Review: Martha Reeves And The Vandellas, the Duchess

Not dancing in the street but rocking the Duchess… Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. Photograph © Jules Bellerby, BBC York
17 Jul 2015 @ 11.37 am
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Martha Reeves And The Vandellas

The Duchess, York

Monday, July 13, 2015

Duchess website

‘The Duchess welcomes the queen!’

Thus we greeted the queen of Motown, Martha Reeves and her two sisters Delphine and Lois.

Resplendent in a blue and silver dress and a mass of long curls, the only sign that Martha Reeves is a woman in her 70s was a slightly tired look in her eyes, struggling to focus in the spotlights as she took centre stage.

Lois, to her left, born in 1948, but looking barely 40, captured the audience in front of her with a dazzling smile and a vitality that didn’t wane all night.

Martha herself soon picked up the energy and gave us what we all wanted, a show high on nostalgia but laced with humour and generosity, not to mention the self-knowledge of being in the crazy situation of still being on tour, 53 years after she sang in Marvin Gaye’s backing band.

If at times the high notes were tremulous, it served as a reminder of Motown’s roots in gospel, where age has never been a barrier to raising the roof with a joyful sound.

There were stunning guitar solos, gutsy vocals and a kick from the horn section that lifted the sound through the roof.

The classics were all there: Jimmy Mack, Heatwave, Nowhere To Run and Dancing In The Streets, as well as less well-known numbers from their 1972 album, Black Magic.

In No-One There, sung in tribute to songwriter Johnny Bristol, Martha’s voice truly came into its own, defying any assumptions about age or longevity.

The amazing Miss Reeves
The amazing Miss Reeves

Our night was made even more enjoyable by meeting Yves and Louise, tourists from Canada who’d come to the gig because they’d had a chance meeting with the Vandella’s bass player, Chris, on the street.

They asked me to give Chris a special mention, and he deserved it too; we danced all night to a great bass sound and rhythms that never let up, stirring middle-aged and older bones to move and keep on moving.

Forget over-50s Zumba, this was the real thing. There were young people there too, twenty-somethings wise enough to know they were seeing a piece of living history, an unbroken thread back to Detroit and the birth of Motown, still fresh, still funny and still grooving.

As the song says: So many memories, come and get ’em.