Review: Martha Reeves & The Vandellas – 2/6/19 – Riverside, Newcastle


A healthy sized audience that pile in early doors at Newcastle’s Riverside venue for a warm up set from World Headquarters’ resident DJ Tom Caulker. It’s chock-full of soul classics as we await one of the genre’s brightest shining stars: Martha Reeves…

Reeves gets increasingly worked up about people waving their phone cameras in her face. “All you’re gonna get is belly,” shrugs a lady who, for 77 years old, is in great shape. As Martha and her Vandellas celebrate 60 years of Motown – the legendary home of soul that originated in Detroit, Michigan – her inability to comprehend the relatively new obsession with mobile phones at concerts is perfectly understandable. She is someone who has lived through times when, gasp, there was no such thing as social media. What’s more, Martha Reeves is such an iconic figure that she’s entirely entitled to indulge in whatever antics she chooses. We’ll forgive her for the simple fact that we’re in the presence of musical royalty.

Martha and her sisters Lois and Delphine give the non-camera waving members of the audience a warmer greeting; welcoming us to their “church” for the evening. If the Riverside is the church, then Martha is the preacher and she is surely preaching to her already converted and committed disciples.

The aptly titled ‘Holy Highway’ opens the proceedings as Martha steers us down the path of enlightenment. The first huge number from her hymn book of classic soul is ‘Nowhere To Run’ and if there was anybody left unmoved by this point – there wasn’t – then the whole room has now been turned into a quivering mass of evangelical hysteria. The party comes to something of a literal screeching halt as sound issues beset ‘A Love Like Yours (Don’t Come Knocking Everyday)’. In spite of this and over-exuberant photographers down the front, Martha and her sisters remain in high spirits throughout.

Self-deprecating and rehashing a few of the song introductions she delivered at the group’s last show at the Cluny two years ago, Martha at one stage forgets where she is other than “England”. However at 77 she can be forgiven. By the time the Vandellas break out with perhaps their best loved hit ‘Jimmy Mack,’ a fair proportion of the audience would struggle to know where they are too. Backed by the Haggis Horns, one of Motown’s most beloved girl groups deliver hit after hit of songs made famous  by themselves and others.

Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’ precedes a tribute to the only other woman who can lay true claim to the Soul Queen title, Aretha Franklin, who sadly passed away last year. A medley of ‘Natural Woman,’ ‘Do Right Woman’ and, of course, the original feminist anthem ‘Respect’. It is done with style and grace and is full of love for one of Martha’s oldest and dearest friends. An emotional tribute from the stage from a long-time fan of the group whose 88 year old mother came off her dialysis machine to be here tonight only raises the spiritual vibes and by the time of the rendition of ‘(Love Is Like A) Heatwave,’ it feels like the humidity of an early summer’s overcast Sunday evening has penetrated the four Riverside walls.

Introducing ‘Dancing In The Street’ and thanking all those who have given stirring renditions of the song from Jagger and Bowie to David Lee Roth and the Mamas And The Papas, the group take the track to a new level by incorporating a medley of 1960’s smash hits including ‘I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)’ and ‘Signed Sealed Delivered (I’m Yours).’ With her advancing years and in the knowledge that we lost Aretha at 76, we can only live in hope that Martha defies the odds and makes it back for another Tyneside reunion. In troubling times, we can all use a little bit of heart and soul.  





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