Becki Biggins – It's a Man's World
(Pizza Express Jazz Club. 3 April 2019. Review by Poppy Koronka)
Becki Biggins’ comeback show – It’s a Man’s World – has been a long time in the making. This was its second outing and London premiere, and Pizza Express Jazz Club was sold out.
Explaining the rather curious title choice, Biggins said that the idea behind the show was to showcase songs written and made famous by men, but with a strong female voice and lead. It is an engaging and entertaining show, and it held the audience’s attention throughout. She has taken the most classic, masculine songs and used them to give the audience a glimpse into modern-day femininity. Powerful classics – such as I’ve Got You Under My Skin and The Lady is a Tramp – oozed old-school glamour, effortlessly transporting the audience back to a time when it really was a man’s world. However, Biggins’ commanding, relaxed, and powerful stage presence similarly sparked feelings of female empowerment and strength, updating these songs into a celebration of the modern woman.
She had first imagined a show like this ten years ago, she said. One reason that it had taken so long to get the show going was the challenge to find the right band-members. The band was certainly worth the wait. Ben Waghorn delighted the audience with his seamless switches between flute and tenor sax. He has a wide stylistic range and is particularly commanding and gutsy as a blues player. The other reason for the slow gestation of the show is the arrival in the interim of two sons. We learnt that the dramas of Becki’s other life as a Monmouthshire mum, including a detached retina following an uppercut from one of her sons, are often played out on social media: “I live on Instagram.”
There was a clear chemistry and musical understanding between the bandmates, with a beautiful dialogue between the flute or sax and vocals making an appearance in many of the songs, such as Jolene, I’m Giving Up on You, Wichita Lineman and I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You. Drummer Andrew Tween provided a strong base for the band, and took the limelight in a particularly impressive drum-solo inRoute 66. John-Paul Gard, the organist, did not disappoint either, as he appeared with stunning solos in I’m Giving Up on You, Skylark, and Route 66. Gard even played the base line with his feet – an anecdote that caused Biggins to remark that his talent was so immense, he ‘must have two brains – one for each foot!’
Biggins also highlighted various sides of femininity with tenderness and poise; there was an earthy Black Coffee, a pleading version of Dolly Parton’s Jolene, and an affecting You Don’t Know What Love is. It all showed the breadth of Biggins’ talent: she is equally able to belt out classic Sinatra and to show raw and vulnerable emotion in the softer numbers. Biggins has been mentored and championed by one of the great Music Directors, Laurie Holloway. Biggins dedicated her appealing arrangement of Skylark to Holloway and Marian Montgomery’s daughter Abigail, who was in the audience.
Interspersed among the carefully crafted sequence of songs were Biggins’ original compositions, I’m giving up on you and You Should Be Married by Now. These were a definite highlight of the evening. I’m Giving Up on You was inspired by a friends’ divorce; introducing the number, Biggins said it was a ‘song for strong women’. It was certainly that, with the chorus giving a distinct anthem-like feel, reminiscent of a call to arms. You Should be Married by Now is a real collector’s item: a song, from her own experience, about the intensity of the pressure on an unmarried woman of around 30, and the copious amounts of unsolicited advice which comes with it. The song was in equal parts upbeat, witty, and outrageously funny, and Biggins expertly took her audience with her on this entertaining journey through her remembered, pressurized life as a single woman.