Stagecraft, is it nature or nurture?
I can’t be sure if Professor Richard Dawkins was on the guest-list for this evening’s extravaganza at the Royal Albert Hall. But if he was, the same question would have raced through his mind with the relentless certainty of evolutionary theory.
True, both Candi Staton and Al Green have been at it long enough to have seen cro-magnon and neanderthal man clash, but both conjure enough of the stagecraft art to shame Larry Olivier.
The Candi girl herself was on first of course. Somewhat reborn from a lifetime of ruinous relationships and bad deals with help from last year’s His Hands album, Candi moves with such new-kid enthusiasm as to belie her 67 years.
As support act, there ain’t much time to dip into the recesses of the back catalogue, but Stand By Your Man, In The Ghetto and the Frankie Knuckles-sourced intro to You Got The Love are as welcome as sun-rays on Wimbledon.
Naturally the full disco remix treatment is given to Young Hearts Run Free, the bitterest song ever to make UK numero uno. Despite the strict running order, Candi still finds time to give full props to the Big G in the sky for her survivorship.
Mary J, you woulda been proud. However, its squeaky bum time for Prof Dawkins if he’s made it. No doubt he’d be yelling something like ‘belief isn’t’ proof’ by now.
One might be entitled to expect some heavy religiosity from the Reverend, but tonight showman Al gives the Green light to swathes of secularity. And now the professor is back on board after a moment of unscience.
And he’s not the only one. Once the rounded figure of Al Green clambers on stage, rose-bouquet in hand, the response is something akin to the day of reckoning where everyone gets an A+ into the afterlife.
Honest. Such unadulterated joy hasn’t been witnessed since Jeffrey Archer got sent down the clink. Such was the mass delight, the Albert Hall even called off the search for Der Fuehrer’s lost bollock.
Punctuated with brief foray’s into a grateful audience, Al doesn’t so much as perform the songs as slip them on as comfortably as a Saville Row suit. I Can’t Stop, Let’s Stay Together and Tired Of Being Alone dovetail into one another like adjuncts of one long sermon of devotion. Which, I suppose, they are.
Al struts at will and coquettishly shakes his tush. The Green squeal is added at strategic moments. Though a product of the Gibb Brothers songwriting school, only Al could squeeze every note of empathy from How Can You Mend A Broken Heart.
One assumes that there was a time when the young Al Green was awkward and nervous, treading the boards of soul as one would park their arse on a bed of nails. But this writer has never seen anyone annex a stage with their own coat of lovin’ arms quite like the Reverend.
Once the break-fest of Love & Happiness sees out the encore-free and truncated set, Al has done more than enough with his joyful noise to convert all but the deepest cynics.
The Professor puts an invisible consoling arm around one of them, and says ‘listen, son, when you write this gig up for that website, try and say something about how Al and Candi themselves are responsible for how great they are, not some bearded, hypothetical deity’.
So I did.