Tuesday, 3 June 2008

The Vegas Kings @ Port Vale Conference Centre. June 1st

Review by Steve Dean

Photos by Leo
(left pic)
and Simon

The Vegas Kings, alias Stoke brothers Charlie (a.k.a. Neil) and Mark Clay, alias Neil Diamond and Elvis Presley respectively, are not the sort of act Stoke Sounds would normally think to go and review, but finding ourselves cordially invited, we thought it would make for something a little different.

When we arrived, Charlie explained that although they are normally accompanied by a four-piece band, unavoidable circumstances had forced them to resort to singing along to backing tapes; something they’d rather not do, Neil stressed, but rather than cancel the gig, they had no choice. Fair enough.

It certainly made a change to be sitting at a crisp and later chip-laden table in a cabaret setting anyway. There seemed to a kind of ‘holiday’ feel about the venue, probably due to the nature of the forthcoming acts. Promised a two hour show, we hadn’t long to wait before a smiling and sparkly-shirted Charlie/Neil Diamond took the stage.

Beginning with ‘Beautiful Noise’, ‘Neil Diamond’ sung hit after Neil Diamond hit in a voice that was very much like the man himself most of the time, but occasionally strayed into a pretty accurate Gene Pitney. Addressing the audience between songs in a curious half-Stoke, half-television American accent, Neil encouraged singing, arm-waving and all the other hoo-hah usually associated with being on holiday in Spanish resorts and similar destinations like Tenerife; where Charlie/Neil lives most of the year; coming home for a few months occasionally to tour with his brother.

Charlie’s friendly questioning found three people in the audience had actually seen Neil Diamond in person and the obvious enthusiasm they had for Charlie/Neil’s act showed he hadn’t wasted their time. From my point of view, I can say he is very good at what he does and although as far as being a Neil Diamond fan goes, and that amounts to taking him or leaving him, I found Charlie Clay’s act very enjoyable.

As was that of his brother Mark, our extravagantly-costumed Elvis for the evening. I must admit I haven’t seen many Elvis impersonators, but there can’t be many better than this bloke. He could easily get by as a singer without doing the Elvis bit, but then again, I suppose there is always a call for such an act. Kicking in with ‘Viva Las Vegas’, he proceeded to expend a vigorous energy that would have had many people flat on their backs halfway through what this man achieved physically here this evening. Elvis Presley appeared to sort of vibrate as he sung certain songs and Mark replicated this very well. Vibrating and singing at the same time takes up one hell of a lot of stock energy and I would guess this particular Elvis impersonator is a very tired one after the curtain tassels finally brush the stage. Towards the end of ‘Suspicious Minds’, Elvis used to do a frantic burst of pelvic thrusting to a Gene Krupa-type drum break, which Mark re-enacted with at first matching, but gradually wilting enthusiasm as the CD appeared to stick, causing the drum solo part to come round again and again, inadvertantly knackering our man somewhat. After 4 or 5 bouts of frenetic thrustery, a profusely sweating Elvis turned mid-rapidly weakening thrust to yell a quick complaint to his grinning brother Charlie (Neil) working the tape deck. I suspect he may possibly have had something to do with it. It all added to the show though and Elvis, finishing his act with ‘American Trilogy’, went off to riotous applause. Despite my initial reservations, I listened without prejudice; singing “oh-oh-oh-oooh” to ‘The Wonder of You’ as happily as everybody else, and at the end of the evening, I had the most definite feeling of gratification.

At the heart of it all, entertainment, I suppose, is really what it is all about.


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