Possibly the best love song ever written, Ewan MacColl composed "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" for Peggy Seeger in 1957. She was in America. He was in England. Then, in those far off days before the IT revolution, when transatlantic calls cost a small fortune, he sang the song to her over the telephone. It's a short number, remarkable for a lyrical intensity that conjures up visions of eternity:
The first time, ever I saw your face
I thought the sun rose in your eyes
And the moon and the stars
Were the gifts you gave
To the dark, and the endless skies, my love
To the dark, and the endless skies
It is a great shame MacColl never recorded the song himself. There is only a rather painful folk version by Seeger.
In 1972 Roberta Flack made the song her signature tune. She sang it perfectly, turning it into a glossy, monster hit, but in the process stripped it of some of its magic. Now in 2018 Allen Austin-Bishop, an American vocalist wholike Seeger when she met MacColllives in the UKcomes along to take up what's left and renders MacColl's beautiful song plain ordinary.
He goes on to work the same trick on 12 other modern so-called standards, including the title track by Stephen Sondheim, whichwhile it may not be one of The Man's better numberssurely did not deserve such a fate.
Austin-Bishop is better on less prestigious numbers such as Paul Williams' "Ordinary Fool" and Nat "King" Cole's "That's All." But he positively murders "The Way We Were" before going on to also inadvertently deconstruct Burt Bacharach's "Close To You," painfully drawing out the syllables. Needless dollops of soul-style melodrama do nothing for George Gershwin's "Summertime" or the sadly outdated "Poor Butterfly."
However, as with all things musical, good, bad and indifferent, the show does eventually come to an endappropriately with a live version of "Amazing Grace."
Ordinary Fool; That’s All; The Way We Were; The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face; Summertime; No One Is Alone; They Long To Be (Close To You); Alfie; If You Love Me, Really Love Me; What Are You Doing For The Rest Of Your Life; Poor Butterfly; That’s All; Amazing Grace.
Allen Austin-Bishop: vocals; Alex Maydew: piano; Mao Yamada: bass; Rob Hervais-Adelman: percussion.
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