SHE strides and struts across the stage, encouraging and cajoling her musicians with a comforting arm across the shoulders one moment and a wagging forefinger the next.

Oh yes, she’s still the empress of rock raunchiness. Like a vintage wine – indeed, just like her hit Lilac Wine - she’s just gets better and better, this amazing performer with the soul of Etta James and the northern warmth of a latter-day Gracie Fields.

Elkie Brooks is still at the top of her game and this Worcester Festival finale provided the proof. Despite the fact that she’s pushing 70, her vocal range is that of a woman half her age – she is unquestionably the greatest rhythm and blues artist this country has ever produced, Britain’s answer to America’s Aretha Franklin and Roberta Flack.

These days, she paces herself, a low-key first half featuring hardy perennials such as Gasoline Alley, Fool If You Think it’s Over, Do Right Woman and her magnificent cover of Moody Blues epic Nights in White Satin.

But after the interval, it’s back to her roots, the insistent bass throb of Jimmy Reed’s blues shuffle Anyway You Want Me to Do setting the tone for the rest of the night.

This is followed by a fabulous version of Family’s Burlesque, a lurching funk work-out that perhaps more than any other reminds us of La Brooks’ feel for the genre.

Yet incredibly, the best is yet to come – a selection of numbers from her new album Powerless, the title track easily matching anything that has emerged from Memphis or Muscle Shoals over the last 40 years.

It may be an over-worked cliché, but there is no doubt whatsoever that Elkie Brooks is a national treasure… and Worcester has most surely been honoured by her presence during this city’s great annual summer celebration.