Britain has *no idea* what a treasure it has in Liverpool’s eternal beam of pop sunlight, Sonia Evans. But the predominantly gay audience at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in London last night knew exactly what a gleaming treasure it was witnessing in the baroque-lite setting of the legendary pub.
Opening with Can’t Forget You from her top 10 debut album Everybody Knows (1990), no one in attendance was in any doubt of Sonia’s seemingly boundless mirth and optimism as she belted out hit after hit from her irrepressibly cheerful back catalogue, aided greatly by precision beat-smiths Stock Aitken Waterman who launched her initial foray into music.
You might have forgotten such storming Top 20 stompers as Counting Every Minute, Listen To Your Heart and standout album track Everybody Knows, but the grinning hordes at the Vauxhall Tavern could teach you a thing or two about co-opting top pop hits to fashion a brilliant night out.
So bouncy you can barely get a camera lens to focus on her, few pop songbirds could rival a game Sonia for sheer chutzpah. Shimmering in deep-blue figure-hugging cocktail dress, glittering diamanté and diva eyelashes, pop’s lost princess played fast and loose with lyrics the fans probably know better from decades of repetition, and backing tracks that occasionally went on the blink. But of course this is exactly what’s missing from our current crop of executively tailored songbirds – production is so slick, there’s never a moment for genuine laughter, poking fun at yourself or light-hearted showmanship.
Watching her glisten and shine, it’s not hard to see why ’80s pop bible Smash Hits opined that “our” Sonia had hamsters in her cheeks (this compliment very much sounding like it was bestowed by then-Smash Hits writer and now all-round swingorilliant music journo Sylvia Patterson). That face could light up Wormwood Scrubs.
Romping through further spangling pop twizzlers Be Young Be Foolish Be Happy, Only Fools (Never Fall in Love) and her cover of The Real Thing’s You To Me Are Everything (all from 1991), how could you not dance … feel … be happy.
Jings! The punters even got a b-side: Better Than Ever, from the Listen To Your Heart single (1989), which even avowed Sonia fans like me didn’t know the lyrics to (“Inspiration is our love … tra la la … it’s just how it feels … eggs over-easy!” wha..? Just your average, i.e. blinding, Stock/Aitken/Waterman confection of true, deep, mad love.)
Slowing things down a touch for her cover of Skeeter Davis’ ’60s hit End of the World, the quieter ambiance allowed for appreciative roars of “we love you Sonia!” to which our harbinger of joy could only shrug, grin against the stifling heat, and mouth the sentiment right back.
Everybody Knows album track Someone Like You gave way to a rousing sing-song to that old Grease chestnut, Hopelessly Devoted to You – Sonia of course having been a one-time Sandy herself back in 1994 – embodying a wholesomeness all-but-forgotten by today’s pantheon of pop tarts. More than any song on the set-list, Hopelessly Devoted To You of course cuts right to the quick of the recycled ’50s good-girl Sonia channelled in her 1989 Stock Aitken Waterman-fuelled incarnation. Because the beating, pulsing heart beneath SAW’s clickety-clackety bag of tricks was always the yearning, crush-heavy, girlie sentiments filling their gooey pop meringue.
No prizes for guessing the top of the set-list: Sonia’s debut and No 1 single, You’ll Never Stop Me Loving You – a memorable hit in no way screwed up by attempts to update its chirpy immediacy, but greatly enhanced by the spontaneous doing of the (whoop whoop!) bus stop by the assembled punters … that self-same oh-so-funky bus-stop namedropped by then-SAW-stablemate Kylie on 1990’s Step Back in Time.
Knowing her audience (it’s Vauxhall after all – everybody knows!), sunny Sonia (not unexpectedly) brought down the roof with a medley of gay disco anthems: I Am What I Am, You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real), and Don’t Leave Me This Way (that I’m sure even Jimmy Somerville himself would have applauded).
Then it’s an encore of her 1993 Eurovision runner-up Better the Devil You Know and Sonia disappears behind the red velvet curtains, taking her inimitable spark with her into a gorgeous spring evening.
* Set list: Can’t Forget You, Counting Every Minute, Listen To Your Heart, Everybody Knows, Be Young Be Foolish Be Happy, Only Fools Never Fall In Love, You To Me Are Everything, Better Than Ever, End of the World, Someone Like You, Hopelessly Devoted To You, You’ll Never Stop Me Loving You, I Am What I Am, You Make Me Feel Mighty Real, Don’t Leave Me This Way, Better The Devil You Know