Gangster Grippin’: All Saints: Opera House, Blackpool

“IS Blackpool in the house?” The dreadlocked DJ isn’t making too much sense, but the little girls with the whistles don’t care.

They’re here in their mini party dresses and My First Wonderbras to enjoy every aspect of this trainee Big Night Out. And if it means deafening the teen lads in leopard-skin shirts and mums’n’dads looking after wide-eyed tiny tots, then so be it. There may be a crèche and a bar here, but that stuff’s irrelevant, guy. Tonight is the revenge of High Street Girl. Times 20.

Because, look, up there, on the stage! Four impossibly glamorous High Street Girls in fedoras and pin-stripe trousers are slinking their way through a glitzy Mad Max set — all metal poles and stairs — like the cats from The Lady And The Tramp. And they’re acting out the adulthood the lasses can’t wait for, throwing themselves into a lip-licking bump and grind with their muscled dancers, getting the dancers busy on their knees before them, and grabbing their own breasts with confident glee.

So, yes, the choreography is amazing, not to mention pointed. As the girls weave in tandem with the guys, there’s a ‘Thriller’ video fluidity that leaves the leaden likes of Steps for dust. And, of course, the fact that Shaznay is getting jiggy with her boyfriend, Christian Storm, adds a little frisson of excitement to the proceedings. Or would do, if All Saints weren’t so endearingly unpopstar-ish, puncturing every moment of cool by laughing at each other or generally arseing about during the songs.

Did someone mention the, like, tunes? A good pop spectacle can get by without any, but, in true High Street Girls fashion, All Saints want credibility and have drafted in the scratch-happy DJ and a huge guitar boy to keep the hits lithe and lively. So ‘Bootie Call’ is brilliantly lascivious, ‘I Know Where It’s At’ is a buzzy celebration, ‘Beg’ shines while the girls tease the dancers with walking canes, and ‘Get Busy’ even goes for a touch of ultra-cool Hendrix funk.

But — and who could’ve expected this one? — they clearly don’t have enough material for a whole show. The hits and album tracks work fantastically with the sassy dance routines, but when they have to rely on one of the many covers, it all falls apart. The girls just stand there and wobble, unsure of what to do, and a Burt Bacharach tune and an extremely extended Seventies medley — where they spend five minutes introducing the band — feel like sideshows standing in for the main event.

Luckily for us all, it’s the girls’ very unpopstar-ness that saves the show. With any other chart act, you’d feel swindled, but they’re so brilliantly useless that you let them get away with it. Shaznay stumbles on a minute after the others for ‘Always Something There’ and Mel slags her off, laughing, mid-song, but then Mel walks off a few seconds later with no explanation. And do they give a f***? Same goes for ‘War Of Nerves’. They’re sitting on the stairs, play-acting sorrow, and what is Mel doing? Waving at the kids. And laughing like a loon.

And, of course, when it all comes together for ‘Lady Marmalade’ (introduced with the words, “Erm, have we missed out a song?”), where the dancers muff-dive their way to an Equity card, and ‘Never Ever’, the girls in white suits and the kids singing every f***ing word, well you know that, even with the faults, you’re grooving at the finest live show in the nation. And that if they actually bother to write some new songs some time soon, those summer arena shows are going to be amazing.

Yeah, mmm, you know what’m sayin’.

Wicked.

*

Melanie’s Verdict (Singer, All Saints)

“Great. All my family was here and my husband, so it was like, ohhh. I always get nervous when they’re all there. But no, it was a good show. The crowd were a bit funny, but then they got going at the end. It was cool, it was cool. It was the first one, so it’ll get better from here. I’m not convinced yet. With myself. I’m very self-critical. The dancing was good? Well, thank you. That’s what we spent most time on. I wasn’t surprised that everyone sung along for ‘Never Ever’. They always do that. It’s the best feeling, though. It’s cool. I don’t need to sing. Go on, sing it for me. Every word. The best bit for me was the encore. But I love all of it. I love doing the B-sides because we don’t get a chance to perform them very often. I love the feedback from the fans.

© Ian WatsonMelody Maker, 1 May 1999

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