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Jools Holland & His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra - Royal Albert Hall, Kensington on 28 November 2002

Here's an account of the first of Jools' two annual Christmas shows at the Royal Albert Hall, on Thursday, 28 November 2002. In the old days, I would go to both concerts, but now I’m starting to have more respect for my debts and have to make do with one breathtakingly brilliant concert rather than two. Well, I am pushing 40, after all; I can’t put too much pressure on the old ticker! Although one thing that a glance around the audience of about 5,000 people the other night demonstrated was that Jools appeals to all ages, as the crowd comprised children as well as people in their late 60s. So few artists can make that kind of claim!

I’m also sorry to say that I can’t give an accurate setlist but I will put the Cliff Notes version of what I think I heard at the end of this 'review'. Take note that I waited until the end of the firefighter strike to write this account in case any of you bothered to print off all 3,658 pages of it, causing your printer to explode.

Having booked tickets in February to ensure that I got good seats, I have had a long time to look forward to this night.  Sadly, the Jools-loving friend I bought the other ticket for couldn’t make it at the last minute, so I ended up taking a Jools-virgin colleague. I became a bit worried when she took earplugs out of her handbag and popped them in place—not when the booming brass of the Orchestra were playing, which I could almost understand when dealing with a novice to the experience, but rather when the opening act came on and played their first notes. That consisted of a piano and acoustic guitar. Oh dear, I thought.  However would she cope with the real thing?

I had assumed that Chris Difford and his gang would be the support act, and we raced past the sign with the timings so quickly upon arrival at the Albert Hall that I was still expecting him to take the stage when I heard someone announce the person taking the stage as ‘Chris’, but it was Jools’ brother Chris Holland, who has, like his older brother, played with Squeeze as well. Although I had been looking forward to another session of Squeeze hits and songs off Chris D’s new album that were written to show off his baritone voice better than any of the old hits did, I was fortunate enough to catch his show at the Docklands in the Spring, so I coped with the disappointment.

As for Chris Holland, I’d only heard him sing the occasional song with his brother’s Orchestra, such as Todd Rundgren’s ‘I Saw the Light,’ and though he sounded great, I thought his voice was slightly on the weak side, and I was never moved enough to buy his album. Now he has a new one out that, based upon his flawless performance here, I will be happy to buy.  Though he did lose many brownie points by tricking the more gullible in the audience (not me, of course!)--or those with understandable faith in his brother’s star-pulling power--into thinking that Ray Charles was about to join him on stage, courtesy of a deceptive announcement. In any case, his songs were now more solid and interesting and his voice has become much stronger. I am still amazed by how similar his speaking manner and voice are to Jools, and of course he knows his way around a piano, as well. He was joined by a wonderfully talented man (whose name I didn’t catch) on the acoustic guitar and occasionally mandolin, and I felt heartened to notice that he was a man easily in his 50s rather than some trendy young thing, so the Holland tradition of finding marvellous musicians without prejudice carries on throughout the family. The time seemed to disappear, and shortly after Chris and his furry (bearded) friend took to the stage, they seemed to leave us.

Before we had a chance to go check out the merchandise on offer, apart from the £5 programme they were selling in the Hall that is one of the better value programmes I’ve come across recently as it is full of lovely photos and details on the band members, Jools and His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra took the stage at about 8.20pm. We were on the left side of the Arena in front of Jools’ side of the stage, so we had a fine view of his technicoloured dream stool and his hands whipping over the ivories. Still, the screen behind the band was so sensibly co-ordinated this year, that we still would have had a great view from way up in the Gods. New technology means that there were teeny seemingly invisible cameras all around the stage that were masterfully operated remotely, giving us fabulous views of the band at various times and of Jools’ magical fingers. It looked wonderful and was so much more useful than just showing artsy images or album covers, like many acts do with their screens.

Jools, who began with his usual enquiry as to our readiness to boogie, was decked out in a dark grey suit, as was pretty much everyone in the Orchestra. They all looked particularly dapper on this night, everyone with smart haircuts as though they were spruced up for a super special occasion. Youthful looking Gilson Lavis—--it seems no way that man was ever as ill as he was (thank goodness he’s the picture of health, it’s an inspiration)--—has his name proudly scrawled on the bass drum in case we could ever forget this person who has worked with Jools for decades.

