Ronnie Spector at Queen Elizabeth Hall
Towards the end of tonight’s UK premiere of her stage show Beyond the Beehive, Ronnie Spector tells us: “Remember. You can go through hell and still survive.” Ronnie would know. In this wonderfully titled show – a mixture of songs and stories – she regales us with the often-heart-breaking, but ultimately triumphant tale of her remarkable life. She takes the audience on a journey from Spanish Harlem to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel – “just a short bus ride from each other, but a lifetime away” – where her Ronettes were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.
They would have been inducted 14 years previously but for ex-husband Phil Spector’s influence. Throughout, Ronnie speaks, in her punchy New York twang, with candor about their sad, catastrophic marriage during which the extraordinarily possessive Spector kept her holed up in his California mansion. Despite all this darkness, Ronnie has come out the other side a shimmering, vivacious, hip-shaking beacon of light.
When she sings, Beyond the Beehive reaches the heights of her hairstyle. You know how when you listen to those Spector-produced 60s pop records you feel, for a couple of minutes, like nothing else exists in the world? Tonight is a bit like that. Even at 70-years-old, Ronnie’s voice is sweet and powerful, and it hits you hard in the gut. The nine musicians on stage create something similar to Spector’s Wall of Sound over which her voice soars. The Queen Elizabeth Hall is engulfed. Walking in the Rain and Time Is on My Side are particularly transcendent.
Amongst details of marriage, divorce and legal struggles against Spector, there are entertaining anecdotes of the Ronettes’ 1964 UK tour and escapades with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. The screen behind her shows various images of Ronnie throughout her life, and we’re reminded of her astonishing beauty.
Beyond the Beehive also depicts the way in which female recording artists were treated as disposable ten-a-penny singers in the early days of pop; the necessary vessels through which “male geniuses” could produce their art. Thankfully, the legal struggle of Ronnie and others has helped change that for the recording artists of today.
During the encore, Ronnie gives a heartfelt rendition of Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black, which she dedicates to Amy’s mother who is in the audience. She closes with Be My Baby and everyone is on their feet. It’s difficult to find the right adjectives to describe what it’s like to see Ronnie Spector perform this perfect 1963 pop symphony live. It is, quite simply, special.
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Watch the Ronettes perform Be My Baby here: