Sophie Ellis Bextor brought her “Song Diaries” tour to The Usher Hall in Edinburgh tonight. “The Song Diaries” is the new album from Sophie and it has been recorded with an orchestra to allow new arrangements of the classic songs that we all know and love. This tour brings that album to life on stage with Sophie Ellis Bextor performing live in front of an orchestra, and the results are at times unexpected, but always innovative and interesting.
“Song Diaries” the tour is something not to miss if possible, and this is a large, complex and expensive one to take on the road; the logistics alone of taking an orchestra on tour must be “challenging” to say the least for any tour manager. The one thing that is obvious from this show is that Sophie is having the time of her life performing her music with an orchestra behind her. The Usher Hall was a perfect venue for this show as it is a large purpose built concert hall of classical style and proportions (built in 1914 with a seating capacity of over 2,000), and the stage is large enough to easily take an orchestra, and classical concerts are a regular feature of its programming all year round.
In music, few things seem to change faster than dance music and “Dance Queens” come and quickly go with spectacular regularity, but NOT Sophie Ellis Bextor. This “Dance Queen” has never over the years been in any danger of being replaced and obviously shows no intention of abdicating her throne any time soon. To back up those statements, anyone just has to look at the age demographics of people in the audience tonight, ranging from people like myself who obviously remember the early songs of the late 1990s, to sub-20 year olds (and everything in between). What is the reason for such staying power in a business as merciless as the music one? Well, the answer to that is the simple fact that Sophie Ellis Bextor has always been far more than just a voice to a dance track.
Sophie Ellis Bextor has always had one of the most unique and identifiable voices of any singer to come out of Britain in a very long time, and perhaps the all too often public perception of dance music as a disposable musical medium has obscured that fact a little over the years. Standing in front of an orchestra on stage here though, for any singer, an orchestra can be a daunting experience as unlike a small band that will wrap itself musically around a front person, an orchestra is playing those musical arrangements before them and there is no margin of error for a singer here, they have to be in perfect time with the orchestra or any errors on their part will be so obvious on stage. Sophie proved her vocal credentials here with a classic and flawless performance.
With some very clever orchestral arrangements were songs that we all knew, and starting with “Groovejet (If This Ain't Love)”, other well known songs including “Young Blood” and “Music Gets The Best of Me” were given not only new sounds, but often a completely different light as, stripped of their dance beat, the core lyrics and emotions of these songs were exposed, and underneath all of this it was possible to clearly see that Sophie Ellis Bextor is not only a classic vocalist, but a very good songwriter and lyricist.
A solo singer in front of an orchestra did produce a different kind of image of Sophie than many people maybe had in mind, one a little more restrained on stage, but never worry folks, this really is a show in two parts and although the orchestra is still on stage and adding some wonderful new layers to the songs, part two is, as the lady says is “The Disco Train arriving”. Here in sharp contrast to the first half of the show is an orchestra leaving enough space in the arrangements to shift into classic “dance mode” and few people know how to work a live crowd better than Sophie Ellis Bextor, and that meant that anyone who was able had to be on their feet for the groove. Effortlessly moving through classic songs of the disco era, including “Young Hearts Run Free” and “Don’t Leave Me This Way”, Sophie’s own music and songs like “Take Me Home” just felt like they always belonged with these music standards. Of course, no evening would have been complete without “Murder on The Dancefloor” and it is so obviously still as much a floor-filler as it ever was.
Simply tonight, a classic performer at the top of her musical game enjoying every moment on stage and sharing that pleasure with her audience.
Supporting Sophie on this tour is Alice Jemima, and it is easy to see why Alice is on this stage as there are many similarities between her music and Sophie’s, and even in the short time available to any support act, it was obvious in songs from her 2017 self-titled album and songs of the quality of “Electric”, “Dodge a Bullet” and “Liquorice” that there is one very good songwriter waiting to emerge from this at times “apprehensive” singer. Alice’s brand new single “Icarus” is a co-write with Sophie Ellis Bextor.
All that Alice Jemima needs at the moment is that experience in how to connect immediately with an audience and have it in the palm of your hands from the very first few minutes, and there are few better teachers around than Sophie Ellis Bextor to learn that elusive art from.
Review by Tom King