The latter got to work on his grand piano (which is called Ian, I understand, and one mustn’t be too soft with him) and bashed out a piece that started to sound a bit like Dr Jazz (my all-time favourite; thank goodness it’s on the Live album) but led elsewhere. One of my many treasured aspects of that truly brilliant ensemble piece is the fact that the whole band sings, and they did so here, adding the odd ‘Choo choo’ before they joined in playing on HAMP’S BOOGIE. It was a wonderful tribute to its composer, jazz treasure Lionel Hampton, who sadly died this summer (and George Bush Sr, one of the many presidents with whom he came in regular contact, was one of the many who paid tribute to him). Hampton had played with all the greats over the years—from Louis Armstrong to Quincy Jones-- and made the Benny Goodman Quartet the first racially integrated jazz ensemble when he joined. Trust Jools to work Hampton’s signature tune into his own act; the thought was touching, the implementation was overwhelmingly impressive.

When they finished that first number, Sam Brown joined them on stage, wearing the same black outfit she had worn on the BBC’s Later….With Jools Holland last week: a button-front bustier, trousers, a long-sleeved crocheted cardi, a serious beaded necklace and cap. The band launched into the foot-stomping, heart-stopping I’M GONE, which I’ve always preferred live compared to the album version featuring Paul Weller. Much as I adored the Jam and the Style Council once upon a time, I’ve rather adjusted to the version with the blasting vocals of Sam Brown joining Jools and the band, and of course, she plays a mean tambourine…… During the organ solo by Christopher Holland (who must have already been quite tired, as it was his second gig of the evening, though it didn’t show), elder brother Jools left his piano, got the audience clapping and wandered over to check out his brother’s handiwork. They never played together on one keyboard on this night, but I’ve never found that Jools’ concerts are ones where you walk away disappointed about what you missed; they are always fun-filled parties that you feel excited to have attended.

The astounding sax solo was provided by, I’m quite certain, Phil Veacock--I say that with caution because, though I dweebily made a note of the set list since I have the memory of a goldfish, I generally failed to note down important things like the names of the soloists because I got carried away in the excitement of enjoying the evening.  However, I’m almost certain that this was the occasion when Phil stepped forward to the mike centre stage that is reserved for soloists, and played a blinding array of notes, often using only one hand on his tenor sax. I must say that Phil impresses me no end. He does almost all the arranging for the full orchestra these days, he’s obviously a marvellous talent with his sax, a brief foray onto the Jools discussion list some years ago proved that he’s an intelligent and totally friendly soul, and he seems to be unofficial Deputy MC to Jools during the live shows. Every second that he’s not playing, he is raising his hands in the air to get us all clapping, cheering on his fellow artists or providing some backing vocals. He seems to have the energy of an atom bomb, but directs it into far more useful activities!

Mind you, one of the most amazing things about everyone in this Orchestra is that they have an endless supply of energy. They stand constantly throughout these gigs, sometimes run up to the centre for quick solos, join in with percussion whenever they are not otherwise occupied, and constantly cheer on their colleagues. It all demonstrates clearly that Jools not only knows how to pick ‘em, but he must be the best employer around, as he keeps a load of happy campers who clearly adore their jobs. He works them hard, I know, but he also keeps it all exciting by letting them contribute in various ways, giving them each a starring role at some point in the evening, and never ever failing to name-check them so that everyone knows exactly who played the solo we all just admired.

After I’m Gone finished, Jools asked if we were ready to experience what we were about to experience. It’s fair to say that we were, and Jools said ‘let’s meet the band,’ which raised a cheer, but didn’t involve an individual introduction of each member who then gave a sample of his wares, as has been done in the past. Jools started off AVENUE C with a long, peppy stint on the piano joined only by his rhythm section, the towering Dave Swift on bass guitar and the might Gilson on high-hat and cymbals. Sam had disappeared, as this was an instrumental, and Roger Goslyn took the limelight with a terrific trombone solo centre stage before Phil came up behind him and took over with another masterful solo on the saxophone. After that, Aussie trumpeter Jason McDermid treated us to a phenomenal solo on my favourite instrument, the trumpet, sounding as though he belonged to the big band era with the likes of Louis Armstrong. Jason never fails to look alert and excited, and he seems to turn up in all sorts of places--I seem to recall seeing him play in some late night talk show some years ago, and I feel certain that he helped out writer/comedian Tony Hawks during his recent Discovery Channel series in which he sought to get a hit single somewhere in the world.

