I wasn’t going to say anything about Engelbert Humperdinck’s sole UK concert in 2017 – I’d never seen him in concert before, so I had no idea what to expect. But his name was on a list of performers in one of the many marketing emails from the Really Useful Group that float into my inbox, and I thought, “Why not?” As I said to someone at the concert who asked me if I would turn in a review, what on earth could I say about Engelbert Humperdinck that hasn’t been said already? And, truth be told, isn’t he getting on a little bit now? I recall an ex-colleague (it’s me that’s changed workplaces since, not him) thinking it was a brilliant idea for the BBC to arrange to have Humperdinck sing for the United Kingdom in the Eurovision Song Contest 2012. He came 25th, out of 26.
But he has his fanbase for a reason, and they were out in considerable numbers at this Theatre Royal Drury Lane gig. In all of Humperdinck’s 50 years in showbusiness (hence the celebratory world tour) he had never performed in the West End: he’d done a series of concerts on Broadway in 1979. Drury Lane itself had underestimated him, publicising an expected 9.35pm finish for this Sunday night concert. It was well past 10pm before Engelbert Humperdinck finally said goodnight: a two-hour set from an 81-year-old who only left the stage for just a few seconds between the end of the first set of bows and start of the encore.
He lost his place a few times, but never during any of the songs. This was simply a matter of getting so immersed in the emotion and passion of a given number that whatever song was to come next was occasionally forgotten. Still, this was someone who had neither autocue nor sheet music on stage, and, as I say, didn’t miss any of his lyrics. Also, performers less than half his age sit for entire songs. Engelbert Humperdinck would ask his audience for proverbial permission to sit down “for a bit” – two verses at most, before the enjoyment of performing live would compel him to his feet once more.
It is easy, I suppose, to be a little dismissive of an oldie taking to the stage and singing tunes that were in the charts when browsing involved going to high street stores and hooking up referred to getting a device up and running. But Humperdinck is fully aware that it’s 2017 now, and nonchalantly ignored the various bits of underwear flung on the stage by women who really are old enough to know better.
There’s a distinct ability in evidence to keep things fresh and contemporary. He’s even releasing yet another album in the UK before the end of the year, called ‘The Man I Want To Be’. Two of the songs off the album, performed in this concert, are ‘Photograph’ by Ed Sheeran, and ‘Just The Way You Are’ by Bruno Mars, names unfamiliar to many of the core ‘Humperdinckers’, but known to most of their grandchildren.
Speaking of grandchildren, there was also a stellar performance from nine-year-old Olivia, Humperdinck’s granddaughter, already a powerhouse vocal. Humperdinck remains hopeful that his wife of 53 years, Patricia, will be able to be in a position to see his concert at some point in his current world tour. I only discovered afterwards that she has been suffering from Alzheimer’s for some years.
The thing about seeing something as a member of the public and not as a member of the press, but writing about it anyway is this: there’s no press release and no list of backing vocalists and musicians from which to name-drop people. (If there were programmes available, I didn’t see any programme sellers and I didn’t see anyone with a programme.) I have no desire to pick out certain people in any event – this was a tightly-knit group of singers and musicians who are excellent at what they do.
Yes, almost all of the spoken dialogue was well-rehearsed and on occasion a tad contrived. But nobody – nobody – attains a golden anniversary in the entertainment industry by being merely okay. It only happens to those who are superb. Well done, Engelbert.