Michael Griffiths: A man, A Piano and Annie Lennox

With the heavy Sydney rain over, what do you do on a mild July night? Go to the Slide Cabaret Festival, and check out Michael Griffiths’ show based on the influential singer, Annie Lennox.

Michael Griffiths
Michael Griffiths. Image byBlueprint Studios

There are some remarkable comparisons between Miss Lennox and Mr Griffiths which show their artistic similarities. Annie Lennox had piano lessons at school from the age of seven. Michael Griffiths grew up playing the piano and always knew he’d end up working with music somehow. She won a place at the Royal Academy of Music in London, where she studied the flute and classical music for three years. He was accepted at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) on the first audition and that’s what really gave him the skills to work in the industry.

Born Ann Lennox in Scotland, her musical influences were Joni Mitchell, Marlene Dietrich, and Aretha Franklin. She influenced such singers as Dido, Gwen Stefani and Sinead O’Connor. In fact, the Hungry Jacks near the venue was playing an ’80’s playlist from MV, featuring ‘Sweet Dreams’. Everything seemed to be in sync.

There was a buzz around The Slide, the wide two-tier salon room full with expectant diners ($60 dinner and show; $30 show only). Muted lights revealed the grand piano, angled for optimum audience interaction. So we knew Michael had a seat, but where could I sit? I chose to face him head on, through the gap in the piano lid. Candles were lit. Cue sound. Michael.

He opened the show with ‘Missionary Man’, the Eurythmics’ mid-’80s Grammy-winning classic. This set the flavour of the evening: pure classically-inspired backing from the keys, plain talking characterisation from Michael, and every-hair-in-place precision in performance. There were shades of Elton John (also a music graduate) as Griffiths scored the electronic lines of the Eurythmics’ world for the keyboard.

Throughout the patter in between, we were treated to Lennox’s father and his sage Scots wisdom: “Those that board with cats can expect scratches”. There were moments of comedy, with Michael testing some lyrics, and then lighting a candle and blowing it out to release the failed sample to the universe. Enter ‘When Tomorrow Comes’ and we had more insight into Lennox’s relationship with once husband and collaborator, Dave Stewart. Michael caught the genuine pathos here, with the careful underscore of ‘Silent Night’, hinting Lennox shares her birthday with Christ. She later recorded an album of Christmas carols.

[pull_left]Even in his light moments, he has a great gift for finding the exact colour to match tone with text[/pull_left]While there was a prominence of A minor, a maudlin key, it reflected the mood of so many of the songs. They also sat ideally for Griffith’s voice, which carried that cantilena even through the darkest stanzas. Even in his light moments, he has a great gift for finding the exact colour to match tone with text.

Smoky blues, giving us the grey of London, with a light turn of Joplin rag, followed by another lyric-burning ritual as the running joke. The truth of Annie and Dave was told out: they were just not lovers, as ‘Walking On Broken Glass’ tells, the B-side of which was ‘Don’t Let Me Down’. The misty sounds lends itself to the introspective cabaret setting, with each phrase clearly a product of deep characterisation.

The working relationship between Annie and Dave was replaced by their music, Michael shared. “Language of Love” blurted out “who’s that girl running around with you?” Again we cadenced in A minor, with Lennox’s philosophy of love. Intimacy was carefully developed through the verse, with gentle phrase-off showing the sensitive touch of the experienced artist. More Lennox wisdom: “A crow will not wash white”. Then it was our turn. We joined in with the backing vocals on ‘Don’t Let It Bring You Down’. Fun in rehearsal, but could we deliver on the night? Michael warmly thanked us for our efforts, but I don’t think we’ll make the DVD.

Michael’s simple vocal beauty, and that attractive high register headlining his rendition of ‘Here Comes The Rain Again’. His magnetism was authentic in the delivery of the lyrics in ‘Why’. Then the big finish beckoned. And we were not disappointed.

With genuine soul feel, ‘Sweet Dreams’ came in the door and arrived centre stage. Punchy sounds from the piano, aching tones from the singer. Michael talked about Annie’s concept of genius, or muse, and led us on an episode to her sound cloud – ‘There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart)’ bringing us full circle with echoes of earlier Eurythmics days. A packed house begged for one more, and we were treated to ‘Miracle Of Love’.

Maybe that’s what had happened here.

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