Jason was joined up front by Pete Long, who had traded his alto sax for a clarinet that he was evidently born to play, squeaking out notes so high that only dogs and Benny Goodman’s ghost could hear them. Understandably, as the magnificent notes of this tune faded, so did the usual London seated audience reserve. It dissolved completely as most of the audience—even the elder statesmen and the folk several tiers up—-leapt up to give the Orchestra’s performance the raucous cheer it deserved.

As Sam Brown returned to the stage, the marvellous screen of magic images behind it was covered over with blue curtains riddled with fairy lights, giving the effect of twilight. She sang OUT OF THIS WORLD, which is performed on the new album by Chrissie Hynde, who co-wrote it. Although the whole orchestra was kept busy, the slower pace of this song let them perhaps catch their breath a bit, whilst Sam’s voice belted out the lyrics with impossible strength for such a minute person. Perhaps because I heard the live version first (my copy of the new CD arrived the day of the concert), I believe I prefer it; it’s not quite so sleepy, though the star quality of Chrissie Hynde is, of course, an added extra on the recorded version.

Sam next took the place of Dionne Warwick, who sings WHAT GOES AROUND on the new album, again belting out the lyrics like nobody else. Despite her apparent lack of psychic friends, Sam did an amazing job of standing in for Dionne, aptly backed up on vocals by much of the band, who were also busy creating rhythm with their egg shakers when not attending to other matters. The starlight curtains disappeared so that we could get a great view of the band members from all angles on the screen at the back again, and we all had a thoroughly enjoyable time clapping and humming along. When we all finished with our various contributions, Sam left the stage and Jools introduced the next song.

Here’s the first place where I get quite lost with the set list. I could have sworn that Jools said they were about to do a song by Albert Adams, who was no longer with us but would no doubt be delighted that his song would be played in the Albert Hall. Perhaps I was getting confused by the name of the venue, perhaps he said nothing of the sort and the name was Bartholomew Skifflewood or something. After all, the brass do play loudly and those of us who didn’t bring earplugs (as if) might have been legally deaf by now. I have since given the matter a lot of thought and decided, for a while, that perhaps Jools had said Milton Ebbins, which might have made sense, but it really doesn’t sound much like Albert Adams. I even briefly considered Ansel Adams and Herb Alpert, but frankly I give up. My mind was clearly otherwise engaged at the time with thoughts à la ‘Oh boy! I’m at a Jools Holland concert!’ to listen carefully like a good girl. Consequently, I can’t tell you what song by photographer Ansel Adams or the like Jools played, but I believe he did a solo stretch on the piano, as I remember young Christopher, who had been gradually stripping off parts of his three-piece suit (but stopped at shirt and trousers—sorry to disappoint), wandering around the area behind his organ, as Mark Flanagan sank to the ground for a bit with his guitar silenced. Whoever’s song it was (uh, it was Albert Ammons, boogie-woogie royalty--doh!), Jools did a remarkable job of it, pounding away at Ian to an otherwise subdued rhythm, then drifting up to the high keys and creating a jazzy player-piano effect.

The Orchestra then joined in as Jools moved to the very low keys of the grand piano, launching into Count Basie’s MR ROBERT’S ROOST (I think). I have to say that I’ve only ever heard Count Basie play this number (on record, of course), and as my vinyl collection has sadly been living with a friend in the States since I left there long ago, I couldn’t whip this out to play it and ensure that’s what I heard at this stage in the concert. Jools’ Orchestra’s more modern version would be different anyway, but my guess is that this is the Count Basie number they played. The band was absolutely terrific, whatever it was. Jools topped off the song by reminding us that he’d just treated us to a Count Basie song and taunted me by saying that, before that number, they had played a song by that (infuriatingly mysterious) Adams type person again (Gomez Addams, perhaps?). Forgive my ignorance; no doubt it’s some jazz or blues legend I should know, but I’ve even glanced over all of my Great Dead Pianists compilations and have found nothing. I went to ask my friend if she’d heard what Jools had said, but she couldn’t hear me for the earplugs in her ears.

