THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
This is something special. Giles Terera is the Olivier Award winning star of Hamilton, whose talents have propelled him to the front line of the current crop of West End performers. He has shone in a heady range of musicals and plays as diverse as Rosmersholm, The Book of Mormon and Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.
Turns out he is also a prodigiously talented singer/songwriter who can accompany himself on a mean guitar and piano. This is the world premiere of a new song cycle he's composed and which he performs solo, which he says was inspired by observing life in Soho over the tumultuous lockdown summer of 2020. This seems hard to believe as the quality of these songs makes you think they must have been borne out of a much longer and deeper gestation.
The 12 songs draw on an eclectic range of influences. You hear echoes of Sam Cooke, Stevie Wonder, Al Jarreau and Cat Stevens. They encompass songs of protest, joy, anger as well as tender love tunes. His musical theatre chops proved that he could handle any ballad but here we witness his mastery of jazz, blues, funk, and grooves stylings, which draw out the many different colors of his warm, inviting, pitch-perfect voice.
Living in Soho, he says he witnessed both the deserted tranquillity of the empty streets and the hurly-burly of the reopening which followed when restaurant tables spilled out onto every newly pedestrianised space. Adding to this mix came the confusion and anger of the Black Lives Matters protests.
In songs like 'Black Matter' or 'The Flats' the initial cool vibe of his great vocal stylings belies the chill that will follow. The former refers to a friend caught up in the Windrush scandal: "They put him on a flight in the middle of the night from a land where he was born". But amazingly there is no stridency here. Instead, there is nuance both musically and lyrically. He tempts you in only to wake you up when you get there.
By contrast the 'The Ballad of Pasadena' drips with a '70s West Coast vibe while 'Shadowlark' has the jaunty funk of a great Al Jarreau track. 'Nikki' is a tender tribute to his three beloved sisters.
'You Have the Right to Remain" is inspired by his witnessing of a shocking incident outside his own window on a hot summer's night, when only the intercession of some alfresco diners saved two innocent black guys from being embroiled in an over-the-top police response to a racial attack on them by a white passer-by.
'Charing Cross Rd' is poignant plea to a loved one, as old as time, while 'London Blues' is just that. It takes us back to reality with a jolt: "why can't I come in?" "your ID has the wrong kind of skin".
His encore is the South African national anthem sung like you've never heard it before, as if it was a lullaby.
The cool art deco splendour of Crazy Coqs is here swathed in darkness by director Dan Poole, who expertly lights it and shoots it with multiple cameras all in glorious 4K. We also get some shots of those deserted Soho streets. Poole rightly judges that the barefoot modern-day troubadour he's filming here needs no visual distractions. You just can't take your eyes off him.
Giles Terera's play The Meaning of Zong about a horrific 18th century slave massacre is broadcast on Radio 3, March 21. Find out more here.
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