Saturday, June 10, 2023

Sister Sledge Bring the Party to London

The marketing for Sister Sledge’s performance at the Royal Albert Hall billed the event, not as a concert but as ‘The Ultimate 70s Disco Summer Party’. A tall order, perhaps, in such a venue. 

Yet this historic monument was indeed transformed into a nightclub on a hot summer night and then hurled back in time 50 years by two DJs who entertained the waiting crowd and then two iconic groups who had five thousand people on their feet, swaying, waving and singing to a soundtrack of pure joy. In essence, this was Last Night of the Proms, disco style.

A notable aspect of the audience was the incredible sense of diversity, people from many different walks of life and persuasions brought together by a common love for the carefree fun and joie de vivre that is the hallmark of disco. Spirits were high from the outset and five thousand people, on a warm summer’s evening, united by a common cause created quite an atmosphere. Many were dressed to impress and fully threw themselves into the spirit of the show. Even the ushers couldn’t help but dance along.

First up, DJ Twiggy Garcia presented a fairly introverted set of 70s classics to welcome the audience in and set the mood. Dmitri from Paris then took over with a higher energy set, leading almost immediately into the main support act, The Real Thing, who brought the crowd to their feet with a positive, upbeat, infectious set featuring such iconic hits as ‘Can You Feel the Force’, ‘Can’t Get By Without You’ and of course, ‘You to Me Are Everything’.

A brief interval allowed the stage to be reset for the main act and, right on time, the five members of the Sledge family lit up the hall with their sequins and glitter. They certainly know how to bring the glitz and glamour and their performances were as slick and stylish as their jumpsuits.

Opening with the 1979 hit ‘Lost in Music’, the group firmly established themselves on stage and set out their respective roles in the show, centred around original member Debbie Sledge. Of the original four, Joni Sledge sadly passed away in 2017 and Kathy chose to pursue a solo career, leaving Debbie and sister Kim to expand the touring family with children Camille Sledge, Tanya Ti-et, Thaddeus Sledge and David Sledge. Without pausing for breath, the hits continued with ‘Everybody Dance’ and ‘All American Girls’, an interesting reminder that Sister Sledge are often mistaken for a British band yet hail from Philadelphia. The Real Thing, ironically, are often mistaken for a US band yet hail from Liverpool. Two iconic 70s groups from industrial cities on either side of the Atlantic, their parallel history perhaps reflecting the Motown influence that was the hallmark of 70s music.

Sister Sledge’s only UK number 1 came in 1985 with the bouncy pop of ‘Frankie’, showing that getting to the top of the charts isn’t the only way to achieve global recognition.

Giving the rest of the band a break, Debbie brought jazz pianist Niels Lan Doky onto stage with a quiet and soulful performance centred around ‘Summertime’, echoing the original performance by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. David and Thaddeus then took over with ‘Easier to Love’ and the musical section of the band had their time to shine with instrumental solos within Nile Rogers’ classic ‘Good Times’. Every member of the extended band had their moment in the spotlight, the audience loved it and Debbie never once dropped the beaming, proud smile. The sense of family unity and equality came through the lyrics and exploded into every aspect of the show’s meticulous design.

The summer party ended with what else but Sister Sledge’s biggest hit, the iconic 'We are family', a guaranteed dance floor filler at every wedding in the land. The whole audience sang and danced, the floor shook, even Prince Albert himself was probably tapping his feet along with the infectious Nile Rogers rhythm. 

The meaning of the song was definitely not lost on band lynchpin Debbie Sledge who beamed with pride, not only at the terrific performance of the next Sledge generation but also at the five thousand new members of the Sledge family who were welcomed into the fold with acceptance and love. The whole show resonated with a sense of unity, of love, of family and as a wonderful celebration of the very joy of life itself.

Peter Freeth



Images: Peter Freeth

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