Brian May & Kerry Ellis: Born Free Tour
Liverpool Philharmonic Hall
June 23, 2013
It has to be said that, with the monikers of “acoustic” and “intimate” being attached to this gig, it was approached with some trepidation. Brian May & Kerry Ellis are, after all, two of the most powerful performers around and Brian, above all, is distinguished by the sound of his Red Special, homemade electric guitar.
The plethora of burning candles, a set of keyboards, two microphones and a pair of stools front and centre did little to allay the fears, yet once three anti-badger cull videos were played out on a big screen at the rear of which – one of which is an hilarious parody cartoon of The Battle Theme from Flash Gordon – the two stars of the show sauntered out and proceeded to rip the place apart with a gig of outstanding ability, grace and humour.
Set up in support of the Born Free Foundation, Brian and Kerry took to their stools and set things rolling with a deeply emotive version of I Who Have Nothing, with Ellis’ rich vocals soaring and crystal clear, whilst May’s exemplary playing of his twelve string acoustic gave the song an accentuated undertone which was further enhanced when Barclay James Harvest keyboardist, Jeff Leach, joined the pair on stage for the Butterfly and a truly exceptional version of the Kansas song Dust in the Wind, on which Brian really came to the fore with an exquisite middle section.
It wasn’t long before a Queen classic made an appearance and Somebody To Love was shoved to the front in all its stripped back glory, ideal for the crowd to get involved and warmed up nicely, as was the brilliant version of ’39 which brought the crowd to its feet in appreciation. Freddie Mercury’s tribute to John Lennon, Life Is Real made a rare live appearance but this wasn’t a Queen fest or trip down memory lane by any means and Kerry Ellis displayed superbly why it is she is such a well respected West End musical star, pounding out songs from Wicked such as I’m Not That Girl and Carousel in If I Loved You with great style and panache. Superb too was the Don Black and May composition, I Can’t Be Your Friend, which is one of the many highlights on her Anthems album of 2011. Indeed the chemistry between Ellis and May is so poignant it is almost tangible.
And so the show rolled on, with The Red Special finally making an appearance to much jubilation for the solo of Last Horizon that May interspersed with a bridge of Brighton Rock which had everybody on their feet. Now we were cooking, with a John Lennon anti-hunting song – Bungalow Bill – being quickly followed by an at first countrified version of Tie Your Mother Down reverting halfway through to its more recognisable – ear-splitting Rock genius – style that once more dragged the audience upright. Indeed, if there was one surprising omission from the set it is the ubiquitous Love Of My Life, making this the first full set May gig I’ve seen without it being played.
Ellis and May’s new song, The Kissing Me Song ,is out this week and was given the full treatment here and is such a fun number it deserves to scale the charts, although what was to follow – with the accompaniment of The Liverpool Show Choir – provided a finale to remember with We Will Rock You quite literally being stomped out and We Are The Champions bringing the show proper to rousing climax.
The choir stayed put as Ellis and May sauntered off for a couple of minutes, thankfully returning to deliver yet another highlight with a deeply moving rendition of No One But You and a truly party-infused Crazy Little Thing Called Love, which finally brought the curtain down on a high.
This was a truly remarkable night of music and song and only goes to show that even a veteran of some 25 + Queen / Brian May gigs should not be fooled by what’s written on the ticket.
Quite, quite superb.
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