It says much for the era of short, sharp early 1960s pop singles of which Ronnie Spector was a part that she can arrive with a setlist of nearly 20 assorted hits for a show of 75 minutes, including interval. Yet there was a definite sense of quality outdoing duration here, and a youthful energy to the black-clad Spector which masked the fact that lengthy shows might no longer be an option.
Ronnie Spector, Usher Hall, Edinburgh ****
The timing of this short tour was no coincidence, with her old group the Ronettes’ appearance on the 1963 Christmas album A Christmas Gift for You giving them some of the now-recognised classic songs in the seasonal canon. With a sharp five-piece band and a pair of backing singers doing a strong song-and-dance impersonation of Spector’s former fellow Ronettes – her cousin Nedra Talley and late sister Estelle Bennett – Christmas staples from that record played here included Frosty the Snowman and I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, as well as the group’s lesser-known version of Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride.
There were also new songs, like the agreeably Christmassy Under the Mistletoe, and seasonal covers such as Irving Berlin’s Happy Holidays; the latter part of a heartfelt pair – with the Bee Gees’ How Can You Mend a Broken Heart? – which stood in tribute to Spector’s late sister.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Happy Xmas (War is Over) was needed “now more than ever,” said Spector, while the homely doo-wop of the Student’s I’m So Young took the singer back to her youth, and Ronettes hits Baby I Love You, (The Best Part of) Breakin’ Up and the mightily-received Be My Baby retained their joyful, nostalgic chime.
Amid the sense of holiday nostalgia, the massive influence which Spector and her Ronettes personally brought to music shone through, from the film of their ferocious live performance – so much like Tina Turner’s later shows – which backed Ray Charles’ What’d I Say, to the overt nod to Amy Winehouse in Spector’s cover of Back to Black.
Spector’s voice still sounds uncannily like the latter, and the audience hopefully recognised that the woman before them bore a similarly seismic influence upon pop music as we know it today.