LIANE Carroll was born to entertain. She came from a musical family and was playing the piano at age six. Something of a child prodigy. As a result, it’s not surprising that if given a piano and microphone, she can mesmerise any audience. Now, in her 50s, Carroll is quick witted, huge fun and manages to dig out songs that our grandparents enjoyed in their youth – and make them irresistible to our modern ears. Quite a force of nature is our Liane, imbued as she is with a sultry voice designed for those who like darkened jazz clubs and night time mischief.
At the rather dark, intimate Piano Smithfield music club in London on Thursday night (March 30) – where Negronis made at the well-stocked bar are tempting to all but recovering alcoholics – Carroll demonstrated that she remains a formidable force. Even when feeling a little under the weather. For just under two hours, she held court, firing off witticisms like bullets – and then delivering delicious interpretations of songs written by the likes of Tom Waits, Joe Stilgoe, Hoagy Carmichael and Burt Bacharach. Variety is the spice that makes Carroll’s shows so entertaining.
As is her way, most of her numbers at Piano Smithfield (a wonderful music den) were heavily contextualised – Carroll loves to have a good old natter in between numbers.
So, in introducing Here’s To Life – a song made famous by a battery of female greats such as Shirley Horn, Barbra Streisand and Shirley Bassey – she talked about the time she sang it to her Mum an hour before she died in a hospice from the killer that is pancreatic cancer. As for Carmichael’s Skylark, this was a song that her grandma used to play. It’s infused with beauty:
Oh skylark I don’t know if you can find these things
But my heart is riding on your wings
So if you see them anywhere
Won’t you lead me there? ‘
A romantic writer’ is how she described Carmichael – accompanying Skylark with a mighty fine Memphis in June.
There was music from Donald Fagen’s debut album The Nightfly released 41 years ago (The Goodbye Look) – Carroll lamenting how time flies. And a breath-taking My Funny Valentine (Chet Baker), infused with the big voice of Louise Balkwill, an individual destined for greatness. Indeed, Balkwill has her own Great American Songbook show on Wednesday April 5 at Piano Smithfield – it will blow your socks off. If you’re in London on Wednesday night, I can’t think of a better way to entertain yourself. The booming voice of Balkwill, a twelve inch Hawaiian pizza, all washed down with a cocktail or two (the Espresso Martini rivals the Negroni for loveliness).
Balkwill wasn’t the only guest of the night – Emily Masser also excelling on Gershwin’s A Foggy Day.
Pick of the night? Probably, Carroll’s interpretation of Bacharach’s Alfie – a song she dedicated to the club’s barman who goes by the same name. Running it a close second was Seaside, a Stilgoe song and an ode to her home town of Hastings (‘a large drugs town with a small fishing problem’). The night ended with Carroll, Balkwill and Masser skatting to Van Morrison’s Centrepiece. A triumph. No wonder, James Sayer, the individual that keeps Piano Smithfield ticking over, has booked Carroll to appear four times in the last 18 months. You can’t get enough of her.
Finally, a big shout out to Sayer. He’s building a super music venue at Piano Smithfield. Although it’s slightly off the beaten track – sandwiched between the concrete jungle that is the Barbican and the smell of the Smithfield meat market – it’s well worth tracking down.
With live music from Wednesday to Saturday – and open until late – it won’t disappoint. You can dance the night away – while making your way through the cocktail list. Musicians that will rock up at Piano Smithfield in the coming weeks include Polly Gibbons (April 6); Clare Teal and Jason Rebello (April 13); entertainer extraordinaire Ian Shaw (May 5); and Antonio Forcione (June 9).