Tonight, I was privileged to witness one of the best live musical performances that I’ve ever seen. As I’ve no doubt said before, live music is a passion of mine – and I’m lucky enough to have seen many different bands and artists perform. Very few, though, have impressed me as much as Gregory Porter.
The Royal Albert Hall provided the perfect setting for Gregory, accompanied by a full symphony orchestra. Tall & charismatic, his is an unassuming presence – he’s incredibly softly spoken – yet he owned the stage from beginning to end.
What I hadn’t expected was that most of the night would be devoted to the music of Nat King Cole. I knew Gregory to be a big fan of his, having recorded a tribute album last year – but was still a tad surprise, as there was no mention of it in any of the promotional literature. Kicking off the evening with ‘Mona Lisa’, Gregory explained, “Nat King Cole is very special to me. When I was 6 years old, my mother lied to me [chuckle] and told me I sounded just like him when I sing. That sowed a seed in my mind and I went and listened to his music…I loved its energy and warm tones, and they’ve influenced my life.”
There followed a sequence of NKC classics: ‘Love is Funny’, ‘Nature Boy’, ‘L-O-V-E’, ‘Quizas, Quizas, Quizas’ and ‘Miss Otis Regrets’, before Gregory continued: ‘Nat’s messages in his songs spoke to me as a young man. I found a lot of his advice quite fatherly: that message of pick yourself up, dust yourself down and start all over again, like in this next song”. A glorious version of ‘Pick Yourself Up’ ensued.
Then came an interlude informed by Gregory’s own music: “Right now, I’m going to perform a song written by my cousin, who’s blind. In it, she talks about being able to see, when she’s in heaven.” He was referring, of course, to ‘In Heaven’, from ‘Take Me to the Alley’, which he performed with just his pianist and his double bass player. It went down a storm, as you can imagine.
“When I sat down to write this next song”, Gregory continued, “I was thinking of Nat King Cole. It’s a message that is necessary right now.” The song to which he was referring – ‘When Love was King’ – elicited by far the biggest reaction of the night so far.
Nat King Cole’s ‘The Lonely One’ and ‘Ballerina’ followed, again to loud cheers – with Gregory then introducing ‘Liquid Spirit’s ‘No Love Dying’ as “…one of my originals – it’s a romantic song, but also a universal one”.
There was more to come from Nat King Cole, though, with Gregory explaining, “The messages that Nat King Cole sang were the ones that I received in the absence of my father – and this song summed up my feelings, aged six years old: ‘I Wonder Who My Daddy Is’.” By now, we were all getting quite emotional – even more so when Gregory followed that weepie up with ‘Sweet Lorraine’ and ‘For All We Know’.
Then, a slightly odd moment, which I’ll let Gregory explain: “Growing up in Bakersfield, California, in the summer it’s about 95 degrees on a cold day [chuckle]. To cool myself down, I’d listen to Nat King Cole’s Christmas album – and this is one of my favourites from it.” There followed a festive rendition of ‘Merry Christmas to You’. Hmm. Given that we have, quite literally, just celebrated Easter (today is Easter Bank Holiday Monday), I can’t say that I was really in the mood for Christmassy songs.
Ah well. It would be churlish to pretend that this was anything other than a magical evening, even if I would have preferred Gregory to perform more of his own material. He did wrap up proceedings with two of his own songs, though: ‘Hey Laura’ and ‘Don’t Lose Your Steam’, which “I wrote for my son”.
What a star – and what a voice. Let’s hope that Gregory Porter returns to London soon: I, for one, will be at the front of the queue for tickets.