As I listened to Matthew VanKan open his night of celebrating Frank Sinatra with Fly Me to the Moon I was transported to a place of the past in which Ol’ Blue Eyes was King of the Hill. Taking place at the Rialto Theatre, the evening consisted of a collection of Sinatra classics as well as a couple of those which the performer VanKan thought Sinatra would have covered if he had gotten the chance. In addition to this was personal anecdotes from the performer as he recalled what many of the songs meant to him. This blending of past and present not only reminded the sold-out audience of what Frank had accomplished in his musical career but also how relevant the lyrics of his songs remain in more modern times.    

Included within the repertoire of songs of the first half of this Saturday evening was one written in 1940 by Ruth Lowe entitled I’ll Never Smile Again. This was the complete antithesis of what the members of the audience would have felt listening to VanKan’s dazzling take of this song. 

Succeeding that was Summer Wind, a song that reminded VanKan of his home town of Brighton, in particular the sea breeze, dog walks and also watching his sister Chris and her band playing at a bar called GeminiWith a martini or two, of course.  

The first of two songs to come that the crooner thought Sinatra would have sung was The Way You Make Me Feel, the reason being that Sinatra met the writer and composer of this song Michael Jackson two years after its first performance. A tangible link, but a link nonetheless. Being humble, however, Matthew confessed that he did not give his performance as much forethought as he should have done citing the small time frame in which he had to give a synopsis for his tour of VanKan Celebrates Frank Sinatra. Wanting to be ‘obscure’ and ‘super intelligent’ and modestly conceding that the aforementioned song choice was neither this was a wise move by the singer as the audience increasingly warmed to his charm.  

The next song Withcraft succeeded in putting all of the audience under his spell. And like Sinatra’s relationship with the ‘ancient bitch’ described within the track, those viewing this performance would undoubtedly be left wanting more. 

After the brief interval and the commencement of the second half of this theatrical evening, the act did not lose steam and actually became more emotionally charged. Giving personal anecdotes of a Sinatra song that he performed at the funeral of a victim of the Shoreham Air Show Disaster, the wife of whom attended his first ever performance of his Sinatra tour, he refused to perform the song that he gave at the deceased’s funeral as a result of its sacredness but instead belted out another tune from the late American and expressed the song as being ‘From Mark to you [the audience]’, thus reminding everyone there that evening that death is not about loss but a chance to remember what that person gave whilst alive and continue to give thereafter.    

Another of VanKan’s breaks in between songs included his explaining Sinatra’s self-consciousness of being shorter in stature and, indeed, of breath among his peers as a result of being born with asthma. Therefore, it was remarkable when the main man described how the idol of the Bobby Soxers overcame this shortness of breath by holding his breath underwater for minutes at a time thus resulting in his ability to hold extraordinarily long notes when reciting his songs.  

VanKan also made it known how he had only flown in from New York the morning of the previous day to perform in London in the evening, explaining how over 14,000 miles, 6 cities and 8 gigs later he had arrived at the Rialto Theatre in Brighton. Detailing his wonder at performing at a downtown Manhattan bar owned by Ashford and Simpson of Solid as a Rock fame , he was not only overjoyed at performing there himself but bearing witness to the surviving member of the previously mentioned duo’s rendition of a song they wrote for Ray Charles entitled Let’s Go Get Stoned. 

Resonant of the life of Sinatra, VanKan’s humble beginnings working for then achieving his big break at Brighton’s The Grand Hotel really champions the adage that if one works hard for what they want, they really can get it. As VanKan closed the night with New York, New York, I thought this pertinent not only as a result of his only just having performed there but also as I do not want his journey to end there and wish him luck in proceeding on to many other places. I only hope more people have the privilege to be a part of Matthew VanKan’s journey and bear witness to the connection he has with the lyrics, melodies and sentiments so clearly expressed in the past years of swing and jazz hits that remain timeless.

Olly Lugg

Categories: Arts Theatre

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