Down memory Laine

Cleo Laine and the John Dankworth Group Cultural Centre Concert Hall February 8 WHEN you've waited 17 years to see one of your all-time Arts Festival favourites again, the tension is something awful. Will she look the same, sound the same? Logic said no way, but then the moment came and there she was: Cleo Laine looking like a million dollars in a gold lame gown which seemed to send sparks through her halo of hair.

Sure she'd clocked up a dress size or two, but only looked more regal.

Later, someone said she'd been ill that day and her voice had given her a lot of trouble, but the radiant figure on stage gave no sign. The mega octaves, that unique huskiness which can transmute into angelic sweetness, the exquisite phrasing and perfectpitch - it was all there. And yet it wasn't. Sure, she gave the people their money's worth - at least the people who were content with Cleo Laine, jazz singer.

She's fantastic, of course. Who else can perform vocal gymnastics with such skill, blending seamlessly with sax, bass, reeds and even drums, so help us. More than once you felt the billing should have been the John Dankworth Sextet.

That was the trouble: all that jazz - already taking up half the programme minus Cleo - but barely an echo of the singer who could, and surely still can, send ripples down your spine. Pop, musical comedy, opera, Shakespeare; Cleo Laine, consummate performer, has illuminated them all.

She paid tribute to the jazz greats, Ellington, Holliday, Goodman and her husband included, and almost as an afterthought, tossed a few crumbs.

The best was her final encore. Send In The Clowns, she sang - absolutely straight this time - and as always, you were moved almost to tears.

For those of us who yearned for the old Cleo, it was over all too soon, though a haunting number she used to sing came to mind. Wish You Were Here, I Do Miss You.