Blues & Soul, 27th December 1994 - 16th January 1995

Eternal & Michelle Gayle

Hammersmith Apollo

Michelle Gayle may be following in numerous 'Eastenders' footsteps in trying her luck at singing, but we have at long last been rewarded. Wearing her customary see-through top and brightly coloured bras, she gave a fresh, vibrant and energetic performance.

Flanked by two female dancers, and with two female keyboardists, she had no trouble whatsoever in getting the crowd on their feet as she performed her hits. "Looking Up" and "Sweetness", together with the album tracks "Girlfriend" and "Freedom". Her latest single "I'll Find You" showed the subtler side of Michelle and provided a better vehicle to prove any doubters wrong that she can actually sing. When let loose from behind the producers steering wheel, she showed that she's more than just a pretty face with a fit and attractive body.

To be honest I had my reservations about her singing ability, but that was soon dispelled. I've been going to the Apollo for many years now, and I'll gladly admit that she drew the biggest and loudest crowd that I have ever seen for a support artist.

Eternal came on stage to the same rapturous welcome that had greeted Michelle Gayle, and they had the crowd on their feet for the next seventy-five minutes as they reeled off hit after hit from their debut album.

"Save Our Love" opened the proceedings, producing ecstatic hysteria amongst a sold out Hammersmith crowd that was more akin to a Take That concert than a soul gig. They combined a faultless presentation with a dynamic performance, immaculately choreographed from start to finish. This was also all the better for the live four-piece band accompanying them, rather than backing tapes as used on previous support tours. As their hits "Crazy" and "So Good" followed, they showed that they have come a long way in twelve months since I saw them last Christmas supporting Dina Carroll.

Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" and the hit ballad "Oh Baby I..." were sung with a passion and soulfulness not normally associated with British soul artists with particular credit to young Easther Bennett. This was further enhanced with a Motown medley of the Supremes' hits including excerpts from "Stoned Love", "You Can't Hurry Love", "Stop In The Name Of Love", and "Someday We'll Be Together". Eternal, in white flowing dresses were a sight to behold as they reproduced the sounds of the sixties and early seventies in a sparkling set that took us back all those years as if it were just yesterday.

Vernie was next on the solo chores, as she impressively performed the Brian McKnight favourite "One Last Cry", proving once more these girls can do more than just dance.

The girls went back to their gospel roots next with the Labi Siffre hit "(Something Inside) So Strong" featured on their new EP. Eternal produced glorious harmonies with heartfelt meaning. They have to be praised for bringing gospel to the masses, a brave but ultimately worthwhile and satisfying step.

"Amazing Grace" and "Stay" provided a perfect encore and drew the evening to a close with a performance that had been professional and exciting, raw but re-freshing. It is obvious that it is well rehearsed, but the moves and energy produced show that they have put a lot of hard work in to it. They fully deserve their success.

When they first started, I used to think of them as the 'British En Vogue', but not anymore. They are very much the 'British Eternal' in their own right, and if En Vogue ever do hit these shores, they've got a tough act to follow.

One final word though. Over the next few years, if Eternal do not stay the distance, I can guarantee that Easther Bennett will. What a voice - she ranks alongside Britain's best.

(Mark Sykes)