LONDON: It wasn’t exactly her cup of Earl Grey, but the old lady in the front of the orchestra played her harp happily and smiled at Peter Straker as he performed his Private Parts at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.
Staging a concert starring a largely-unknown singer, such as Peter, is something of a risk. Staging it as a public performance of the singer’s latest album is probably more of a risk, especially when Private Parts is a work that’s adult enough to make radio producers’ rising eyebrows make up for their receding hairlines.
But taking risks is the job of a pop promotor, so we shall have no more of the commercial considerations of this concert.
Suffice it to say that An Evening With Peter Straker was a remarkable success. The success was remarkable not because we had any doubt about Peter’s ability as a singer – he’d shown his talents in Hair and on several records. The success was remarkable because he managed to put over to an auditorium of people one of the most personal pop works I’ve heard for a few years.
For the first half of the concert – the first side of the record really – he was coming down from the high of tension that he’d been building up for the last two months, worrying about the concert. It ended with the most surprising piece of the whole evening. Peter put over his feelings about the death of his father, in the song As You Were Dying, as powerfully in public as on record. Perhaps the feeling of personal involvement by the audience was greater at the concert. For Peter, an actor as well as a singer, turned the empty laughter at the end of the song into a macabre, mocking laughter echoing down its emptiness.
It had never struck me until then just how horrifying and bizarre that song is, telling of his father’s suicide by hanging.
By this point he’d gained confidence and the rest of the concert reflected this. Peter seemed to be enjoying it as much as the audience by then.
He was confident, but not over-confident, which, I feel is the general feeling behind the second half of the work, apart from a Bad Night — the song which attempts to convey his fear during a bad trip.
By the time we got to What More Is There To Say? the last song in the cycle, Peter Straker had arrived, and was irradiating the sort of feeling you get when you watch the established solo performer.
Considering that Peter’s only made three records as well as being in the London cast of Hair, and of the disastrous Mother Earth musical you can’t really classify him as a big-name singer. I’ll rephrase that: you couldn’t – until the Queen Elizabeth Hall concert on December 1.
He’d got up early in the morning and walked around Holland Park singing every number in the Private Parts cycle.
His next singing engagements will probably be on the continent. “People in this country just aren’t into this sort of music,” he told me after the concert was over.
He may be wrong, for the crowd at the QEH demanded an encore. And by the time he’d finished Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley’s work (Private Parts is written by them) there was nothing left for him to sing. So he had to go back to Who Killed Cock Robin. Then he had to come back again, and again, and again.
Even though the horns in the orchestra didn’t seem as interested in Richard Hartley’s directions as the lady harpist, who carried on regardless when one of her strings broke, it might just be that people in this country are willing to accept Private Parts as an important pop work, which owes much to the French chanson style, and also the Great British Public might just accept Peter Straker as an important figure on the pop scene and not just a left-over from Hair.
Peter may not sing reggae or soul but it wouldn’t hurt the GBP to give Peter’s Private Parts two listens – it’s even better the second time round.