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A Time To Love - Press Release

The Sunday Observer

We Came, We Saw, He Conquered
Stevie Wonder at Abbey Road Studio
Caspar Llewellyn Smith
Sunday 13 Nov. 2005

Last week, Stevie Wonder's credentials were affirmed by no less a musical authority than Sir Christopher Meyer, Britain's former ambassador to Washington. His newly published memoirs include an account of a state dinner at the White House at which Elton John and Wonder both performed. 'Wonder's virtuosity made Elton John sound like a pub pianist,' he recalls, 'and he wrapped up the evening singing "My Cherie Amour". Cherie [Blair] looked starstruck, almost overwhelmed by the glamour of the occasion.'

In London last Wednesday night, the 55-year-old delivered a similarly stellar performance in similarly intimate surroundings, albeit before a marginally less starry crowd. The gig in studio one at Abbey Road was to promote his new album, A Time to Love, and for broadcast on Radio 2. Rather than just play tunes from that record, his first for 10 years, and rather than just fulfil his obligation to perform for an hour, Wonder plundered his back catalogue and was still going strong after more than two-and-a-half hours.

His hairstyle might yet rival the Bobby Charlton combover as the preferred method of disguising male baldness - dreadlocks sprout from two-thirds back on the Wonder skull - but nothing else suggested that the years have taken their toll on the singer.

Highlights? Yards from the stage, 'Livin' for the City' sounded like a highlight; 'Sir Duke' sounded like a highlight; 'Golden Lady' sounded like a highlight; they all sounded like highlights. He brought his eldest daughter, Aisha Morris, on stage and sang something he'd once written for her - 'Isn't She Lovely' - and then they goofed around together.

He weathered the appearance of Motown president Sylvia Rhone with good grace (although was finally forced to interrupt her gushing eulogies with a curt: 'Get out of here') and sweetly introduced the audience to his long-time British manager, Keith Harris. He thanked the promoters who'd first brought him to this country. He played 'I Just Called to Say I Love You'.

By now, the couple of hundred in the audience - mostly competition winners, plus (bizarrely) a medley of comedic actors (Peter Kay, Sacha Baron Cohen and Martin Freeman) - were so bowled over that no one took that opportunity to head for the bar.

'Shelter in the Rain', from the new album (from which, in the event, he played little else) was prefaced by Wonder talking about the recent deaths of his brother, Larry Hardaway, and his former wife, Syreeta Wright, and proved especially moving.

The sound was terrible, but the 10-piece band was wonderfully slick and Wonder seemed a humble man, thankful for what life has brought him. It is we who ought to be thankful.