways through a set list takes in the likes of Elton John, Lady Gaga, Cyndi Lauper, Florence Welch, Madonna, Bowie, the Eurythmics, Divinyls, Bewitched… among others. It is a musical journey in which, unlike many shows of this genre, the choice of musical numbers is seemingly appropriate to the surrounding banter. Or at least Scott makes it feel that way. Maybe she’s just winging it – you can never tell with Tori. She shamelessly makes fun of our culture, but does so with immense affection. And self-deprecation. She makes fun of herself and, very occasionally, the artist she is covering. It is done with love. She clearly loves the material, which she delivers with a belt! (to say the least). Her voice soars, but sometimes it is like there is a slow puncture somewhere and she needs to reach the end of the song before the air starts to escape.
Musical director and pianist, Ben Papworth, has his work cut out keeping up – but he does so with consummate ease despite barely controlling his laughter from Scott’s barrage of gags. Midway through the evening Scott invites Christina Bianco onto the stage. Unlike the rest of the evening the pre-song banter had a slightly rehearsed feel about it before they launched into a duet, mashing up Judy Garland’s ‘Get Happy’ and Barbara Streisand’s ‘Happy Days are Here Again’ into a gorgeously clever countermelody.
Currently on tour (“no tour bus – just a rail replacement bus”) with ‘The Cher Show’ it is testament to her stamina and supreme vocal technique that she can fly by Crazy Coqs to deliver such an impassioned set. But you feel that she wouldn’t miss it for the world. Scott is her own, self-contained ‘joie de vivre”, which the audience cannot avoid soaking up, just as we love being the butt of her jokes. “Thank you for letting me complain to you all night” she quips by way closing the show – with a singalong. A show that opened with Queen’s ‘Don’t stop me now’. Well – we wouldn’t be able to stop her. Even if we wanted to. Which we, quite emphatically, don’t.
“the emotion of her delivery matching the resonance of the lyrics
It is often considered a brave choice to rework songs that, for most people, are etched into their memory by the original artist. This is probably most true of Bob Dylan, one of the most significant singer songwriters who, at eighty-one, is about to appear at the London Palladium. Barb Jungr is one of those brave souls who has tackled Dylan. That makes it sound like a challenge, but Jungr approaches the vast catalogue with a purer motive. It is twenty years since the release of her album ‘Every Grain of Sand: Barb Jungr sings Bob Dylan’. Since then, she has said that “my love for the work of Bob Dylan has simply magnified exponentially”. This love and respect rings loud and clear throughout her set at Crazy Coqs. If anything, she has more respect for the material than the writer himself. Iconic phrases thrown away by Dylan are picked up by Jungr and delivered to us with startling clarity, originality and passion.
After opening the evening with a swinging, jazzy, staccato ‘Tangled Up in Blue’, she slips into her role of raconteur. Witty, self-deprecating and unafraid to be ‘naughty’ she is a consummate cabaret performer as well as a fine singer. At one point (jokingly) berating her accompanist, musical director and co-arranger Jenny Carr for not telling her to “shut up and get on with the show”. ‘If Not for You’ follows – Dylan’s love song for his first wife; “written when he was happy” quips Jungr, “a very short period”.
Over the next hour Jungr mixes the well-known with the lesser known, the emotion of her delivery matching the resonance of the lyrics. Dylan’s genius, she points out, is that his songs – some of which were written decades ago – reflect the world we live in today. ‘A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall’ is sixty years old but could have been written yesterday and Jungr delivers it with a soaring intensity; a mix of fury and affection – that has us on the edge of our seats.
Carr’s varied piano arrangements reflect the diverse moods of the numbers, complementing the personality and poignancy of Jungr’s singing. From the gospel tinged ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’ to the bluesy ‘Mississippi’ and through to the gorgeous, almost whispered love songs, of which Dylan is the finest exponent. ‘I Want You’ is followed by the achingly delicate ‘Sara’.
As her hour on the stage is drawing to a close, Jungr knows we’re not going to let her get away without an encore. “I’m not going off and coming back on” she tells us before singing us out with the lilting ‘I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’. Jungr is the perfect channel through which to experience the work of Dylan. Of course, in a couple of days you can catch the real deal at the Palladium. There are a few tickets left, so if you have a few hundred quid to spare you could gamble it on one of his famously unpredictable performances. Jungr’s show is far from being a gamble – it’s a sure-fire hit.
Critical opinion of a Dylan gig is famously divided. It has been said that ‘it is difficult to understand what he is doing on stage’, while he has been slated (justifiably or not is another debate) for rendering “the greatest lyrics ever written so that they are effectively unrecognisable”. This charge could never be laid on Barb Jungr, whose singing technique is flawless, passionate and respectful. A triumph.