It had been a bit of a lacklustre weekend – miserable weather, fretting about the imminent Christmas shopping, dull reality TV and work overload. So the prospect of a Sunday evening listening to all those old songs by The Drifters was appealing – especially when I remembered my surprise and delight at seeing them do a cracking concert at a hotel in the Canary Islands around seven years ago.
Michael Williams, in a smart silver grey suit, came onto a simple black stage with the band at the rear (two guitarists, a drummer, keyboards, a fabulous sax player and a harpist – altogether a rich and smooth mix) and started off with “How I am supposed to live without you” – the mournful sound of that lovely sax heightening the emotion whilst Ryan King – in a darker grey suit with razor sharp creases, provided some harmonies. There was a mention for those out in Afghanistan, a nod to “Help for Heroes” and a cheer for a real war hero before “I’m already there”.
There was then a voiceover where the history of The Drifters was explained – formed in 1953 by George Treadwell who managed them until Fay took over from 1967-2000, when UK management took over. I was surprised to learn that they had 214m single sales, over 50 hits worldwide and over 65 members in 58 years. I wondered how they always managed to look so young!
Then the concert started in earnest with the four guys singing “Come on over to my place” to a super-enthusiastic audience (which represented just about every age, race and gender). It’s hard to believe that four guys singing could make you feel so cheerful – what a tonic! As they stepped side to side in time with the music together, they looked like they were having a great time too. There were chills when they sang “To love somebody”. And then it was a return to that uplifting cheerfulness with “Up on the roof” (not “Jump off the roof” as my daughter thought!) – I so liked the way that they seamlessly swopped lead singers.
Then came the first “icons” element of the concert where songs from former Drifters were performed – first up was Clyde McPhatter with that great doo-wop sound in “Fools fall in love”. There was some great foot and leg work by Ryan King which the audience adored. I was jiggling in my seat with “Let the Boogie Woogie Roll” – as was my 14 year old daughter next to me – Jools Holland eat your heart out! “Down at the club” followed before loads of people in the audience got up to dance to “More than a number in your little red book”. In the Ben E King section, rather than the predictable “Stand by me” they sang “There goes my baby”. I was surprised to see that two of the singers actually played – keyboards and guitar.
Then there was a Johnny Moore section and some really great moves during “Sand in my shoes” before “Sister and Brother” took the pace down again. And just before the interval they thrilled us with “Kissing in the back row”.
After the interval they were back on stage in gleaming white suits with jewel coloured waistcoats – red, lime, purple and gold. Spectacular. More happy singing along to “There goes my first love” – part of the audience near us were getting almost out of control as they practically fought to get to the aisles to dance. A few more numbers followed before “Under the boardwalk” and “Save the last dance for me”. Even the people who had stayed in their seats were clapping and swaying along.
The guys took to their stools and sang a few more mellow numbers including “Magic moment” and their new single. And uptempo again for the finish before some Christmas numbers “Ave Maria” (lovely harp work), “Driving home this Christmas” and “Saturday night at the movies”. And although it was an O Jays number, even my daughter got up with me to dance to “Love Train”. The guys came back on for numerous encores and were thoroughly adored by the audience for doing so.
In these times of five minute wonders, divas who sell sex rather than songs and rappers with a bad attitude it was truly heart-warming to hear a group of guys with real talent, who fully engage with and entertain their audience and who have stood the test of time whilst managing to reinvent themselves but stay true to their origins. Both me and my daughter – and all those around us – had a thoroughly brilliant evening. I urge you to try and catch them when their UK tour next hits London.
2012 London dates: Bromley (26th Feb), Hornchurch (1st Apr), Croydon (27th Jul), Wimbledon (30th Sep), Dartford (11th Oct), Richmond (25th Nov) and Aylesbury (30th Nov).
More details at http://www.theofficialdrifters.com