Just as Nina Simone was a superb arranger of other people’s material, so Victoria Geelan who captivated an Out to Lunch audience at a concert this week devoted to the singer proved a brilliant interpreter of Simone. She transformed the Black Box on a freezing Tuesday lunchtime into a late night boite or club.
We had love songs and sort of love songs. I Put A Spell on You was tuneful, haunting with the kind of perfect pauses that make great singers great. My Baby just Cares for Me was the song that relaunched Simone’s career in the ‘80s via a perfume ad. Its familiar opening was played and delivered well, the body of the song hummed with happiness.
We got some biography with the music and heard about Nina Simone’s civil rights involvement which began when she was pregnant with her daughter Lisa. As illustration, we got Nina Simone’s version of Dylan’s great protest song, I Shall be Released. Slowed down, it became a jazzier number with Geelan’s voice acting as a soulful instrument. It segued into a passionate burst of scat. She also belted out with great feeling another important song, Billy Taylor’s I wish I knew How it Would Feel to be Free. The lyric says it all, and Victoria Geelan provided a real sense of liberation at the end.
One of many highlights, Wild is the Wind, is a love song that as the singer put it, “starts quiet”. It doesn’t finish that way, and we travelled through a pretty poetic account of the lover breezing his way through her life. David Bowie covered this and both capture something special.
Necessary to give a true account of the grit of this gutsy, uber talented woman, Nina Simone, who was a piano prodigy, lost out on a classical career but in the process guaranteed that we would feel good via her songs and musicality. Someone once described Simone’s voice as the “perfect combination of rough growl and smooth straight-tone”. We got that in this gig, with Geelan providing both honey and gravel.
Her band supported with some memorable improvised solos from Rohan Armstrong on double bass and . Dr Neil Burns piano work was a delight throughout. Drummer Andrew McCoubrey on drums.
The Out to Lunch Festival continues until January 28 (cqaf.co.uk).