Live Music + Gig Reviews

Betty Boo @ Islington Assembly Hall, London

15 June 2024

Pop star, rapper, writer and returning icon of fun, Alison Clarkson’s alter ego is back with a new album and a full band show

Betty Boo

Betty Boo (Photo: PR)

“It’s nice to go back in time, right?” Betty Boo is back, and if ever a set was primed for a fun weekend, this was it. From opener Get Me To The Weekend, a track from her 2022 comeback album Boomerang which features a sample of The Human League’s Love Action, it’s clear that we’ll be having good vibes only in our journey into retropop. Having announced new album Rip Up The Rule Book – “my response to stereotypical ideas about what women should be doing in their 50s” –  tonight’s show was a teaser of tracks from it, but also a chance to recall why Alison Clarkson’s silly yet sassy alter ego, existing at the nexus of rap, pop and glam, is a thing again 30-odd years after her biggest chart successes. 

Clarkson’s first chart hit happened as a featured artist on The Beatmasters single Hey DJ/I Can’t Dance (To That Music You’re Playing). Tonight, Beatmaster Paul Carter is on hand as the DJing support act, and joins her on stage to play the song as part of a troupe that includes a female singer, a guitarist who seems in reasonable awe of Nile Rodgers’ abilities, an anchoring bassist, and two hypey dancers dressed identically down to their pink wigs. The ensuing set balances perfectly between her best known phase (circa 1989-1992) and her second coming. The resulting mix is retro and new all at once.

Some of that new material is revealed in the shape of Barbarella, a song about the 41st century astronaut whose space punk costumes were surely as much an inspiration to Clarkson as Betty Boop, and it’s of a piece with her oeuvre. Perhaps surprisingly we don’t get just-announced new single It Was Beautiful, or the 2022 David Gray collaboration Right By Your Side, but the 17-song set has much else to squeeze in. Let Me Take You There was “written when the sun was shining,” she notes ruefully, referencing the quite appalling June weather we’ve so far endured. It’s followed by Spotlight, another new song with a carefree Balearic vibe, which leads us into Doin The Do, the track that more than any other defined Betty Boo’s pop-rap crossover character. It gets a predictably emphatic response, even if its place at the set’s midpoint is unexpected.

But it’s Stop Your Nonsense (Bubblegum Pop!) that highlights best who Betty Boo is now. Melodious, knowingly throwaway but showcasing an enviable flow, it’s a reminder that she’s taken seriously as a rapper as well as a pop star. There’s (of course) space too for her biggest hit, the fabulously hooky Where Are You Baby, before the set closes, perhaps surprisingly, with Pure And Simple. A track taken to the top of the charts by TV competition fodder Hear’Say, it was co-written by Clarkson for her Girl Thing project. With writing credits for everyone from Girls Aloud to Sophie Ellis-Bextor, it was fitting that she included a nod to the songwriting aspect of her career. But there’s only one fitting encore for this set: Doin The Do gets reprised, to the delight of all, and Clarkson – pop star, rapper, writer and returning icon of fun – takes a well-deserved bow. 

Betty Boo played: Get Me To The Weekend, I’m On My Way, Hey DJ / I Can’t Dance (To That Music You’re Playing) (with Paul Carter from The Beatmasters), Shining Star, Barbarella, Hangover, Let Me Take You There, Spotlight, Doin’ The Do, Superstar, Bring On The Summer, Stop Your Nonsense (Bubblegum Pop!), Boomerang, One Day, Where Are You Baby, Pure And Simple (Hear’Say cover) Encore: Doin’ The Do (Reprise)

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