Rufus Wainwright at Coventry Cathedral

I’ve been fortunate enough to see Rufus Wainwright play live many times over the years in many different places, from a sparsely populated Lowry Centre in Salford with his mum and aunt (Kate and Anna McGarrigle) before he became properly famous, to the opulence of a packed London Palladium during his Judy Garland phase. Sometimes with a band, sometimes solo, occasionally – as at the Palladium – with a full symphony orchestra.

But never anywhere or anything like this: Coventry Cathedral and the voice of Rufus Wainwright, on this evidence, are a match made in Heaven.

Having already completed a set opening for Kris Kristofferson at Kenwood House the same evening and arriving in Coventry by helicopter – a mode of transport more suited to a rock star than Rufus Wainwright – the event already had an unusual air about it.

Even more unusual to see the headline act being introduced to the audience by the Dean of Coventry Cathedral. One could only wonder what the holy gentleman would make of some of the lyrics he was about to hear. At least he pronounced the headliner’s name right, unlike he had with the support act Nerina Pallot, who would later gently mention during her set that the ‘t’ is silent.

Any fears that Rufus might be worn out by his earlier performance were quickly dispelled. That incredible voice sounded as strong as ever, already warmed up enough to tackle the long note at the end of ‘Vibrate’ as early as second song in.

Performing solo, alternating between piano and acoustic guitar, you hear the songs in their purest – and arguably their best – form.

A selection of new material peppered the more familiar favourites but there was no shuffling to the toilets during these moments. Partly because the temporary event toilets were outside the building – Cathedrals aren’t built with such earthly concerns in mind. Neither are Rufus sets. The new songs sit effortlessly alongside the older material. Who could resist introductions like ‘this is an upbeat song about marriage… and death’. It just leaves you looking forward to their eventual release on record (I know, other formats are available).

The big question was, would he do ‘that song’ here of all places? You know, that song.

Well, yes he did. Of course he did. ‘Gay Messiah’ was preceded by an amusing tale of the infamy it earned him while performing in Italy, and then interrupted half way through by a pause and a glance back towards the enormous mural of Jesus painted on the wall behind the impromptu stage area as we were reminded, “It’s not about him!”

That may have been for the benefit of the Dean, if he wasn’t already outside protesting about the concert he had himself just recently introduced.

Taking advantage of the venue and testing its acoustics to the full, Rufus treated us to a stunning, completely acapella version of ‘Candles’, no accompaniment, no amplification, just note perfect from beginning to end.

Finishing the regular set with ‘Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk’ to a deserved standing ovation, the encore began with a hauntingly pure version of ‘Going To A Town’ – written and released over a decade ago as a protest aimed at a previous US President but finding new impetus as a rallying cry against the American nightmare that is Donald Trump.

The second Leonard Cohen cover of the night, ‘Hallelujah’ followed (the first Cohen number having being a memorable ‘So Long, Marianne’ in the main set) before this extraordinary concert wrapped with the iconic ‘Poses’, and the promise of a 20th anniversary tour in 2019.

 

The Greatest Showman

This was the first film I went to see after signing up for a Cineworld Unlimited card, so I convinced myself it was ok to take in a cheesy, critically-panned musical because it was technically ‘free’ – as in, not free at all, but I wasn’t paying for the actual ticket to see this specific film. It’s just part of the deal, it’s on the card, don’t blame me for the choice, I’m just getting my money’s worth.

You get the picture? I was slightly embarrassed about it.

Halfway through the opening number, I was over all that, and just enjoying the ride.

There’s no messing around, once the adverts and the trailers are out of the way, the film opens and is straight into the opening song, Hugh Jackman strutting his stuff as P T Barnum marshalling the performers in his circus ring to the literally stomping beat.

This fades neatly away into Barnum as a boy, and we’re drawn back to the beginning of his rags to riches tale.

Where other movies might have spent an hour on the journey from childhood to adulthood for the star of their show, here it’s all dealt with in the space of a single song, and it’s no worse for that. Significantly better, it could be argued, as it is another quickly hummable earworm.

By this point, you’ll either be heading for the exits or eagerly awaiting the next set piece, and if it’s the latter, you never have to wait too long.

This isn’t a film that gets bogged down in detail or too much exposition. It’s a big, bold, bright, colourful, unashamed piece of old fashioned entertainment, and on that level it really works.

Each song manages to lodge itself in your memory on first hearing, and some would simply stand out on their own in any company: ‘Never Enough’ and ‘This Is Me’ are a couple of absolute showstoppers.

They’re written by the songwriting team that powered La La Land to Oscar glory, but this is much more fun.

Crusty old critics might have looked own their noses at it, but I predict The Greatest Showman will be popping up in Boxing Day TV schedules for the rest of recorded time.

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