Sunday 1 October 2017

Billie and Me: Patti Boulaye Live at Zedel - Review

Live at Zedel, London,


Patti Boulaye

It's nigh on forty years since this reviewer first clapped eyes on Patti Boulaye. Her braided hair in tight plaits, Boulaye lit up our TV screens on a Saturday evening, becoming the only competitor in six series of the New Faces talent show to get a maximum 120 from the four judges (but Les Dennis got 119!).

Heaven knows what she sang, but you simply couldn't take your eyes off her and yet she had stumbled into show business almost by accident. Arriving in London from Nigeria at 16, Boulaye thought she was standing in a queue for tickets for Madame Tussaud's, only to discover it was the line for auditions for Hair that was then playing in the West End. Having waited so long, she figured she might just as well have a go, and thus landed her first part.

New Faces later gave her national exposure but although she got some good work – including the lead in Carmen Jones at the Old Vic in the early 1990s - Boulaye never really made the big time that someone with her stunning talent and fabulous voice deserved.

She reminded us of her vocal scope when she launched into Dat's Love from Carmen Jones and although she dealt movingly with the big Holiday numbers (the notorious Strange Fruit, made more notorious for being banned by some radio stations!) God Bless The Child and Lover Man, there was a lot more than Billie in Boulaye's joyous hour and half.

Her own composition In My Memory, a love song to her family, was simple and gorgeous while the raunchy songs of those blues greats, Bessie Smith and Alberta Hunter, with their rude double entendres, The Kitchen Man with his impressive "sausage meat" and Rough and Ready Man had her audience in stitches. They certainly don't write ‘em like that any more, nor the Etta James classic At Last, beautifully achieved by the dazzlingly dressed Boulaye - shimmering black for the first half changing to starry silver for the later numbers.

Boulaye even gave My Way a new depth, justifying its inclusion because Sinatra had always said how much of an influence Billie Holiday had been on him. Mike Moran's musical direction was impeccable.

Reviewed by Jeremy Chapman

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