Martha Reeves and The Vandellas at Gorilla review

James Clarke witnessed Martha Reeves and The Vandellas perform a timeless set list at Gorilla in Manchester.

Ben Smith

Date published: 7th Sep 2015

Image: Gorilla 

With over 50 years of live performances under her belt, one of Motown Record’s most successful children, Martha Reeves, returned to Manchester with a triumphant career spanning set.

Accompanied by an eight-piece live band, who she often referred to as being ‘the best in the world’ - fans young and old were treated to timeless classics so embedded into popular culture it’s hard to ever imagine a time when they won’t still be relevant. 

Starting proceedings with Jackie Wilson’s ‘Higher and Higher’, any lingering doubts about what we were about to witness were cast away so quickly you were left wondering why you even had them. 

The 74-year-old may have been a little out of breath in-between songs, and the high notes may not have been quite as powerful as they once were, but what could we expect, really?

As she ploughed through a set featuring more hits than you could shake a glittery stick at, the biggest reaction to the early stages came from ‘Nowhere to Run’. It’s a credit to her that she’s still performing, and more notably enjoying playing live.  

Wielding a back catalogue of songs featuring second single ‘Come and Get These Memories’ (below) and top 10 hit ‘Quicksand’, Martha spaced out her celebrated numbers with precision. 

Introducing ‘Jimmy Mack’ to the audience with "a guy I’ve been calling since 1960", Martha was in a jovial mood. As the 1967 hit ended to a thunderous applause she questioned, "you mean we’ve been singing this song for all our lives and he isn’t coming back?" to the amusement of onlookers. 

Even with the trusted Vandellas - Lois and Delphene - who have been her hip shaking sidekicks since 1967 and the 1980’s respectively, eyes remained fixated on the Alabama born star.

She held the crowd in the palm of her hand, and regular chants of ‘Martha, Martha, Martha’ echoed around the venue, under the railway arches of Whitworth Street. 

Visibly moved by the reception she stated "you’re making us not want to play anywhere else but up here" before upping the levels of sass addressing anyone not enjoying the night with ‘How’s Your Love Life’. 

Unbeknown to the majority of the audience, their performance the previous night at the Brooklyn Bowl in Greenwich, London, was cut short due to a racial outburst that sparked a brawl amongst the punters. 

There was certainly no sign this incident was set to mar Martha’s night though. The original soul diva continued through the rest of the gig which included breakthrough hit ‘Heat Wave’ before ending on one of Motown’s signature and politically charged songs ‘Dancing in the Street’. 

As the groups marquee song came to an end, Martha said her goodbyes, exiting the stage and leaving the band to finish with a mini live jam to another rapturous applause. 

Although she may be well into her seventies, she’s one of the few artists whose music has well and truly stood up to the test of time. And as one of the only active acts of her generation still performing live, it’s now up to her to keep the Motown flag flying high, and long may that continue. 

Read: Deerhoof at Gorilla with Ichi and Cowtown

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