Andy Williams. Sixties TV host. Septugenarian smoothie. Swinging sex symbol. Soundtrack supplier (car ads especially considered). Music To Watch Girls By was a hit 37 years ago, and the man who popularised it was tonight strutting his vintage stuff to a Royal Albert Hall audience dominated by white heads. But our host’s locks long ago lost their pigment, so there would be no concerns there.
Any suggestion by the three people under the age of 55 present that time must have by now taken its toll on one of music’s most instantly recognisable voices was quickly dispelled. Williams, crabdancing across a stage like it was fashionable, eased his public in slowly with some lesser known tracks that allowed him to purr as a balladeer just as effectively as he could emote to the rafters of London’s big red birthday cake.
The more powerful notes, initially at least, sounded especially amplified. Were they live? Hearing Williams speak between songs suggested so – he’d won the benefit of the doubt. Listening to him is still like being stroked gently by a silk glove.
The stage bore a 13-piece band. A female Mexican drummer perched behind a perspex screen – this audience wouldn’t have appreciated drums obscuring the crooner’s seductive soliloquies. Joining her in their supporting roles were four backing vocalists, three keyboard players, a bassist, a guitarist, a pianist, a percussionist and assorted brass and flute players. At no point did any of them attempt to catch the audience’s eye – and rightly so, for this was not their show.
This much became obvious given the rapturous reception given to the first of Williams’ timeless classics – Can’t Take My Eyes Off You. The Tory Party volunteers present scarcely needed imploring to join in the chorus – one of the most memorable ever written. Everyone from Lauryn Hill to Al Green and Sheena Easton to Muse have covered it, yet even though he didn’t write it, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You will always be Williams’ song.
Next up came a surprise explanation of his career revival. Music To Watch Girls By, he informed us, was used in a commerical for a “Punto, whatever that is”. The commercial was duly shown. Williams made it plain he did not approve. He produced his own version, where the commercial’s male protagonist actually is watching girls – but Williams himself appears, gets the girl and drives off in a car that decidedly isn’t a Punto. Cue much laughter in the aisles as the commercial ends with the legend “Spirito di Andy”. Any diehard cynics in the audience by now had to smile and relax.
That perhaps his most famous song, and title of his current Best Of compilation, was played half way through the first of two sets was a surprise. But in ensuing medleys we’d come to remember just how many classics this man has recorded. Happy Happy Heart (used in Danny Boyle’s first feature Shallow Grave), Can’t Get Used To Losing You, Days Of Wine And Roses and others were given just a minute each to impress before the Williams roadshow rumbled on to its next destination.
An interval allowed some larynx lubrication before Williams was back to regale us with It’s So Easy and rouse us with Solitaire. By Love Is Where You Are, two of the audience’s younger members were ballroom dancing in the aisles. And then on came Petula Clark.
Refusing calls for a rendition of Downtown, Clark, resplendent in black sequins and a fizzy mop of hair, joined our host for three songs, culminating in The Way You Wear Your Heart. It was a mutual love-in, of course. “You’re a voluptuous bird,” offered Williams. “Bird?” enquired Clark. “Bird. It’s English for Chick!” More laughter. “You’re a legend,” gushed Clark. Indeed, clapped the audience.
Just to prove it, we were treated to Moon River, the song after which Williams’ theatre in the States is named. Eyes were no longer dry as flowers were thrown at the stage. The old smoothie hands a flower to each of his female band members. The drummer bats his offerings back with a drumstick. More laughter.
Saccharine sweet his output may be but, as he closed a singularly enjoyable evening of family-friendly entertainment with Danny Boy, who could want to change Andy Williams, silky-smooth voice of a generation?