She did later explain that they allowed her to hear the Orchestra perfectly but cut out all the chatter around her, which made me a bit envious. The couple in front of me was so intent on talking to each other throughout the evening that they continually had to shout over that annoying din coming from the stage that kept disturbing their conversation. Eventually, surprisingly, they got up and went closer to the stage to dance (or to ask Jools to keep it down, I didn’t see which), which was more than fine with me.

Jools then announced that they were going to play a song he had written with Dr John (at least I heard that one clearly!). I have to confess to another disability seeping in here though, as I often get Dr John confused with Dr Hook, so for a second I wasn’t sure whether Jools & Co were going to kick into a cover of Freakin’ at the Freakers’ Ball, a song I apparently sang along with when I was about six whenever my pater played the Sloppy Seconds album. Nevertheless, that didn’t frighten him enough to pack me off to a convent, perhaps because we’re neither Catholic nor particularly religious. Nor did Jools frighten me by performing Freakers’ Ball here. Instead, of course, it was THE HAND THAT CHANGED IT’S MIND, performed on the first Small World Big Band album by Dr John (not Hook or Spock). Jools began singing about his indecisive yet healthy and sober hand, as both of his worked wonders on the piano, until Sam strolled on and sang Dr John’s part. This song was of the same school as Jump For Joy, and the band became increasingly busy and eventually were going as wild on the stage as we were for them in the audience. Sam wandered off stage again as the unflappable Mark Flanagan treated us to an electric guitar solo----something I never fail to enjoy when he’s playing but cannot stand in most other cases. I suppose I like jazz and blues guitar but not the Bon Jovi type specials. I even bought Mark’s album when he opened for Jools at last year’s Albert Hall concert, after hearing his wonderful funeral song Carry Me Down real slow (not that I’m placing orders for that particular music selection as yet, touch wood). Jools ended this song by jumping up at the end, hands in the air, and the crowd just dissolved in a frenzy.

As if I don’t sound confused enough, we now hit another point in the programme where I’m unsure of the setlist. At this stage, the huge screen behind the band stopped showing snippets of Jools’ hands made 20 feet tall or aerial shots of all the band, and instead an old black and white photo of a man’s head was posted up there. At first, I thought how nice it was to see a young Gene Kelly, one of my favourites. I wasn’t sure why they wanted to pay tribute to a great dead dancer at that point, without acknowledging him in any other way, but perhaps since it was a black and white photo, this was a tribute to Ansel Adams, in tandem with the sixth song they played. Er, no, maybe not. So the mystery photo remained as Jools introduced the astonishingly talented trumpeter Jon Scott, reggae legend trombonist Rico Rodriguez, and skilled saxophonist (who seems to excel in jazzy reggae pieces) Michael ‘Bammi’ Rose, who would all feature during the next song. Jools didn’t introduce the song, though, and the band just launched into a marvellously appealing reggae/ska beat which picked up speed as it neared the end, after amazing solos by Bammi, Rico and then Jon. Jon’s trumpet hit surely record-breaking high notes, which made me start to think that perhaps the photo was Chet Baker pre-troubles, and the song was a cover of something he had done.

There’s nothing like a gig that leaves you thinking afterwards, is there, even if I’m thinking nonsense? I dismissed the Chet Baker theory, as after examining one of my CDs, I decided that the Albert Hall photo really looked nothing like Chet Baker at any stage. Then when I realised that Jools & Co had apparently played in (one of my favourite cities) Belfast the theme from DR KILDARE, known as Three Stars Will Shine Tonight, I decided that that is possibly what they played here. The photo could easily have been a very young Richard Chamberlain, before his face got lost in facial hair, in his early role as the good doctor (not to be confused with Dr Hook or Dr John). If so, they certainly livened up what I am pretty sure was a slow and soppy song, but I may be completely wrong about the title—I will happily be corrected and have my mind put to rest.

Next, Jools invited ‘another guest’ to the stage---Sam Brown apparently still has guest status, though I had accepted her as a card-carrying member of the orchestra by now. Not one to psyche us out like his mischievous younger brother, Jools came through with a marvellous guest, soul and R&B diva Ruby Turner. I thought they might perform Wang Dang Doodle, as they have both recorded the song, but instead the band rushed into a big-sounding, quick boogie-woogie number that saw Turner racing around as though she were our own private Aretha Franklin. Mark Flanagan played a jangly guitar solo as though he were Chuck Berry’s son, and Jools’ face kept twisting into enthusiastic beams and smiles as he did delightful things to his piano accompanied by his merry band. As for identifying the song, I can only recall that Ruby sang a line near the beginning about her man being a country man. That wasn’t enough of a clue for me; perhaps someone else can help. The song was racing so that the whole band looked exhausted when they finished, which is surely an unusual sight, no matter how often they have reason to look that way.

