A brief respite from flailing about the library stacks searching for a PhD topic came in the form of an impromptu trip to Ronnie’s on Monday night to see Buddy Greco, who may be 85, 105 or 45. He has a strange timelessness that tells you he could be from anywhere at anytime, and that he may be older than half the 1890s books I tiresomely took home from the library, or as young as a Martin Amis paperback. The thing is, with those who take great delight in what they do, you can’t really tell how old they are.
If you want to know how Buddy Greco appears, take Billy Crystal’s face and peculiar hairline that starts flourishing in a horizontal line half way along the top of his skull. Add 20 years, and one tuxedo. Finish with a coat of Florida sunshine and a creased, although not wrinkled face. Add a piano and sort of sellotape him to it. Add a lady standing behind him (his fifth wife) in a heavily structured fitting sleeveless top studded with sequins and a face that looks like it was created in one of the better plastic surgery faculties of the West Coast, and folded vocal cords that competently replicate mid-career Peggy Lee. Stir in a whack of musical prowess, a solid-as-gold popular song set list, and flamboyant and well-practised charming cheekiness and bake for 50 years. Then serve on a Monday night in the dog days of summer, accompanied by a rare steak and two Camparis and prosecco (post Campari half bottle of red wine optional).
Now – the truth : Buddy Greco is 85. I have to keep saying that, in order to convince myself it is true. Buddy Greco is 85. He is a phenomenal swinging piano player and singer who has been doing his job for 61 years. He has the richness of voice and dexterity of performance of someone half his age and frankly, whatever he’s on – I want some of it. He performed a two hour set with his four piece band and then gave in to the raucous standing ovation and came back to do another 20 minutes. He was wonderful – concise with jokes, funny, smooth, swinging and just about everything you could possibly want for £34.50. He has the seasoned grandeur of a performer who had to hone his craft in the unforigiving 1950s, when audiences were granted more luxurious choice and exhibited far more discerning tastes. Astonishingly, this half-Spanish, half Italian American now resides in Southend-on-Sea and regularly referred to himself as an Essex boy. Only this 85 year old could get away with calling himself a “boy” in any given capacity.
Sometimes, when you go to see the oldies perform, half the schaudenfraude thrill is wondering whether you are going to get to see them die. You know what I mean – a breaking voice, a reach for that top note whilst raising the arm of a diamante-d sleeve and timber! some old girl who once had a song written for her by Duke Ellington topples off her stool at Ronnie Scott’s and it’s Good Night Las Vegas. Or it’s the horrible feeling you get watching Liza Minnelli sing on film, when you think somewhere, something has gone ghastly, and foul and wrong, and she”s going to either internally combust or have a stroke. Rare is the man who can listen to Minnelli warble “All The Single Ladies” on a full stomach and not feel queasy.
Ronnie’s toilets were a bastion of over-heated nuttiness. I thought I was in a sauna. There was a cluster of middle-aged ladies who all had the heated hand dryer machines on at the same time. Outside on the London streets, it was the last blissfully mild evening before the rain started this week. At Bar Italia they put the outside heaters on, in order to warm you whilst you sat at their newly designed tables. Bar Italia has deservedly begun to sell itself more stridently in the last year, coating their tables with designs of recent-based London awards, interspersed with glossy prints of black and white photographs of some Italian chaps in the 1950s, like some kind of Godfather Pop Art. It was the perfect place for a pre-dinner bicicletta (Campari and Prosecco) whilst watching the world go by. Inside the club, the food was uncharacteristically good and the club packed to the rafters as usual, even on a Monday in the middle of the August holiday season – and even in a recession as mind-boggling as this one. Mind you, it is a huge advantage to the club that by the time your food arrives it is too dark to see what you’re eating. Could have been a 160million year old diplodocus shank masquerading as a rib eye steak for all I know.
August is the word I would use to describe Buddy Greco : venerable, majestic, in the eighth month (oh, all right DECADE) of his life, a little summery, a focus for admiration. I loved what he did and the way in which he did it. His vocal presentation was beautiful. Unfortunately, he was only doing it for two nights, but what a reminder of what the club can do, and how it nearly made up for the unbelievably awful Gil Manly I saw there 6 weeks ago. For a moment, time was suspended and spirits were raised and you can’t wish for more on a Monday night. Although, intrinsic to this sense of timelessness was an illustration of how doing what you love keeps old father time very much on your side – no matter how old the songs are. A real delight.
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