Athena Centre, Leicester
June 29 2016
Producer Alan Warner
One very wise show business figure from the past once stated that, the point of keeping up to date in show business, is to be able to continue to create an illusion on a stage, that does not leave the audience disillusioned. The genius who uttered those words was Peter Hepple, former editor at The Stage, now sadly no longer with us. I wonder what Peter would have made of the events of June 29 in Leicester, within the splendidly appointed art deco surroundings of The Athena?
The tribute market is very much where it’s at these days. In the business brains of many higher-end agents, this is the only market to be in. No surprise then that the Entertainment Agents Association promoted this event so strongly, after perhaps lacking in that department during the inaugural NTMA awards in 2013. Each of the winners was determined, after being nominated by association members, on their on-stage performances, their market appeal and their marketing skills. A number of other factors were involved in the decision making, which is rather too long-winded to go into here. The fact is that, on the glossy paper of the splendidly designed programme, this show looked like a winner right from the start.
Despite the cringe-worthy efforts of Harry Hill and his doom-laden quest to put the tribute vehicle Stars in Their Eyes back on telly not so long ago, the tribute market continues to mushroom, despite the encouragement of significant TV exposure. I would venture to suggest that, as its higher-end, it is the sheer strength and polish of the product that keeps the tribute tills ‘ker-chinging’.
Hat’s off to Producer Alan Warner, now happily recovered after a serious illness. Mr Warner found a superbly appointed venue, wringing with atmosphere and razzmatazz, in a Central UK location. The Athena is not merely fit for purpose, it possesses every attribute required for such an event.
So, what could possibly go wrong? The answer was soon, in my view, all too obvious. Enter comedian Patrick Monahan, who was tasked with presenting the whole evenings tribute jamboree. But more about this later.
There were many tribute awards presented during this special evening but, for fairly obvious reasons as this was only one evenings show, only a selection of the tribute luminaries actually performed on the night. To open the show, we saw Rob Kingsley and his Vision of Elvis. Mr Kingsley was joined on stage by two girl singers and a splendid 6-piece band. This really was theatre product through and through and, if there is a better and more complete Elvis show out there, I certainly haven’t seen it!
With the original Stars in Their Eyes producer Kieron Collins in the audience, there followed addresses from the show producers and other agents and sponsors. Enter Patrick Monahan, who bellowed and charged around a lot, making himself hoarse with all the O.T.T shouting, as he implored everyone ad-nauseum to, ‘make some noise’.
For a number of reasons, I chose to find myself an eyrie-type vantage point up ‘in the gods’, of the auditorium. I’m extremely glad I did. If I had have been invited into the downstairs throng, what followed would have made it nigh on impossible to produce what I hope is an accurate and incisive review.
The charitable activities during the evening created huge gaps in the action. Although laudable of course, in my view, the long gaps and huge appeals from the Compere to ‘make some noise’, were punctuated by much ‘shush-shushing’ during the periods of charitable altruism. Even in my most bizarre dream, I couldn’t really envisage the London Theatre Awards being punctuated by a game of stand-up- sit-down bingo. My own feeling is that a tightly produced cabaret show and a presenter who understands the role of the Compere would have served this event much better.
Sing Baby Sing came next as The Stylistics, presenting their superb take and accurate harmonies and smooth falsetto sounds. Sing Baby Sing are as smooth as velvet and excellent in every department.
The whole evening provided triumph for UK Cabaret subscribers MBM Corporate, Peller Artistes, Lucas Management, Veritas Entertainments and Shout Promotions, who represented many of the acts on the bill.
Next came the award for best sound and light production. The nominees were The Rat Pack is Back, Totally Tina and Talon-tribute to The Eagles. In the event the award was presented to Totally Tina.
Donna Ramsdale then received her award for Best Jessie Jay, Rob Kingsley picked up his best Elvis award and Hats Off to Led Zeppelin also scooped an award.
The next award was for Best Video production. Good show-reels being a pre-requisite for potential clients these days and the nominees were The Totally Tina Show, Talon and Abba Revival. In the event the award was picked up by Abba Revival.
There than followed a gaggle of further presentations, with Badness picking up their Best Madness award, Soul Kinda Wonderful were named Best Drifters and Totally Tina’s, Justine Riddoch picked up her award.
The next live performance came from singer Natalie Anne Black, who picked up the award for best Adele. Ms Black is a UK Cabaret subscriber and I was therefore delighted to witness her success giving, as she did, an outstanding vocal performance.
Hats Off to Led Zeppelin rocked the place and evoked memories a seminal rock band, with surprisingly copious appeal today. They came, they saw, they brought the house down.
The next award was best web-site. The importance of an easy to navigate and media friendly site is impossible to understate. The nominees were Talon- Eagles Tribute, MBM Corporate agency site and Tribute Acts Management web-site. The winner emerged as MBM Corporate, which I was delighted about, as Phil and Anne Barrett are staunch supporters of what we are trying to build here at UK Cabaret.
Three more award presentations followed. They were Laura Jane Butler who won as Best Amy Weinhouse, Oasisish, who emerged victorious as best Oasis band and Abba Revival, who were named best Abba act.
Name came a live performance from Walk Like a Man, who accepted the accolade as Best Frankie Valli & Four Seasons Tribute and are represented by UK Cabaret subscribers Veritas Entertainments. In shirt a terrific act and a market-leader.
Throughout almost the entire show Mr Monahan remained on stage, at the side of the presentation podium. Whether it was incongruous mobile phone ‘selfies’, or his almost constant efforts to get in on the act, with several apparently bemused members of the cast, the thought crossed my mind that a shepherd’s crook around Mr Monahan’s neck, hooking him off stage would have benefitted everyone involved immeasurably.