Ruby remained for the next number, a slower one to help everyone catch their breath, and Sam slipped on stage again to help with backing vocals. They performed NOBODY BUT YOU, Ruby’s contribution to the first Small World Big Band album. The twilight curtain reappeared behind the band, and the number turned out so gorgeous that Ruby got a standing ovation from much of the crowd as she left the stage. I’ve seen Ruby perform on Jools’ television show many times, but she is 20 times as moving when she’s performing live before you.

Switching to the new album, the band played the song performed on it (and spectacularly on Jools’ Later last week) by Edwin Starr called SNOWFLAKE BOOGIE. The crowd and the Orchestra were both uncontrollably jumping around to this phenomenal tune written by Jools, as he took over the vocals, aided as always by Sam. Normally the Albert Hall has loads of ushers rushing up to clear the aisles of any ill-advised dancers----we were in the middle of a fire-fighters strike, after all, so you would think they’d be more nervous than ever about blocking fire exits. But instead, the one near me, well into her 60s, was tapping her feet, and I think the venue always knows it will never ever win this battle when Jools is in town, so they didn’t bother to try. Pretty much everyone was up and dancing, even the people in the scary mountaintop seats well above us. Phil took us even further with an absolutely stunning, speedy solo on his tenor sax, leading into another wonderful special by Mark on the guitar. When the song finished, you could almost hear the huge mental ‘wow!’ descend upon the Hall, as no one could have been thinking anything different. I can already tell that this is a song that I’ll be blasting on the stereo whenever I need to have a secret head-shaking dance around the room (everyone should some time). I also might have to add it to the alternative Christmas compilations I make near Christmas time, just to liven up the proceedings amongst the Bing and Band Aid numbers (sometimes anything that mentions snow qualifies….otherwise you get too much Boney M). Long may it reign in Jools’ setlist; it cultivates excitement.

Staying with the new album, the orchestra next performed TEARDROPS FROM MY EYES, which is covered by George Benson on More Friends, but Jools took over marvellously during the live version. He introduced it by saying they should play the blues for a bit, and it must have been a surprise to the band because they all quickly, but calmly, started flicking through the pages on their music stands until they found the music for this one. Then, as if he were just making it up as he went along, Jools announced that he thought there should be a solo during this track by Lisa and Nick, and he asked if we (if not they) were happy with that. Jools sang wonderfully, and this number got better and faster. As Mark remained sitting, smoothly and calmly plucking away at his guitar, Jools started playing almost worryingly in a Tori Amos stance, ie half facing the audience by twisting on his stool, but he didn’t quite lean over seductively as she does, I’m relieved to say; he was just sharing our fun. Newish boy Nick Lunt, looking smartly like he just stepped out of a big band of yesteryear, came forward to the centre mike to show us his talents on the baritone saxophone. I was a big Paul Bartholomew fan, so you would think I wouldn’t warm to his replacements—first Pete Long, who later transferred to alto sax, and then Nick Lunt, but as I said, Jools knows how to pick ‘em. He gets fun-loving people who enjoy their work and amaze us with their skills, and we all love them all.

Lisa Graham started her solo on the alto sax possibly a second or so late, it seemed, because she had to queue for the microphone and there’s no real changeover time allowed, but everyone was all smiles and just having fun. She hit some pretty high notes, and I noticed that, although they were in the back rather than highlighted up front, the three trumpeters hit some amazingly impressive high notes throughout this track. The whole thing came together wonderfully; everyone’s contribution was magical.

Without pausing long to let us recover, which was really fine with us, Jools began introducing the next guest as someone who was in Squeeze with him and Gilson, someone with a beautiful head of hair. On strolled the lovely Chris Difford with his guitar, wearing a dark jacket, orange tie and jeans (Chris was the one dressed, not the guitar, in case I’ve confused you there). Sam Brown and Chris’ touring vocalist (who sensationally sings the Glenn Tilbrook parts on Squeeze songs, amongst other things), Doreen Jackson, joined the Orchestra on stage and smoothed things over with their lovely contributions. The song briefly started a bit like U2’s New Year’s Day, and then Chris’ calm vocals eased into the number and carried us through a catchy, likeable song. This number is another example of how Chris can really sing wonderfully when performing a song written for his range, rather than just providing deep backing vocals forever (though he was great at that, too). The whole time they were all playing, Jools just sat on his piano stool, beaming away at his old friend Chris, which was heart-warming.

