Seeing Carmel

7 October 2012

The singer Carmel was big in the mid-to-late ’80s, and although I jumped at the chance to see her again this week in London on a mini-tour that also took in Stockton-on-Tees and her home town of Manchester, I was worried that I might be disappointed, that her voice might not have held up. I shouldn’t have been; as soon as she launched into her first song, I could hear that her tone and control were as fine as ever.

As she sang ‘Jazz Robin‘, a mix of scat and jazz, I couldn’t help think that there weren’t many singers in Britain who could achieve the same vocal effect. Looking back, she should have been bigger than she was; British promoters (and record shops) found her mixture of pop, soul, blues and jazz hard to categorise. She was bigger in Europe, where there is a tradition of the chansonnier. Perhaps shrewdly, her last record was a collection of Piaf songs.

At the Islington Assembly Hall on Wednesday, accompanied by a versatile and sharp young band, she performed songs from across her catalogue, rolling back the years. There was venom in ‘I’m Over You‘ and soul in ‘Bad Day‘. Her version of the much covered ‘It’s All in the Game‘ deserves to become a landmark. At times, at risk of seeming overblown, some of her phrasing reminded me of Dusty. Let’s hope that someone recorded it, or one of the other shows.

The Drumfire label has reissued her first six records with new photographs and liner notes, along with the obligatory (and welcome) bonus tracks. We should cherish singers with Carmel’s voice and talent. In her case there is still time.

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