arts

Billie and Me (Patti Boulaye)

5 STARS

PATTI Boulaye is an extraordinary individual with extraordinary talents who was catapulted onto our TV screens 40 years ago as a winner of talent show New Faces. She has never once looked back. Onwards and upwards, driven on by an unflinching faith.

Now in her early 60s (you would never think so, looking at her), she continues to perform as if she were in the flush of youth. Possessing a compelling stage presence and dressed fit for a queen, she is a quite stunning live act as was in evidence at the Pheasantry (Pizza Express Live) on London’s Kings Road.

There to pay tribute to the music of Billie Holiday – and sell a few copies of her autobiography The Faith Of A Child – she was on stunning form as hit after hit were given the Boulaye treatment.

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An emotional version of Strange Fruit left her – and most of the audience – with tears in her eyes. There were also powerful versions of Nice Work If You Can Get It, That Ole Devil Called Love, Good Morning Heartache and Moanin’ Low – and an electric charged version of I’d Rather Go Blind. Alan Rogers ably assisted her on piano.

In between the music, Boulaye spoke of some of the parallels between her life and that of Holiday. Both had difficult upbringings with Boulaye enduring a childhood scarred by the Biafran War and a father leaving home when she was just two (she was one of nine children). Holiday came from a broken home, was raped at age 14 and was a child prostitute before finding fame as a singer.

She also highlighted their differences. Boulaye’s unwavering Catholic faith, the importance of her mother and husband Stephen Komlosy in her life – and a career free of drugs and alcohol abuse.

In contrast, Holiday’s short life was marred by drugs, drink and a love for bad men. Boulaye’s rendition of Holiday’s Don’t Explain – when a husband comes home after two days of womanising – was particularly poignant. Indeed, it was probably the closest Boulaye got to Holiday all night. Smouldering delivery.

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Yes, she was a little preachy as she listed the pop stars who had died young as a result of being destroyed by drugs – Amy Winehouse, Elvis, Prince et al – but Boulaye knows who she is. She is quite simply a force of nature. A rock of a person underpinned by strong values and who has fought discrimination to become the dynamic force she is today. If you doubt me, read her book.

In between the Holiday music, Boulaye paid tribute to her extended family by singing her own song, In My Memory. She also sang an aria from Carmen (she revitalised Simon Callow’s version of Carmen Jones in the early 1990s), delivered an immaculate version of Frank Sinatra’s My Way and got ‘dirty’ with Bessie Smith’s raunchy Kitchen Man. ‘His frankfurters are oh so sweet, How I like his sausage meat.’ Alberta Hunter’s I Got Myself A Working Man went down a storm.

She brought the night to a thrilling finale with a bit of samba and a rousing La Bamba –Boulaye dancing on stage with a number of friends from the audience – jazz singer Xara Vaughan and Vicki Michelle (Yvette Carte-Blanche in ‘Allo ‘Allo).

Boulaye was born to entertain. Her ‘Billie & Me’ show continues at selected venues until next month. For more info.

Not to be missed.

The Faith Of A Child can be ordered at: pattiboulaye.com/book

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