Ben Thompson: The Definitive Elvis Experience show made its first ever trip to Scotland tonight at The Queen’s Hall, and hopefully judging by how well the show went down with the audience, it will not be long before Ben Thompson returns here.
Unlike many tribute acts, an Elvis one is always slightly different because so few of us in the audience will ever have had the opportunity to see Elvis perform live, and it would be rare for anyone in the UK to have seen those 1950s live shows. Instead, we all know Elvis from films and records with shows like this leaving us to wonder “what if”.
This show is a little different to many of the other “Elvis tribute” shows touring at any point in time. The first thing is that Ben covers all the major periods of Elvis – The 1950s years, post army, 1968 television come-back special and the Las Vegas show years. The second thing is that this is a big show, and Ben is on stage with a 13 piece backing/vocals band to re-create that Elvis sound as accurately as he can.
Apart from attention to detail both in looks and sound, the first thing that you notice about Ben on stage is how young he is (early 20s), and that energy of youth is just what is needed to capture those early Elvis years as he opens the show with “That’s Alright”. Other early classic hits including “Baby Let’s Play House”, “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Too Much” follow as well as a great sounding cover of “Peace In The Valley” that reminds us all early on of just how important gospel music was to Elvis as a person and to his sound.
Move forward a few years and we have some film clips from G.I. Blues on the back screen and Ben coming on in period military uniform to give us well loved songs like “Wooden Heart” and “Return to Sender”.
Another move forward in “Elvis time” and Ben is on-stage clad in leather for the NBC 1968 Television special, then from the same special a re-creation of that famous white suit and the classic, and one of my favourite Elvis songs, “If I can Dream” with its lyrics written around lines from speeches made by Martin Luther King Jr.
Ben does a great job in the first half re-creating the sound and look of Elvis with attention to detail that only someone really respecting the memory of Elvis will spend time over, but it is the second set and the Las Vegas show years that for me seem to have Ben at his best as the slightly deeper tones to Elvis’ voice at this period suit his own vocals best. Ben also just seems far more "at home" with the music from this period.
This second set has the full band on stage and takes up all of the second half of the show, and there are some classic songs here... “Suspicious Minds”, “The Wonder of You”, “Can’t Help Falling in Love”, to name but a few.
Two of my favourite songs of the night came from this second set. A powerful performance of the gospel classic “How Great Thou Art” and one of my all time favourite Elvis songs that for some reason gets performed at shows like this far too rarely – “Battle Hymn of The Republic”.
Ben Thompson tonight gave us a wide variety of Elvis styles of song but reminded us all just how important country and gospel music were to Elvis and how, out of all the sounds that he heard, something new came out of it.
Any show like this is always going to have a problem as it is like that line from the song “caught in a trap”, and that trap is that for every song put into the set-list you are probably leaving someone’s favourite out. Given the time that is available on stage, and the need to get in certain songs, this was a well chosen selection of music from the Elvis back catalogue.
If you are going to do an Elvis show though, looking and sounding the part is not good enough. People took Elvis to their hearts in a way that few performers ever get taken by the public...they simply loved him, and to do a show like this at all, the audience have to like you too, or it is all over before it even starts. Ben has a nice easy and friendly relationship with his audience and they certainly took to him at this show. Courtesy of a gift from an audience member, we now know too what that secret substance was that kept Elvis going on stage…a can of Irn Bru!
The fact that Elvis can still mean so much to a performer as young as Ben Thompson means that his musical legacy will continue for a long time to come.
Ben is a natural performer on stage and like all good tribute acts brings enough of his own personality on-stage to not be some poor carbon copy of the original. I would actually really like to see Ben do a show one day of Elvis songs but stripped of all the “tribute act trappings”...just Ben sings Elvis in his own style.
Ahead of this show, ben thompson was also kind enough to answer some questions for us.
BEN THOMPSON QUESTIONS & ANSWERS PAGE
Review by tom King