Motown legend still inspires

In the fiftieth year of Motown Records, as the world celebrates a half century of perfect soul music, the BBC invited the label’s former vice-president to come and conclude this year’s Electric Proms.

As climaxes go, they don’t get much bigger than this. Smokey Robinson, to all intents and purposes, WAS Motown Records. Not only was he second in command to the boss man, Berry Gordy, but he was the label’s star songwriter, endowing their roster with hit after hit, all touched with Smokey’s lyrical and melodic magic. And then there was his voice - and what a voice. For his show tonight at the Roundhouse, we were given a faultless demonstration of all his assets; from his own greatest hits, to the classic songs he penned for others, all performed with impeccable vocals, absolutely smooth as silk, that defied completely his sixty-nine years. And that’s not even to mention his dancing!

Backed by his band and the BBC orchestra, Smokey took us back in time, kicking the show off in fine style with the appropriate ‘Going To A Go-Go’, quickly succeeded by ‘I Second That Emotion’ and ‘Ooh Baby Baby’. His rap to the crowd was hugely endearing; recalling the heady days of Motown, triggering spontaneous applause with the mention of his former colleagues - Stevie, Marvin, Diana, etc. - he then led us into a medley of the chart-topping hits he wrote especially for The Temptations. ‘The Way You Do The Things You Do’ segued seamlessly into ‘Get Ready’, which gave way for a hugely stirring ‘My Girl’; its author inciting audience participation, and being thrilled as its results was a joy to see.

Selections from his forthcoming solo album, ‘Time Flies When You’re Having Fun’, because they’re unknown - with the exception of his Norah Jones cover, ‘Don’t Know Why’ – were appreciated warmly, but, as lovely as they were, merely served to delay the much awaited classics. When ‘Tears Of A Clown’ is unleashed, it causes ripples of ecstasy throughout the Roundhouse. The unforgettable climax of the evening was, inevitably, ‘Tracks Of My Tears’, slowed down to a hymnal pace, letting its poignancy shine as each chorus was echoed tenderly around the venue.

For a man with so many classic songs under his belt, and for a man often (rightly) called a genius, Smokey Robinson proved tonight that, much more than anything else, he has the ability to touch people’s hearts and, for tonight’s ninety wonderful minutes, he really had a hold on us.

Set List:
‘Going To A Go-Go’
‘I Second That Emotion’
‘Ooh Baby Baby’
The Temptations medley (‘The Way You Do The Things You Do’ / ‘Get Ready’ / ‘My Girl’) ‘You’re The One For Me’
‘You Really Got A Hold On Me’
‘Don’t Know Why’
‘Fly Me To The Moon’
‘Tears Of A Clown’
‘Being With You’
‘Time Flies When You’re Having Fun’
‘Tracks Of My Tears’

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