The Singer’s Tale at The Studio, St James Theatre, London
by Carole Woddis, February 2015
Carol Grimes, who is she? goes the subtitle to this wholly unique one-woman show.
For anyone who found themselves at political benefit nights during the 1980s and 1990s, the Carol Grimes Band was a staple on the scene, a rip roaring, foot-stamping whirlwind of blues and jazz led by the pint-sized Grimes guaranteed to lift spirits sky-high.
Several decades on, now touching seventy but still firing on all cylinders, she enquires mischievously, who am I? The Singer’s Tale, it turns out, with a doff to Chaucer, is a journey into the mystery of who she really is (Grimes like much else is a name adopted by Carol), based on her own book and set to music by the equally remarkable Dorian Ford, pianist supreme augmented by the moody trombone playing of Annie Whitehead, Winston Clifford on drums and the night I saw the show, Max de Wardener on bass.
The St James Theatre, a venue like no other for its steady programming of female performers, offers a perfect clubby ambience in its small downstairs studio space for a show that combines biography, rap and skat and vintage musical highlights: Grimes when she takes off into Otis Redding inspired, Ella inspired or any R’n’B inspired favourite is just unmatchable. And The Singer’s Tale is stuffed full of them as well as her own new minted, eclectic mix.
A trip down memory lane, Grimes takes us back to desperate roots in south east London – a beginning coloured by maternal rejection – through teenage years, discovering Ray Charles and the rest and more importantly her own voice. She goes busking, beaches up in west London as the reggae and weed get under way, finds herself homeless, pregnant but the music somehow always carries her through. Words tumble from her mouth, deliriously evocative of a musical and cultural era where sometimes she rubbed shoulders and sang alongside its giants though hard times financially never seemed far away.
The first half is diamond sparkling, the second a tad over-grown. Less is always more.
But with the ever watchful, exquisite Ford/Whitehead/Clifford et al by her side, this is show to treasure. Who is Carol Grimes? A many splendoured thing and a survivor.