Jools then wandered over to the harpsichord that was at the front of the opposite side of the stage by the brass section and started plucking out, unusually for a baroque instrument, a rather ska beat for a song that later revealed itself as the old Squeeze hit TAKE ME I’M YOURS. All the audience jumped up to dance about madly, having the times of their lives. At one point, Chris stepped backwards until he reached Gilson’s drum set, where he hung out whilst Michael ‘Bammi’ Rose delivered an awesome solo on the tenor sax, and then Chris sweetly found a mike and announced ‘Michael Rose on sax!’ to ensure that he got the applause he deserved.

Meanwhile, Jools leaned way back in his stool, as he added a fascinating harpsichord riff to this classic, and got a good look around at the thousands of people that he’d driven to dancing all around the Hall.

At one point, Chris and Doreen (I think she was still on stage, I was a bit overwhelmed by it all to take proper note) were left singing almost a cappella to Gilson’s drum beat. Everyone applauded wildly when this song finished, and Chris left the stage.

Jools then said some things that were a bit incomprehensible over the noise of the hugely excited crowd, but it seemed to be a proposal for a change of pace, and then he said that the band was looking worried as there was a bit of pressure on, which I’m sure couldn’t possibly be true. He remained at the harpsichord, and I’m afraid that here again, I shall be unreliable in reporting the setlist. I love Beat Route and Dangerman equally and just got so excited when Jools launched into one of them that I forgot to take note of which one it was. I’m going to vote for DANGERMAN, as I don’t think it was as breathlessly rapid as Beat Route, though it wasn’t a sleeper either! Everyone’s performance was wonderfully brilliant, and as Dave Swift delivered a fine solo on his bass guitar, Jools got up from the harpsichord and wandered over towards Dave on the other side of the stage, gently tapping out a handful of notes on the piano as he passed it. Nick Lunt contributed some fantastic baritone sax, and Phil stepped up with a soothing, late night jazz solo on the tenor sax, which he continued as Jools joined in at last on the piano, and they both finished the song. It was lovely, whatever it was!

As he remained on his circular piano stool, Jools removed his jacket with one smooth sweeping motion, and tossed it well behind him on the floor, revealing a white shirt and trousers held up with braces, which he then undid (the braces, not the trousers) and let them hang by his sides. That was a fine introduction to the classic SHAKE RATTLE AND ROLL. If anybody had remained seated at this point, they were sure to be jumping up now. The song was terrific fun throughout, and we had fabulous solos from Nick on the baritone sax, Alistair White on trombone (who reminds me a lot of Mark Lindup from Level 42), and Mark Flanagan doing another bit of Chuck Berry on guitar.

When it finished, the crowd roared, and Jools teased us by saying, ‘Do you wanna hear some more?’ Naturally, we all said ‘nah’ and limped away in boredom. Or not. So Jools started working magic on the piano and the band joined in, with a particularly wonderful horn arrangement backing up Jools’ incredible piano work, during some of which the band all clapped to the beat and watched in awe. Jools growled out the vocals for T-BAG SCUFFLE, which I used to think was a lovely little song about coming in from the cold to have a cup of tea. I now realise that T-bag is a nickname for co-writer Chris Difford, apparently referring to ‘his chicken grease, London guitar style’, according to Jools in his liner notes for Small World Big Band. So he’s apparently ‘London’s boogie man’ that the singer tells the listener to beware when down in Deptford or on the Strand. Remember that. I’m horrified to realise that I can’t recall which trumpeter came forward and played the incredibly high notes in this song; I’m going to guess Jason, but it may well have been Jon. Even I, stuffy old fogie that I am, was pretty close to dancing by this time. Mark has a lovely guitar part in this piece, as well, and near then end, Jools crouched down on the floor, playing the piano keys above his head, and told us it was time to release the boogie inside every one of us, so as the trumpeter released an amazing performance, we all, having crouched down to the floor as well, leapt up in unison—even my earplugged friend joined in there; one must release the boogie, after all. It was a brilliant, terrifically joyful piece.

