We Love Kim Soo Hee (he said)

Two of your regular LKL writers were so taken with Kim Soo Hee’s concert on 26 January that we both felt moved to write about it. Here’s Philip‘s take.

Kim Soo Hee publicity shot

“They turned up this afternoon and asked us where our sound system and lighting was,” confided the House Manager at St John’s Smith Square as I bought my tickets on Saturday evening. “I had to tell them, ‘Sorry, we’re a classical music venue. We don’t do sound systems and disco lights'”.

Somehow the organisers managed to lay their hands on a PA system for the evening, but it seems the Trot diva was not best pleased with its quality.

The audience claps timeIf there seems to be an element of criticism in the use of the word “diva”, it is not intended, because Kim Soo Hee is certainly a star. Even given the rather poor amplification, Kim had the audience rapt within seconds. It’s hard to imagine a western star being able so to entertain an audience in a Queen Anne period church (not, she confessed, her preferred style of venue) with nothing but her voice, a microphone, and a backing track playing over some not terribly good loudspeakers. But once she’d overcome the initial acoustic feedback, the audience was enthralled — clapping, singing along, waving their arms and generally entering into the spirit of things in the same way that a Western audience doesn’t.

There were CDs of Kim’s 11th album on sale. I made a beeline for the table. £10, said the attendant. Then he saw that I had a ticket in my hand, and revised the price down to £9. Err… How many people in the audience, then, didn’t have tickets? Still, the £1 change came in handy when the lady came around with the programmes, which conveniently used up the change. Then we felt a little bit hard done by, when 5 minutes into the concert the self-same programmes were distributed liberally to all and sundry free of charge. All part of the local colour with a Korean concert, I concluded.

Kim Soo Hee's first outfit

At Westminster tube on the way to St John’s I had come across an ajumma who was looking lost, so I escorted her to the venue. She told me she was Kim Soo Hee’s number one fan. As I hadn’t had the pleasure of hearing any of Kim’s music before, and being rather uneducated in Trot music generally, I asked my new-found friend whether the music was likely to be lively or emotional. Lively, she said. After some more conversation, I asked her the same question again, just to make sure. Emotional she said. She was right. It was both.

Kim started the evening in a demure-looking lilac dress covered with a pale mauve long jacket. After a couple of numbers, the jacket was removed, revealing that the dress was backless, halter-necked, and as sparkly as a catherine wheel. And the tempo picked up a notch. Soon the audience was on its feet clapping along. And I’m afraid to say that your blogmeister’s heart skipped a beat or two when Kim rather friskily leapt up and down in time to one of the livelier numbers, encouraging some sympathetic motion in her shapely upper torso.

Kim Soo Hee's sparkly lilac dress

Jennifer, LKL’s special events correspondent, was my companion for the evening. She managed to befriend a young Korean lady in the audience in the row in front. We got some useful translations of some of the announcements and of Kim’s banter in between the songs. Not only is Kim a very talented singer, but it appears she can do stand-up as well. But in one of the more extended bits of inter-song banter she was telling the audience, hungry for news of back home, of the latest recipe for kimchi that is sweeping the nation (it involves wine in the list of ingredients).

The light continued to glitter on her spangly halter-neck, and as she sang one of her more emotional numbers, she gave the ssarang-hae gesture (which starts with the heart-shaped “M” from the “YMCA” dance). We all loved her right back. Lots.

Then suddenly, she was sprinting down the side-aisle towards the exit. I wondered what was going on, as the aforementioned house-manager had informed me, with a raised eyebrow and a disapproving tut, that the evening was 90 minutes without an interval. Our translator in front told us that Ms Kim was off for another costume change. Sure enough, within 10 minutes she was back on stage in something much more traditional

Kim Soo Hee singing an unaccompanied folk songBoy, can this woman sing. While in the first half she was accompanied by an instrumental backing track over the PA system, her first number of the second half was an unaccompanied folk song, sung largely unmiked, and performed kneeling on the floor. She had the audience’s undivided attention, and then she accomplished a feat which I don’t think I’ve heard before, though I’ve heard about it. On one of the high notes she paused, refocused, and then managed to generate a series of harmonics above the fundamental note which made it sound as if she was singing a chord. I felt like uttering a chuimsae, but couldn’t remember any appropriate words (and seeing that no-one else seemed moved at the time, I’m glad in retrospect that I didn’t. Of course, it could have just been a lucky frog in the throat, and I was so smitten that I could believe anything)

The melody continued to flow, but the train timetable beckoned. Because of the unfortunate hiatus with the sound system the concert had started even later than one normally expects with a Korean-organised concert (about 35 minutes late, instead of the more usual 15 minutes). We left midway through the final set, and no doubt missed all sorts of lollipops, encores and audience sing-alongs. But we both agreed that LKL must now become the official English Language website of the Kim Soo Hee fan club. The woman is a complete star, and we love her.

(With apologies for the grainy quality of the photos. The next upgrade to my digital camera will have a higher ISO number – Ed)

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