The Middle Eight Hotel’s music venue is one of the biggest secrets in town. With no signage, The QT is difficult to find, and as you’re escorted downstairs and through a nondescript door it has the feel of a 1920s speakeasy, but perhaps in more decorous surroundings. Hosting an exciting programme of jazz and R&B throughout the week, The QT is a stylish venue and seems the perfect place to hear the big voice of drag sensation Velma Celli, but her set is disappointingly short.
Velma Celli is the alter ego of Ian Stroughair who’s appeared in plenty of West End musicals, Interestingly none of these musicals turn up in Velma’s set list. She begins, instead, with one of the most overlooked anthems of the noughties: Sam Sparro’s Black and Gold. Next up is a jazzy version of Lady Gaga’s Marry The Night. Velma has a good voice, with a full range and she gleefully enjoys any key-change.
Other nights at the QT feature jazz quartets, but accompanying Velma on stage is a backing track, and although the music sounds fine through the speakers it’s a shame not to have some kind of live band. But Velma jokes about it, encouraging the audience to applause for her non-existent live accompaniment. She’s quick and funny with the people in the audience, seated at cabaret tables, and in true drag queen style berates them, saving her best ripostes for someone from Hull.
But it’s a quiet audience and so it’s a surprise that she perseveres with a few singalongs, expecting everyone to remember the lyrics to Gaga’s Born This Way and Amy Winehouse’s Valerie. It appears that Velma has a certain aged audience in mind with most tracks coming from this period. She does a couple of old standards – one of them Nancy Sinatra’s Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) – but her versions of newer songs are the best.
Velma is also a good impressionist, too, and her medley of songs by divas like Tina Turner, Cher and Shakira is a hoot, but just as things pick up, the show is over, barely lasting 50 minutes, It’s hardly enough time to down the fresh and fruity cocktails from the bar. And it seems that the snacks advertised on the menu are now only available at the weekends, which means there’s no reason to arrive earlier or linger later in the smart basement saloon.
With such a short set, the evening is a bit of a non-event. Other nights at the QT, such as Leo Green’s residency at the weekends, are more substantial. Despite all her hard work and fine vocals, Velma Celli feels like a warm-up act.
Reviewed in 22 June 2022