Classical Music: Mae ball
This may not be an original theory, but has anyone actually seen Vanessa- Mae and Cliff Richard in the same
place at the same time? Cliff, as every English schoolboy used to know, was born Harry Webb in Lucknow, India,
so he's been out east and seen athing or two, as well as recording for EMI, Vanessa's label. And Vanessa
certainly has Cliff's patter off pat. She talks in the most charming way to the audience yet she doesn't appear to
say anything at all. Write it down in your notebook and by theend of the gig the words have disappeared.
Vanessa and Cliff even share the same kind of curiously sexless shimmy, and while wiggling her bottom as she
plays is somehow seen as deeply expressive when Tori Amos does it, with Vanessa it's more like theoddly
detached eroticism one might derive (if you're lucky) from watching the women's singles final at Wimbledon -
another Cliff reference-point.
Whatever did happen to Vanessa-Mae anyway, apart from the arrival of a rogue hyphen, or was it always there?
Like Vanessa's patter, it's difficult to remember. But she's gone rock, that's what, recording the new Storm On
album and touring the world topromote it, performing at the grand opening of the Dubai Shopping Festival, and
playing an exclusive concert for the Queen and 26 Asian and European heads of state at Buckingham Palace. Plus
the Kremlin, obviously. She still plays the violin, ofcourse, but it's now part and parcel of a whole spectacular
entertainment, with rock band, string section, dancers, backing singers and a laser show.
When the show begins it even looks as if the combined casts of Cats and Phantom of the Opera have somehow
got in on the opening number, but as Vanessa emerges from a platform high up on the stage nobody appears to
recognise her and the grand entrance israther undermined. They still don't recognise her when she next appears
amongst them in the stalls, holding a radio mike and singing Donna Summer's "I Feel Love", and all but holding
up a sign saying "I'm Vanessa-Mae" .
This strange anonymity is, however, clearly part of Vanessa-Mae's great appeal. The weirdly incongruent
personae - part compliant bar- girl, part posh private school prefect, part girl next door - never quite fit with each
other, and what remains is thisundeniably charming and talented young woman who has somehow become a
really big star. The classical legacy is still attended to, as her mum accompanies her on the piano for a bit of Ravel
(dedicated strangely enough to the late Frank Sinatra), but themain agenda item is pumped-up pomp- rock of a
fairly lumpen sort. Dressed down for the first half in wrap- around skirt, T-shirt and boots, and vamped up (but
still rather decorously) for the second in a leopard-print dress, Vanessa tries to be sexy butnever really puts her
heart into it, despite a brief bump and grind with the dancers in the disco number. Her innocence is also echoed
by the audience, and even when she says she's going to get stripped down to basics for the next number, there's
noteven the shadow of a nudge-nudge from the very mixed crowd, many of whom look like they' ve gone out
looking for a garden centre and somehow taken a wrong turning.
As mass entertainment the show is oddly anodyne, but you can't help warming to Vanessa-Mae, perhaps
because she's so transparent. Introducing the band at the and, it's obvious that she doesn't know most of their
names, but she's enough of a trouper notto even pretend to give a toss. After all, she's Vanessa-Mae. Well, either
that or Cliff Richard in very convincing drag.
Vanessa-Mae's `Storm On' world tour comes to the Royal Albert Hall, London on 1 June, and continues around
Britain until June 6th.
©1998 Newspaper Publishing P.L.C.
Phil Johnson, Classical Music: Mae ball., Independent, 06-01-1998, pp 6,7.