Neil Sedaka, City Hall, Sheffield | Pop review

City Hall, Sheffield

Neil Sedaka has never been reassessed or rehabilitated like many of his contemporaries. He's never wowed Glastonbury like Neil Diamond, or had young trendies queuing up to work with him, like Burt Bacharach. If Sedaka's hits ("so many, I don't know what to sing") are heard at all, it is from inside minicabs. It seems a sad fate for a 70-year-old man who has been writing songs since he was 13, and who has made an enormous contribution to the history of American rock'n'roll. A photomontage gathers together artists who have covered his songs, from Patsy Cline, Queen, Abba and Shirley Bassey to the Simpsons and Diamond.

The gaudy-jacketed man, whose Hollywood smile seems to arrive on stage before he does, isn't letting it get him down. "These are my songs," the self-styled "Tra-la-la king" announces proudly, explaining that performing them how they were written - on a grand piano - is "personal and intimate".

Sedaka's songs have always had a bubblegum reputation, but hearing them together, it's surprising how dark and wounded some of them are. He calls Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen "naive"; it's actually a slightly unsettling song of sexual awakening. The terrific Going Nowhere could be the Smiths or Leonard Cohen, had Sedaka not been blessed - or cursed - with such a helium voice.

But it's not all plain sailing. Hearing his signature tunes - Calendar Girl, Oh! Carol and the rest - turn into singalongs for those of pensionable age can feel like wading through cheese. His new songs, looking back over his life, are touching if slightly mawkish. Still, (Is This the Way to) Amarillo goes down a storm, not least because it was made famous by Sheffield's Tony Christie. And yes, he has been rehabilitated, too.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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