Many shows promise more than they deliver. Very rarely is an event eagerly anticipated, then goes on to stir the emotions throughout the performance and remain seared in the memory for days afterwards.
If you have ever had the pleasure of attending such a tour de force, the afterglow it leaves you with is magical.
The bar was packed when husband and I walked into the intimate and enchanting Charing Cross Theatre (Under The Arches, off Villiers Street for those of us who don’t have The Knowledge) for what had been billed as “Taxis Show Talent - an afternoon of infinite variety” on Sunday 7 April.
With Grant Davis (Chairman LCDC) downstairs in his scruffs pretending he wasn’t bricking it, to Vaughan Williams (Chairman of the Charing Cross Theatre and Co-Producer and Director of the show) running up and down the stairs trying to locate his elusive performers, the cast, crew and ticket holders were agog with anticipation. Not least among these was Vaughan’s business partner Steven Levy, who along with his gorgeous Pugs (definitely a dog friendly theatre – they love spending time in the office upstairs) was lurking by the entrance ready to welcome that afternoon’s special guest - the one and only Maureen Lipman CBE, the cab trade’s unofficial mascot.
Billed to start at 3.00pm it was nearly 3.30pm before the whole audience could be extricated good-naturedly from the lure of the bars into the theatre. On this occasion sheepdogs might have been more useful than pugs ! Transformed into the round, the seats were either end of a spotlit circle and, as we took our seats, it became apparent that the music had been chosen very, very thoughtfully - I don’t think any one of us realised that there were so many London orientated tunes. And on to the Show: Grant received an enormous ovation – simply for being Grant Davis – and for looking so splendiferous in his tuxedo. He told us, in his own inimitable way, just why we were there that afternoon and raised the roof every time he mentioned UTAG, Vaughan Williams, The Taxi Charity for Military Veterans, or Maureen Lipman. So now we knew why we were there, on came the “artistes”. It’s always difficult being the first on the bill, but as the proud possessor of a “great voice for radio” , Cab Chat’s very own Jamie Owens got all of us going with Uber Smash - a witty ditty crucifying Uber, with an irresistible singalong chorus which had us roaring with laughter. A change of pace to Cool Hand Uke (lovely name) with three ukulele playing cabbies literally playing it cool and easy. Then a switch to the rapid-fire delivery of Tony Walker – not only one of the stars of the BBC’s 7UP programme, but a talented impressionist who brought the house down with his Max Miller routine…. before we relaxed again with singer/guitarist Nick Clinton. At this point, Grant gracefully mopped his brow, told us he was off for a pint, and gave way to the familiar voice of Joe Lewis (better known as the Holborn Cab) and his musical partner Jon Cox . Joe gave us a lyrical, honeyed rendition of Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street with Jon (alias ParkerCabbie) upping the ante with his sweetest, purest saxophone – which, believe me, sounded even better than the original ! After noisy applause, Joe announced our “Churchill Moment” by introducing the legendary Warrior Princess – Angela Clarkson. For those of you who don’t recognise her name, she’s one of the driving forces behind UTAG (United Trade Action Group) which is one reason why we were all there that day. Angela makes a striking figure with her long blonde hair, making a welcome change from what appeared to be the fashionable “taxi driver look”, as pointed out by one lady looking for her husband, who, when asked what he looked like, replied : “bald head and glasses just like the other 99.9% of the audience”. Angela’s speech identified what the cab trade and the Military Veterans have in common, which is ….. Determination. She went on to challenge the trade by asking if they were going to stand by while TfL and “the loony lefties and muesli-munching, sandal-wearing cyclists of Camden Council” attacked their livelihoods so many ways.
Getting into her stride, she ended her powerful and clearly heartfelt speech with a passionate call to arms for the 24,000 strong cab trade to band together and fight. “With your determination, you WILL win – there are twenty four thousand of us …. and together, we are strong”. My Goodness ! .. did that raise the roof ? – a prolonged ovation, whistling and foot stamping.
Then back came Joe to tell us a musical story ending in a similar message. “Just before Christmas last year” he recounted “Vaughan came to myself and Jon and said that he’d rewritten the lyrics to a song. Well we both loved it. We pressganged my daughter Ellie into joining us and we recorded it as a Christmas present to the trade. Unbelievably, five thousand of you watched and listened to it ! “ So then came “Fairytale of London”. With Ellie belting out the chorus, it didn’t take long before we were all on our feet and belting it out with her And then as if we hadn’t stomped our feet enough, Joe continued to tell us how he and Jon had joined forces with Vaughan to write original material and to form a new band, calling themselves The Knowledge as a tribute to Maureen Lipman’s husband Jack Rosenthal and his unforgettable cab trade film. The band was proud to introduce the World Live Premiere of their “We Are London”, an insanely catchy, upbeat, anthemic homage to our great city. It will be released this summer, and if the ecstatic reception it received was anything to go by, it’s destined to be an enormous hit. I promise you’ll all be singing it later this year ! And that was just the end of the first half.
Following the stampede to the loo and the bar, it was ice cream time. Thank you, Vaughan for stocking my all time fave flavour Stem Ginger. Back in the seats and Grant was back in the driving seat, pacing around in the centre spotlight. And then it was time for the much-anticipated, much-heralded National Treasure and cab trade darling …. Maureen Lipman. And oh my Goodness, she didn’t disappoint ! Sporting a gorgeous brand new hairstyle, launching into a blizzard of jokes, quips, snide Uber remarks, she held us spellbound for about 20 wonderful minutes and finally sat down to rapturous applause and yet another standing ovation. The interval must have refreshed Grant, as he was in fine form as cabby after cabby trooped down the stairs and out to the loo – followed by naughty quips from Grant - whatever happened to that fabled cab drivers bladder I hear so much about? Could the show follow Maureen ? - well it certainly gave it a good go ! – we all know that cab drivers are never fazed by anything and on came the delightful musical duo Phil Nelson and Mark Bird, to be followed by – there are no words - Pulp Fiction. You had to be there – to see Mirna, Sachi and Sebastian dance, with Sean and his Rod Stewart wig and Mick the Brit as Marilyn Monroe – lovely stuff ! The tempo changed again with singer/songwriter John Hensman who ended his spot with a rousing singalong American Pie, followed by the rock band Red Post Hill, that once again had us all stomping our feet. We were then entertained by representatives of the Military Veterans. We had chatted to some of them in the bar before the show - these guys are in their 90s and still trotting up and down the stairs, resisting any offers of help. Leading Aircraftman Roy Nash from Bomber Command first literally leapt to his feet to give us his unique rendition of That’s Life - to be followed by a rather naughty but excellent joke - one I’ve retold a few times since. Back came Cool Hand Uke – and on came all the Veterans, including one playing the spoons. We all joined in a rousing sing-song of WW2 songs, courtesy of the song sheet so thoughtfully provided. Cooling it down and thanking everyone, Grant then whispered that a little bird had told him that Frances Wyhowska (Co-Producer, stalwart cab trade supporter and Vice President of the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans) has a fine voice, and accompanied by her sister on the piano, she closed the show with a beautiful rendition of a sentimental 1930s song, rewritten by Vaughan and Frances for the cab trade and the occasion. Vaughan then thanked everyone, announced that the bar would stay open, and quickly stood back so he didn’t get crushed in the stampede. I don’t think I’ve ever had a better afternoon at the Theatre - thanks go to the acts taking part and all the hard-working people behind the scenes. After Vaughan generously waived all the theatre’s costs, the two charities were able to receive 100% of the Box Office, totalling £2000 each. And please Vaughan, can we do it again ?