It is a very long time since I saw a show at the cavernous Guildhall, Southampton with its high ceiling and brick walls and not much has changed at the venue over the last forty-five years, even the carpet looked like it had been down that long! The only thing that noticeably had changed was the £7 charge for a 10-page programme which did not even mention the surnames of any of the performers! The venue has no atmosphere and the large high proscenium arch and tired old front curtain (with a tear centre stage) hardly helped set the scene for the tribute show that followed.
Yet it hardly mattered to the Michael Jackson fans there, from small boys in cute black hats and white gloves to an older lady in a Michael Jackson tunic and every age in between. It may be 10 years since the iconic artist tragically died and there is plenty of recent controversy too but for his fans and lovers of his extraordinary long catalogue of hits it did not matter. They came to celebrate his music and enjoy the efforts of Ben (Bowman) and the Michael Jackson UK Band in recreating the sound and moves of seventies to the nineties. Ben has been running tribute shows to his idol most of his life and been touring regularly for over 10 years, so he has the moves perfectly and was complimented excellently by too energetic ladies (Lisa and Jessie) in most of the best moments of the show.
The challenge for those less familiar with some of the songs was hearing the words sung by Ben. Whether this was a problem with the sound mix in the Guildhall, the use throughout of a hand mike or some loss of diction as he imitated Michael’s voice, was hard to tell but it did not matter for the fans who knew all the words anyway.
The tight band with a driving bass from MD Luke, occasional guitar solos from Sam and backing vocals from Emma with Joan on keyboards and Pete on drums, do a very good job bashing out the tunes and sometimes holding the stage during the frequent off-stage costume changes. With a small touring production and relatively simple light show (of mainly blue and red with white spots and no follow spot) it is left to Ben to recreate the legendary artiste through his own energy and enthusiasm. Curiously Ben called for the house lights up too often killing any build up of atmosphere within the venue.
During the two-hour show (including interval) they performed around twenty hits including a medley from the Jackson 5 where it all began in the late seventies. There is no doubt the audience loved the show but it would have been enhanced in a smaller intimate venue with a better vocal mix and fewer costume changes where the tireless efforts of the production team would have been better showcased and appreciated by even the more casual Michael Jackson fan.
Reviewed by Nick Wayne
FOLLOW WEST END WILMA