Jools then explained that we needed to call Ruby again, and he got us all singing ‘hey, yah, yah, yah’, repeating after him as in Cab Calloway’s Minnie the Moocher, and then assigning different parts to different sections, so that we were all singing ‘What we want right now is---’ or ‘Give us Ruby!’. Ruby Turner couldn’t refuse thousands of enthusiastic voices, so she returned to the stage, belting out COUNT ME IN. At last we got to hear a solo from the newest trumpeter--—but not new to Ruby, with whom he’s played before amongst many other impressive names-----Chris Storr, who calmly strolled up to the mike with a Gilligan hat pulled well over his face and delivered a truly gorgeous part on the trumpet. With the vocals taken care of by his guest, Jools began walking around the stage, calling up to the cheaper seats high behind the stage, either side of the massive pipe organ pipes, ‘hello, people in the restricted viewing area!’. He eventually explained that it was unfair for the sensational Ruby to have to do all the singing, and as the house lights came up upon us, he got us all to join in with the vocals, and even the previously feared strict ushers were playing along and singing. Once he was satisfied that we were happy with our role, Jools returned to his piano, as Deputy MC Phil took over the crowd control duties by clapping and encouraging us to do the same. Eventually, Ruby sensibly had enough of our singing and took over from us, until the song ended and everyone in the audience applauded enthusiastically, though not for ourselves, I’m sure. Exit Ruby.

Next, Jools introduced Sam Brown again along with the fantabulous soul and gospel legend Sam Moore, the surviving partner of Sam & Dave, who had many hits in the 60s including Soul Man. Both Sams shared a mike up front, looking into each others eyes—though Sam Moore was decked out in shades—whilst belting out TOGETHER WE ARE STRONG. This powerful song off the new album really was brilliant and so lively. After this stupendous display of vocals, Chris Holland played a brilliant solo on the organ, which had everyone clapping to the beat. At the end of this terrific number, the Sams hugged each other and left the stage.

Jools then led us with some boogie woogie piano into TUXEDO JUNCTION from the new album. Pete Long gave an admirable solo right away on the alto sax, then Phil joined in on tenor sax for an amazing arrangement that really brought this instrumental to vivid life. Pete finished up with another solo, before Jools jumped up and got the audience clapping even more. Jason then ran to the front with his trumpet in one hand and a trumpet mute in the other, which he applied to the trumpet on and off during an awesome solo. Nick had another sterling solo spot with his baritone saxophone, and all of the horns ended up just blaring away beautifully, until Gilson finished off the track with a flourish. The band then left the stage; it was 10pm.

After a thankfully brief wait, Jools, Chris and the rhythm section came back on for the encore. As Jools started demonstrating his talents of engaging far off corners of the audience (‘Are you going to boogie with us in the balcony?), the rest of the band slipped quietly onto the stage, and they launched into the fabulous GREY TO BLUE, with Jools providing marvellous vocals and Sam backing him up. The trombonists threw their arms in the air to get us to follow like a swaying Mexican wave stuck in the up position, which delighted everyone. Phil came forward with a wonderfully deep and moody part on the tenor sax, and at the end everyone gave the song the mass of cheers it deserved.

Next, Jools invited all of his guests (we understood he didn’t mean us though) back onto the stage, although sadly dear Chris Difford did not return. However, we did get Sam Moore, Sam Brown and Ruby Turner back to join Jools in performing WELL ALRIGHT, each doing a verse. Mark Flanagan took us back a few decades with an astounding rock ‘n’ roll solo on his guitar, then the delightfully dreadlocked Winston Rollins performed a marvellous solo on trombone. Winston turned out to be the Leo Green of trombone. Leo used to leap into the audience whilst playing sax and carry on doing so whilst rhythmically picking his way through the crowd until he eventually found his way out. You would think that wouldn’t work with trombone, what with the slide and all, but Winston was rushing all around the stage, leaning way out over the audience and, uh, sliding over our heads. We didn’t actually have to break his fall at any stage, as he sensibly kept his feet on the ground of the stage, but it was certainly a lively experience. When they all finished this terrific rendition of this now classic song, the band left us again.

