The Roundhouse, in Camden, has an enviable knack of promoting both new and old(er) talent and nights out there are, without exception, phenomenal. I could hardly believe it when I managed to secure tickets to see Ronni Spector perform ‘In the Round’: she, and The Ronettes, are musical icons.
This would prove to be an evening of great music, funny anecdotes and touching reminiscences. Can you believe that The Ronettes got their big break while waiting outside Peppermint Lounge on New York’s 45th Street? The venue’s manager had mistaken Ronnie and her sisters for the dancers she’d hired! “We were dressed to impress”, recalls Ronni, “with Kleenex stuffed in our bras and heavy makeup, accentuated by cigarettes”.
Once inside Peppermint Lounge, the lead singer from Joey Dee and the Starliters handed Ronni a microphone, instructing her: “Sing”. Chuckling, Ronni told us “He didn’t have to ask me twice” and launched into a cracking version of ‘That’s What I Want’.
Success came quickly for The Ronettes, as did their first TV appearance, on ‘Dick Clark’s American Bandstand’. “I was so nervous”, reminisced Ronni, as we watched grainy black & white footage of that memorable night.
Such success saw The Ronettes tour with The Beatles and they attracted many celebrity fans – for example, Brian Wilson, who was in the studio when the Ronettes recorded ‘Be My Baby’. “He was so excited, he was like a little kid”, mused Ronni “and he wrote a follow-up, just for me”. Cue a glorious rendition of ‘Don’t Worry Baby’.
Unbelievably, it’s 56 years since The Ronettes first performed in London and Ronni vividly recalls the headline of the January 1964 edition of NME: ‘Welcome to London’. Whilst here, “Keith Richards wrote a song for me – and 50 years later I got to record it”: ‘I’d Much Rather be with the Girls’.
“When I came back, in the late 1960s/early 1970s I had to start all over again. I remember seeing Tom Petty in the audience, crying – and Joey Ramone”. Strange to think that Ronni has outlived them both, although her sister Estelle who “loved fashion, but loved The Ronettes even more”, is no longer with us.
We’d been waiting a long time for ‘Be My Baby’ – but when it came, it didn’t disappoint.
It’s inevitable that such a long career will experience some sadnesses and we were blown away by the footage of Amy Winehouse declaring that The Ronettes were her 1960s icons and of Ronni singing ‘Back to Black’ – and even more so when Ronni announced that “Amy’s mother, Janice, is here tonight – and I want to thank her for being such a good friend to me”.
Reflecting, Ronni told us “This past year has been a tough one and we need to remember those less fortunate than us”. Following a glorious rendition of ‘Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine’, Ronni was joined on stage by the Roundhouse Choir and together they performed ‘I Hear Music’, leaving me – and, I suspect, many other audience members with a lump in my throat. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would see Ronni Spector perform live – and tonight fulfilled a long-held dream.