Music Royalty at the Palace

Blenheim Palace – Winston Churchill’s birthplace and for centuries the residence of the Dukes of Marlborough. Not to mention the only British palace whose moniker nearly rhymes with the name of TV chef Ken Hom.

Built in the early 18th century (that’s the Oxfordshire Palace not Ken Hom), I was in situ of this imposing structure(s) and it’s elegantly groomed estate, last Thursday. An occasion where it’s grounds displayed a juxtapose of centuries old architecture married to contemporary state of the art technology utilised by A-list musical performers. The latter set up for an outdoor show for the four day Nocturne music festival.

Talking of Winston Churchill, there’s a saying that all Caucasian babies when born are doppelgangers of the late British Prime Minister (PM) in his dotage. Bizarrely, looking at a photo of Churchill as a babe in arms in Blenheim Palace he didn’t. His appearance was more akin to WW1 coalition PM David Lloyd George (apart from the moustache).

Circa 1722, when the construction of the Sir John Vanburgh designed edifice was completed, entertainment amongst Blenheim Palace’s great halls, chambers and grounds would have differed greatly to the disco anthems I was lucky enough to witness late Thursday evening. Those gifts to the ear (and feet) upbeat creations of grammy award winning writer/producer Nile Rodgers and band Chic.

In the early 1700’s, the rich and servants of this estate would have been treat to far tamer acts than Rodgers and his crew’s memory lane meanderings. According to the ‘Unlikely 18th Century Pastimes’ magazine, entertainers 300 years ago would have been court jesters, harlequins, tigers that juggled dwarves and lions who performed magic tricks……. Possibly.

As admirable as it is to train wild cats to perform slight of hand masquerades, give me the 1970s/80s dance music utopia I witnessed, any day. Feel good music that time never wearies, played by accomplished performers from Rodgers on guitar (and lead yowsaherer), singers Kimberly Davies/Folami, drummer Ralph Rolle, bassist Jerry Barnes, keyboard player Richard Hilton, not forgetting it’s skilled brass section.

The power exuded from Kimberly Davies’ voice was of such velocity it must’ve exposed the palace’s centuries old windows and china teasets to the risk of shattering. Particularly during the concluding vocals of the refrains ‘I Want Your Love’ and ‘We Are Family’. During the band introduction at the end Nile Rodger’s told the audience Ms Davies has recently had two number 1’s…… I’m no doctor but that sounds like a water infection to me.

Folami’s voice is gentler, but no less integral to the synergy of the group’s sound. Her hand shapes performed with the linear grace and elegance of late French mime artist Marcel Marceau. Her seemingly constant smile, even when she sings, overtly displaying the joy this gig bestows her…… Her regularity of passing water wasn’t touched upon.

Ralph Rolle provided a drumming masterclass throughout. As a rotund, exuberant, black man the drummer, he’s as visually unlike David Bowie as you could possibly get. However, he provided the vocals on a splendid cover of the late Londoner’s hit ‘Lets Dance’ (the original produced by Rodgers in the 1980’s). I doubt Rolle has a future as a Bowie tribute act, but I’m sure the quality of his drumming will ensure he’s never out of work.

Jerry Barnes’ bass line underpins each of Nile Rodger’s upbeat disco riffs. Producing a bass sound as smooth as a Gregory Porter vocal or a pint of porter beer (stout). His mid-song ‘jam offs’ with Mr R one of many highlights of this splendid evenings entertainment.

I know it sounds a touch melodramatic, but I genuinely honoured to have witnessed this live music performance – Judging from the reaction of the packed audience assembled outside of this stunning palace venue I wasn’t the only one…….. Ken Hom seemed to enjoy it, anyway.

They say that Blenheim is the only inhabited palace in the UK that doesn’t boast a royal resident. That’s as maybe, but last Thursday it was blessed with the presence of music royalty.


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