It wasn’t as if she needed an introduction, but Paul O’Grady was on the Roundhouse stage anyway, telling an audience that included Jarvis Cocker, Neil Tennant and Boy George what they all knew already. Yes indeed, a legend was set to descend into our midst.
And Shirley Bassey quite literally did descend – on a hydraulic platform, revealed from behind a drape, for her only live show of 2009. Sparkling in a sequined dress by Julien MacDonald, the 72-year-old Dame of Tiger Bay resembled a human mirrorball. She began as she meant to continue, with a powerful rendition of Diamonds Are Forever.
With sparkly blue glitterballs on screens to the left and right of the stage, all the glamour of ’60s James Bond locations and those accompanying John Barry themes that cemented her career were conjured. We were no longer in Camden; this was Monaco.
On stage with her for this penultimate show of the 2009 BBC Electric Proms were the BBC Concert Orchestra under the command of Mike Dixon and her current producer, Barry’s Bond theme successor, David Arnold. Material from her spectacular new album The Performance allowed the Dame to introduce him on guitar, beginning with the Rufus Wainwright-penned Apartment, a tale of ditching fairytale romance in favour of roof-over-head practicalities.
Along with the new material generally, which was being performed here for the first time, Apartment is as well realised as anything her huge voice has ever soared over. Her other recent collaborators Richard Hawley, Tom Baxter and Manic Street Preachers‘ James Dean Bradfield also all took turns with guitar on new material, the latter on highlight The Girl From Tiger Bay. But there was never any question of duets. Where Bassey is concerned, there is only one voice; yet that didn’t prevent her from playfully announcing them as her “young men”.
New number No Good About Goodbye unleashed that voice and the orchestra to thrilling effect; a piece penned in Barry’s style, it’s full of drama and excitement, just the sort of number she excels in delivering. Later, the album’s title track The Performance (by the Pet Shop Boys) revealed new depths of pathos in this setting, prompting spontaneous applause well before its eventual, triumphant end.
But the audience were here for her back catalogue; Hey Big Spender – “you’ve been waiting for this, haven’t you,” she grinned – and Kiss Me, Honey, Honey both went down a treat. Her rendition of The Doors‘ Light My Fire reminded the crowd that she is first and foremost an interpreter of other people’s songs, her performances transforming them into her sequinned world of glitz and glamour.
She began with John Barry and, as she returned to the stage for the encore dressed in a furry white jacket, it was fitting that she ended with him. Goldfinger was immense, a thrill to witness. Shirley Bassey, interpreter of songs and transcender of time, retains her midas touch 50 years on.