When I was a kid, we didn’t have massive children’s acts like The Wiggles and Hi-5. Children’s entertainment wasn’t really a thing, so we sought out our own songs that resonated. For me it was “Butterfly Ball” by Roger Glover, “House on Pooh Corner” by Loggins and Messina, and perhaps most importantly, “Alexander Beetle” by Melanie Safka. There were no convenient CDs or digital version in those days either. Playing it was a bit of a production. We’d beg Dad to bring out his copy of Candles in the Rain and he’d remind us that we had to stand still so the stylus didn’t jump. So we’d keep our feet planted while we made those little beetle noises and sang along to the beautiful tale of a runaway bug. As I grew older I discovered more Melanie music, but that song was always one I held a little bit closer to the rest. And it was that song that took me to Lizotte’s, Newcastle, on 22 June.
I’d told myself that “Alexander Beetle” was such a small song really that I wasn’t going to hear it. I was going to be happy with the big hits and whatever else she decided to play. And I probably would have been. There’s a wonderful aura about Melanie. She’s so warm and giving, and her voice has lost little over the years. Her band is stellar, especially her son Beau. His incredible guitar talents might only be matched by how sweet he is looking out for his mother.
I was so happy just soaking it all up in the intimacy of Lizotte’s, and then she asked us what we’d like to hear. “Alexander Beetle!” yelled out a voice from a few tables away, and a few other voices joined the chorus. It seems I wasn’t the only one so touched by that little song. A hand flew to my mouth in surprise, and my heart soared as I realised it was going to happen. I was going to hear that song live that had meant so much to me. Do you know what that feeling’s like? I sang along as I fought back happy tears and decided it didn’t matter what else happened; this was already an incredible show.
I told myself I didn’t care what else happened, but I guess there was a part of me that would have been disappointed had I not heard the hits. They were all there, “Look What They’ve Done to My Song Ma,” the delightful “Brand New Key,” her incredible cover of “Ruby Tuesday,” and the jubilant “Candles in the Rain,” sounding so perfect. I gained a new appreciation for these songs as Melanie told us tales of their history.
Melanie plays those songs because she knows we want to hear them. She’s such a generous, giving performer. But she’s also quick to tell you that she hasn’t been idle over the last few decades. Her set included a smattering of new songs too, with lyrics so thick with wisdom. She lamented the way radio is only interesting in playing young shit, and listening to her new material I had to agree with her. She’s an artist that still has so much to give to anyone willing to listen. Who needs radio though? Hearing her incredible songs, new and old, come alive in such a small venue was so much sweeter.
Image source: own photo