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Friday, 15 March, 2002, 22:58 GMT
Nicely in tune in the Commons
Alicia Keys performs in the Commons
Well in order in the house - Alicia was warmly welcomed
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By Robert Nisbet
BBC arts correspondent
line

"Just stretch your arms out, Miss" said the uniformed security guard standing next to the metal detector.

Obviously oblivious to the tantrum thrown by that other soul diva, Diana Ross, when she was patted down by security, the man set about gently frisking the 21-year-old Grammy winner in the atrium of Portcullis House.

Through giant pink sunglasses the singer complied with a toothy smile, as a bodyguard the size of two Aretha Franklins in a wrestling match looked on nervously.

Alicia Keys and her surprisingly small entourage then clacked up the glass trimmed staircase to check the make-up and stage a soundcheck.


There are times I wish Parliament was a bit more hip

David Lammy, MP

MPs and civil servants milling about below, watched the exotic and expensively dressed group with open curiosity.

The building, which is opposite the Palace of Westminster, normally plays host to pressure groups trying to convince politicians to tackle pollution or potholes, not young singer-songwriters with elaborately sculpted hair and diamante encrusted nails.

But on Friday the white fluorescent tubes lighting the Atlee Suite had been replaced with red, giving one of Parliament's busiest reception rooms the look of a 19th Century Brothel in La Pigalle.

Scrum

Journalists from across Europe hovered around plates of spring rolls and crostini while nervous schoolchildren, who'd been invited to the event, huddled against the walls.

Security guards watched the ensuing melee with thinly disguised dissatisfaction, ensuring the assembled scrum didn't spill out into the hall.

Eventually the Commons' youngest MP David Lammy, who had invited the singer to perform, welcomed her to the stage, saying: "I have been here about 20 months and have to admit there are times I wished Parliament was a little bit more modern, a bit more hip, a bit more relevant to people of my generation."

The schoolchildren cheered, the journalists sneered cynically, the security guards turned even more sour.

Portcullis House
A softer image for Portcullis House?

Musically, Alicia Key's performance was outstanding.

Answering questions from the floor, she continued to play the piano as a musical backdrop to her narrative, moving from Beethoven to Billie Holiday with apparent and enviable ease.

She punctuated her responses about influences, experiences and childhood trauma with tracks from the album 'Songs in A Minor,' including a duet with 16-year-old Careen Green from Tottenham who was volunteered by one of her friends to sing along to the musician's debut single, 'Fallin''.

Those hacks (including me) who had been sent there to report on accusations the two-hour concert cheapened Parliament's reputation, were momentarily softened.

As she took the applause in this curious venue and exited stage left with a huge bunch of flowers, journalists prepared to pounce.

Eager

They acknowledged the talent of the musician but needed some news line for their editors apart from: "She's really very talented isn't she?/Makes Hear'Say look a little lacking, don't you think?/ I'm off to buy the album etc etc."

David Lammy was pressed against the wall by a crowd of reporters eager for their bite.

It wasn't a publicity stunt, he argued, but an attempt to introduce young people to the mother of all parliaments while making politicians themselves seem less remote.

But that debate's probably of little interest to the young entertainer already assured of wall-to-wall and station-to-station coverage for her new single.

It was a text book performance, not just by Alicia Keys, but also the marketing team of her record company.

See also:

15 Mar 02 | Music
Alicia makes Commons 'hip'
21 Jun 01 | UK Politics
Lammy raises the laughs
07 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Millions 'lost' on Portcullis legal bill
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