The next award was for Best Marketing and PR and the nominees were Talon, Peller Artistes and Soul Kinda Wonderful. In the event, it was Talon who scooped the award.
Another selection of award-winners then received their awards. They were Paul Bacon for Best Elton John, Stayin Alive for Best Bee-Gees tribute and Jimmy Jemain as Best Cliff Richard. Almost all the awards recipients had been denied the opportunity to give thankyou speeches. However, Mr Jemain seized the microphone and made an impassioned plea for agents and bookers to remember that Sir Cliff’s good name has now been cleared. What one would presume has been a quiet time for Jimmy, should now be well and truly over.
The next award was for Best Choreography and the nominees were Donna Ramsdale as Jessie Jay, Totally Tina Show and Lorrie Brown as Kate Bush. A hugely successful night for Justine Riddoch and her Totally Tina show continued, as she picked up this award too.
Three more award-winners than braved a brush with the hyper Mr Monahan to collect their awards. They were Nya King as Best Whitney Houston, Tania Alboni as Best Cher and Rock Stewart for best Rod Stewart.
Enter Paul Reason as Robbie Williams. The outstanding Mr Reason was accompanied by four stunning girl dancers. Paul Reason knows how to produce the very best of tribute.
After another halt, during which the charity was promoted, we finally got to enjoy Tania Alboni. In my view, Ms Alboni is the best Cher tribute by a country mile.
The Music Industry Award came next. This was for an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the tribute field. The recipient was Nick Tanner, a member of tribute pioneers Talon.
Three more presentations followed, namely Best Blues Brothers act, Chicago Blues Brothers, And Finally—- who are a band, who received the award for Best Phil Collins and Genesis act. The third in this trio of tribute luminaries was Wayne Denton, who won as Best John Denver.
Back to live performance and the appearance of Rule the World, who scooped the award as Best Take That tribute. This section of the market is very crowded but these guys, down to three in number these days, were quite perfect and hugely enjoyable.
The next award was Tribute Agent of the Year. The nominees were UK Cabaret subscribers Peller Artistes and MBM Corporate, as well as the eventual recipient, veteran agent Barry Collings. Hopefully I can use this space to congratulate Mr Collings and welcome him to this publication.
A frankly bizarre and presumably impromptu appearance from veteran comedian Tom O’ Connor raised plenty of laughs, although I’m not sure what Mr O’Connor thought about being hauled on stage.
Three more award-winners came next. They were Jeff Dingle who won as Best Bruno Mars, Donna Marie who emerged as Best Lady Ga-Ga and Kelly O’Brien, who scooped the prize as Best Dolly Parton.
The next award was for best tribute band and the nominees were Talon as The Eagles, And Finally—Phil Collins and finally Hats Off to Led Zeppelin, who were awarded with the top prize.
Enter more award-winners to receive their prizes. They were Lorrie Brown for Best Kate Bush, Rule The World for Best Take That and Tameka Jackson for Best Diana Ross.
It was then time to see a small segment from the spectacular Totally Tina show. Five female dancers and a red-hot five-piece band are led by ‘Tina’. AKA Justine Riddoch, who is a UK Cabaret subscriber. Mr Monahan muscled in on the choreography and I for one squirmed somewhat, as he joined in on stage. At the conclusion of Totally Tina, an unplanned encore, instigated again by the Compere, threw yet another spanner in the works, with Mr Monahan missing his cue completely, as he had inexplicably gone off for a dance on the dancefloor below. All of which was a huge shame, given these performers have worked so hard to get where they are and this was supposedly their moment of recognition.
The award for best female artiste came next and the nominees were Kelly O’Brien as Dolly Parton, Tameka Jackson as Diana Ross and the eventual winner, Justine Riddoch as Tina Turner, who was clearly enjoying one hell of a successful evening,
More award-winners were soon up on stage, namely Pop-Up Bowie as Best David Bowie, Soul Kinda Wonderful for Best Drifters and Sing Baby Sing, who we had seen earlier as Best Stylistics.
The nominees for the award of Best Male Artiste were Jeff Dingle as Bruno Mars, Paul Reason as Robbie Williams and the eventual winner Rob Kingsley as Elvis. Mr Kingsley was permitted an acceptance speech and it was amusing to hear the Elvis drawl being replaced by a Scottish twang.
Another gaggle of award winners was soon on stage and accepting their awards. They were Paul Reason for Best Robbie Williams, Walk Like a Man for Best Frankie Valli & Four Seasons and Natalie Anne Black for Best Adele.
It was back to live performance and the penultimate live act on the bill with The Rat Pack is Back. This show is comprised of accurate lookalike/ sound-alikes to Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jnr, all accompanied by a troupe of Les Vegas style show-girls. The effect was simply mesmerising. However, during this performance, the whole effect of the evening was marred yet further by members of various acts wheeling cases and equipment under the lip of the stage and in full view of the audience.
Members of the final act on the bill Talon were awarded a Life Achievement Award and the band were the last to perform, opening with Hotel California, which was quite superbly played and sung. Talon boast a huge fan-base and many of their followers had made their way upstairs just to see their heroes in action.
This evening provided career recognition for the brilliant and highly in-demand people on stage, rewarding them for their hard work and dedication. Some of the best tribute acts in the business were present and a lot of money was no doubt thrown at the project, allied no doubt to oodles of good intentions. Let’s hope there is another National Tribute Music Awards next year.