Nina Simone, Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London

New Musical Express
Cliff White 10 December 1977

YOU CAN'T keep tabs on everybody all the time. It wasn't until this concert was announced that I realised there hasn't been much heard from, or about, Nina Simone in many a day. Eight years to be precise, when she last visited Britain.

Since then, what's happened? Something not entirely clear cut, thats for sure. I just had the vaguest impression that she's been living somewhere in Africa on an extended sabbatical from show-biz but there seems to be a lot more to it than that, a lot more.

We all ought to know about it. (Certainly, I'm ashamed to admit I ought to). Did she jump or was she pushed? Judging by some of her sardonic comments, and the devoted audience's knowing response to her remarks, she was shunted out of the limelight because of her uncompromising tendency to speak her mind on matters great or small, be it the fight for black equality or the musical shortcomings of a fellow artist. Perhaps she embarrassed a few too many people. Why, for instance, has this internationally respected artist no record company behind her? It bears thinking about.

It was about halfway through her two-hour solo performance that these thoughts began to gell inside me, along with the realisation of just how extraordinary this woman really is. Never having seen her before it took me that long to stop trying to categorise the unexpected and simply relax into the fact that whichever way she chose to express herself (and she certainly chose some diverse ways during the course of the evening) she was giving of herself more openly, more deeply, than most artists I've ever seen. And the overwhelming impression was one of simmering anger born of a multitude of pains and sorrows, personal grief and universal injustice.

Most of the time she sat at the piano in the centre of a bare stage, where she wrung herself through more styles of songs than I'd care to mention – particularly as I didn't know them – nearly all either harrowing or sombre, if not in content then by interpretation. Among the more straightforward songs, if such a description is right for material so uniquely embroidered, I did recognise The Bee Gee's 'To Love Somebody' and a couple of her earliest recordings, 'Fine And Mellow' and 'Mississippi Goddamn'.

Unlike most performers, she seemed as emotionally affected by the memories as those members of the audience who were shouting requests and encouragement. The audience was almost an act unto itself. A mixed and motley crowd, ranging from middle-aged couples who seemed to have dropped in from the nearby opera house and insisted on shouting "Bravo!!" to scruffy old hippies (and scruffy old journalists), they were united by a very apparent love for Nina.

During one of the brighter moments of the concert, one of several occasions when Nina left her piano to perform accapella songs and chants, the unison was such that they were coaxed into providing a three-part harmony moan with additional sound effects to accompany a particularly haunting African song.

A magical moment in what was not entirely a joyful evening, but one which I certainly shan't forget in a hurry.