It is not often one gets the call to review a genuinely young emergent cabaret artist, so it was both pleasure and a sense of curiosity that drew me to see Lily Atkinson at the newly refurbished Pheasantry. Lily is comedian Rowan Atkinson’s daughter, very recently turned 21 and is pursuing a career in soul, R and B and pop singing.
Both parents, despite being recently divorced, were in attendance to support, as was family friend Jeremy Clarkson.
An attractive young woman, Lily explains in the show that whilst her childhood was steeped in many styles of music, it was especially with soul that she fell in love, and particularly admired Aretha Franklin. Hence, her current show focuses mainly on that genre.
She moves beautifully, and has a good flexible voice which she uses well, though with a little too much emphasis on vocal fry for my taste, and has a strong stage presence. Ably accompanied by Musical Director Sam Cable and 3 piece band, she has fun singing 3 Cool Cats and other jazz and R&B classics, and pays tribute to Amy Winehouse by singing a song she revived, Mr Magic.
A standout item was a medley of Why Don’t You Do Right, with her climbing on to the piano giving a languid delivery and moving into a more raunchy I Got Trouble.
It is a well paced evening with a fairly good show structure, although her abrupt departure for the interval jarred rather. As her initial nerves settle, she is able to share a joke with the audience and enjoy some repartee. Nevertheless, I felt this is an area for her to work further on to gain more clarity and fluency. Very sensibly, Lily has sought out cabaret training from Excess All Areas.
Her greatest successes of the show, though, were when she sang her own material, some penned at the tender age of 16. Experiencing her first heartbreak led her to write What She Got, “..for 16 year olds all over crying in their bedrooms”. Far from being trite or sentimental, it touched the audience more directly than the soul numbers, not least because it was directly from the heart, and we felt we were able to get to know her a little on a more personal level.
The second half brought more such moments when her band left the stage and she performed an acoustic set with guitarist Joel sitting next to her. Once again, the connection with the audience was much more direct and satisfying. Down, her song of defiance to those who showed a lack of belief in her had us enthralled.
This is an interesting artist showing considerable promise, but she has not quite found her own voice yet. Much of the work shown tonight is derivative, admittedly from very fine artists, but with only the occasional placing of her own stamp on the material. One exception was her version of Pussy Cat Dolls Stickwitu.
At just 21, this is entirely forgivable. It is no accident that most cabaret performers come to the artform later rather than earlier in their careers. There are still a few rough edges to polish, but I look forward to seeing her development as she matures both personally and artistically, perhaps most particularly as a singer/songwriter.