Peter Straker – Black Magic Pleasance Courtyard

What a great start to my 2014 Fringe! This is a cracking show guaranteed to get you energised and in the mood for the annual fringefest marathon. Peter Straker is 70 but he has the energy and vitality of a man half that age and one of the most powerful voices I have ever heard. Jamaican born Straker has been singing on the West End stage since first appearing in the musical Hair in 1968. As well as recording his own albums and producing solo shows, he has also collaborated on albums with his longterm personal friend, the late Freddie Mercury of Queen. And if that were not enough, he is also an actor, having appeared on TV in Doctor Who and Connie as well as diverse roles on stage.

Backed by a talented five piece band, Straker serves up a huge range of songs in his own idiosyncratic style. The show starts with a whimsical version of Who Killed Cock Robin and Straker weaves his way on stage through the auditorium to a polite and slightly bemused reception. He is wearing a snappy if somewhat strange ensemble – a sort of skirt/ culotte ensemble and this is the first of a few costume changes during the act. He changes the pace dramatically and gets the joint jumping with his version of Sympathy for the Devil and he gives Mick Jagger a run for his money with his energetic dance moves. A version of Queen’s It’s a Kind of Magic and a mesmerising rendition of I Put a Spell on You follows, the choice of songs all fit the theme of the show in a different way and he even hands out a box of Black Magic chocolates to the front row.

Straker moves seamlessly from high energy numbers to soulful ballads, including a couple of his own excellent compositions. One of many highlights was his interpretation of Jacques Brel’s If You Go Away – so poignant and touching you could really feel the pain of the abandoned lover. Straker has previously brought a tribute to Brel to Edinburgh – on the basis of this song, I would love to see that show.

By the end, the audience are whooping and applauding furiously and a couple of brave souls are up on their feet dancing. A great show – go see it for yourselves.

Irene Brownlee