Gig review: Sophie Ellis-Bextor at Leeds Town Hall

When a stalwart of your club going youth announces an album of orchestral arrangements of their most famous dance tracks, you’d be forgiven for it striking fear that songs indelibly inked into the deepest parts of your memory bank are about to be mashed up and repackaged beyond all recognition.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor at Leeds Town Hall. Picture: David Hodgson
Sophie Ellis-Bextor at Leeds Town Hall. Picture: David Hodgson

Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s Song Diaries couldn’t be further away from any such fearmongering. Produced and arranged alongside long term collaborator Ed Harcourt, it’s a beautiful album of new and improved versions of some of Ellis-Bextor’s biggest hits. Not all the hits, as the exquisite singer told the Leeds Town Hall audience. Using such a format means lyrics that get lost in a club come to the fore on an evening like this and some, such as ‘I’ll still change my knickers if that’s OK with you’ from I Won’t Change You, didn’t make the cut. For that we can all be grateful.

It’s a typically wonderful self-depreciating moment in an evening where it is Ellis-Bextor that comes to the fore, as a complete performer. From fronting an orchestra, leading a Sunday night disco to closing by herself, no microphone, just her voice filling the vast space it’s an astonishingly captivating set.

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Opening with the 21-piece orchestra backing Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love), the most played radio song between 2000 and 2010, Ellis-Bextor is resplendent in a long sequined dress, every inch the classical vocalist. David Arnold’s hand is all over the production and it shows, the reworked tracks gain a depth and beauty, the vocals lifting them further. Young Blood is a particular triumph, a simply stunning version, backing vocals adding layer upon layer of richness.

Ellis-Bextor disappears after nine tracks, only to reappear dressed for dancing. And dance she does. And dance the audience does. Her band combining with the orchestra, a lighting rig that until this point had been largely redundant, disco ball lowered from the ceiling. Cantering through Take Me Home, Young Hearts Run Free, a more upbeat version of Groovejet, before finally coming to rest at a staggeringly good version of Heartbreak (Make Me A Dancer).

The inevitable track closes the evening. Murder On The Dancefloor is her biggest hit, 23 weeks on the charts. The disco ball came into its own here, being coaxed down from up high, conducting the audience in their moves, the raucous party causing a violinist’s music sheets to go flying.

Then Ellis-Bextor was gone, only to reappear in one of the first-floor boxes accompanied only by a violin, much to the amazement of the members of the crowd occupying it. Shushing the crowd into complete silence, the evening closed with a version of the singer’s original band theaudience’s A Pessimist Is Never Disappointed, the entire venue enthralled.

A stunning and completely immersive evening, from the beauty of the orchestra, the energy and vigour of disco and back to the simple effectiveness of the closing number, this was the perfect demonstration of Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s musical permanence and vivacity. A mesmerizing evening.