Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Ladies of Country Congress Theatre Eastbourne

Ladies of Country
Congress Theatre

4th May 2011

(appearance order in Eastbourne)

Janey Kirk
Lena Martell
Philomena Begley
Billie Jo Spears

I am surprised this show did not sell out in Eastbourne, or at least get very close to it. With Lena Martell and Billie Jo Spears in the same production I would have thought this would have appealed to any country music lover?

There must have been around 1000, perhaps a few more, in the audience. In these hard times that is still a respectable size crowd but it is still far from the near 1800 capacity of the Congress Theatre.

There are 4 queens of country music in this show which kicked off with the delightful Scot Janey Kirk impressively covering many famous country music favourites. From what I have read I know Janey has a huge fan base who are looking forward to seeing her on this tour.

Janey then handed over to the legendary Lena Martell. Lena was not just great vocally she was also extremely humorous. Having forgotten her glasses she couldn't read her own playlist so had to keep asking the band what came next.

In addition to, of course, singing her own hits like "One day at a time" she too covered the tracks of other artists.

Just 3 years ago (2008)  Lena had a heart valve replacement operation but is apparently now in excellent health for the tour. I have to say apparently because as she and Janey were kindly signing autographs in the interval she was sweating excessively and looked absolutely exhausted.

I understand that as far as gigs go this is a relatively short tour running until the end of May. I hope that Lena doesn't do more than her GP would recommend because 3 years isn't all that long since such a major operation.

After the interval Ireland's country star Philomena Begley takes to the stage. Bursting with Irish charm and wit and best friend of Billie Jo Spears she is a true asset to this production.

Last, but certainly not least, 74 year old USA country music star Billie Jo Spears emerged to perform her quarter of the show.

What a fantastic performance it was too. As many of the audience members commented if at her age she can still dance and sing so clearly live then it puts to shame those young artists of today who have to lip sync, even on TV.

I thought she performed every hit, including her biggest Blanket On The Ground, as well as she ever did in her younger days.

But what I hadn't expected was her wonderful sense of humour and strength of character. I have often commented on the excessive strength of the spotlights in the Congress Theatre. Regularly they are so bright , rather than highlight the artist, they cause complete artist "white out" obliterating facial features. I've always said they must be bright for the performer.

Good to see Billie Jo wasn't going to take being blinded for granted as she constantly had to order the lighting crew to dim the lights slightly. At one time she threatened, forming her hand in the shape of a gun, "If you don't turn them down, I'll shoot you down!". A determination which received strong appreciate applause and laughter from her audience.

It was actually surpising to see how much better you can appreciate the artist with a slighly less bright light. Billie Jo then looked far more natural and relaxed as she performed a load more country favourites ending with all 4 artists appearing to sing the finale together.

For me, this wasn't just a show I found thoroughly entertaining. I found it somewhat humbling and emotional too. Watching one country music legend determined to perform when she has relatively recently inherited the aortic valve of a pig (and no I'm not joking) and another who is capable of still captivating an appreciative audience in her mid 70's was something very special.

After the show as all 4 artists signed autographs in the foyer of the Congress Theatre several people commented that many of the tracks and respect for the artists had made them quite emotional. From my own experience on the night I can relate to this feeling completely. A very special show from 4 very special and friendly country music stars.

Finally the ladies kindly each signed a charity playing card to raise funds for Great Ormond Street Hospital for children. As they are all queens of country music each has signed a queen. At some point in the future there will be a very special item up for auction in support of  GOSH. The 4 signed cards will be framed along with the snapshot taken on the night. Out of all the millions of country music fans worldwide there can only be one owner. Clicking on my image will give you more details if this very unique auction lot is of interest.

Philomena Begley, Billie Jo Spears, Lena Martell, Janey Kirk supporting Great Ormond Street Hospital with Starcards
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