Betty and the Bootleggers

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Betty and the Bootleggers

Pizza Express Live at Holborn, London, UK, February 20, 2019

Reviewed by Thanasis Kalantzis for Cabaret Scenes

Betty & the Bootleggers

The word “vintage” comes to mind when I think back to the Betty and the Bootleggers show at Pizza Express Live (Holborn). Led by vocalist Betty Wilde, the quintet from London gave us a melange of the finest R&B and rock and roll standards from the ’50s; their renditions pay homage to the artists who defined the era and still speak to the hearts of millions.

Wilde’s influencers include such giants as LaVern Baker, Ruth Brown, Lou Rawls, Etta James, Ike and Tina Turner, Big Walter Horton, Janis Martin, and Wynona Carr, to name but a few. With her powerful, confident, at times raspy voice, she recreated the ambience of their time and along the way had great fun.  

Diamonds in her first set included “Early in the Morning” (Robert Krasnow/Ike Turner), the steamy and seductive “I Don’t Know” (Bobby Stevenson/Brook Benton), the innuendo-laden “Nosey Joe” (Leiber & Stoller), and the timeless “Five Long Years” (Eddie Boyd), which had wonderful guitar and harmonica solos. She finished the set with Eddie Miller’s jazz and blues fusion of “(I’d Rather Drink) Muddy Water.”

She stormed through her second set with Wynona Carr’s “Jump Jack Jump” and continued at the same pace with “Fujiyama Mama” (Jack Hammer). With her “As Long as I’m Moving” (Charles Calhoun) and “Whipper Snapper” (Leiber & Stoller) she made us want to jump off our seats and start dancing to the frantic rhythm.

Truth be known, at the end of the evening I thought that 27-some songs were too many to allow us to absorb and fully appreciate the spirit of the genre. We were bombarded with song after song, all fast paced, without allowing us space to take a breath, a sip of wine, and relax. Furthermore, even though it was a very pleasant, radiant presence, the avalanche of her songs did not allow the songstress to chat at all, tell us a story—or maybe crack a joke—and come closer to her audience.  

And that was my only reservation. Beyond that, it was an evening full of great fun.

The singer was artfully supported by Old Pickett on guitar, James Corden on sax and harmonica, Dave Longman on drums, and Oliver Joss Lee on double bass.

Thanasis Kalantzis

Thanasis started reviewing for Cabaret Scenes in 2012. He started by reviewing primarily jazz and cabaret artists visiting from the U.S., but these days, he concentrates on British talent. Recently, he added covering musical theater to his duties. He was born in the heart of rural Greece in 1967. He studied Archaeology at the University of Thessaloniki, worked as an excavator in the prehistoric town of Akrotiri, Santorini, and then spent two years on the beautiful island of Crete excavating a Roman village, among other sites. In 1991 he moved to London to study for his MA in Archaeology at University College London thinking that, upon completion, he’d return to Greece and continue with his excavation work. Nevertheless, he gave this amazingly diverse city a go, and started working with various companies, including the Horniman Museum, Sotheby’s and, most recently, the Big Lottery Fund, the organization that allocates lottery funds to arts and charities. His been in London for 26 years, and is happily married to his husband and runs a small, successful business.