Jools returned soon and told us the programme for the rest of the evening: we would be hearing a waltz and then a frenzy. The others all joined him on stage, Sam took centre stage and the twilight curtains accordingly took their place over the screen behind her. Sam had lost her hat by this stage but, surprisingly, not any part of her marvellous voice, and she led us through the peaceful VALENTINE MOON. The song is lovely as far as waltzes go, and I’m sure it’s terrific fun for Sam to sing a song that she co-wrote with Jools, but I can’t say that this is anything like a favourite song of mine. Both this year and last, it was presented as though it were a real treat for us, and certainly this year, after all the life and boogie we’d been experiencing, it just left everyone still standing but not dancing and feeling a bit lost during quite a long slow interval. I do admit that it is pretty, but perhaps my love for 80s nostalgia these days had me wishing that a preferred alternative would be to have Phil orchestrate Sam’s 80s hit Stop—which has worked with Marc Almond and Chris Difford. Stop was an extraordinary song that really showed off her voice and could be quite impressive with a slow, steamy build up of skilfully played horns. In any case, this rendition of Valentine Moon could not really be faulted, and it improved as it went along. Trombonist Roger Goslyn and some of the others helped with backing vocals, and Bammi gave a really strong flute solo at one stage. Then the trombone section started moving their instruments from side to side together in a bit of a slow dance to the music, which beautifully reflected the good spirits of the whole evening.

When Sam left the stage, Jools announced that we would have one more guest tonight (so it’s a good thing we brought them back for two encores, huh?). On marched amazing reggae legend Jimmy Cliff to perform his song from the new album, DREAMS. That song is the 21st track and still not the last one---all that fine music, all those guest stars, a skill-packed orchestra----talk about value for money! This song was a fabulous way to polish off the evening. Its brilliant reggae beat, the smooth crooning of Jimmy Cliff, and the wonderful music combined to make this catchy song even more memorable. A youthful Cliff stood front and centre wearing a bright red cap and bright everything else, physically looking whilst singing much like a pelican struggling to swallow a fish---arms pinned to his side, head back, neck stretched and head rocking from side to side. It was an amazing honour, really, to see this man at work, and in such grand company. Rico stood beside him to deliver a fine reggae trombone solo. This song is a bit like I’m in a Dancing Mood in terms of getting everyone to jump up and dance, probably even if they heard it on the radio rather than live.

Jimmy Cliff left us, and the still thrilled and excited crowd were told vaguely by Jools that he and the Orchestra were going to leave us ‘with a little piece we’ve got here’ . HONEYDRIPPER burst onto the scene as though a train were coming through the Hall. The saxes sounded wonderful in unison and when all the brass joined in, the strength of the sound was astounding. You would have expected them all to be utterly exhausted by now, but every musician busied him or herself with playing a perfect part, as always, and looking as though they’re having the best time ever, as we were. When the song dipped a bit, so did the lights, other than a huge spotlight on Gilson, who then launched into a truly awe-inspiring drum solo that, again, reminded me of something from Cab Calloway but became so much more energetic and spellbinding. He carried on whacking at the drums so long that the others slipped off for a break as he did so. This man has been playing drums for 33 years and survived a heart attack; you would almost be expecting him to be taking it easy. But that clearly would not be his style and there doesn’t seem to be any need for it, as he must be terrifically fit to sustain these sort of demands. The crowd was duly appreciative of his amazing feat, and the others slipped back on and carried on playing after Jools led them back in with his legendary piano playing. Just when you would think Gilson’s arms were about to fall off, he had another—albeit briefer—solo on the drums almost immediately. Then all these wondrous musicians blasted their little hearts out and every one took a bow and left us at about 10.30pm. How on earth all those people can play so hard, standing for two hours without a break, is beyond me, but I’m continually astounded by them and love every bit of it.

I wonder how many of us went to the concert hoping to see specific special guests based upon the possibilities presented by the latest album, such as Bryan Ferry and Ray Davies? How many brought extra knickers in case Tom Jones took the stage? How many of those were disappointed? None, I am certain of it. The only way the evening could have been made even remotely more intriguing would have been if perhaps Chris’ electric organ had been somehow connected to the massive pipes for the Albert Hall’s pipe organ behind him.

The fun for everyone is watching these amazing, energetic musicians, who not only seem to have a brilliant time themselves and create a fun-filled party atmosphere for us, but they are technically sublime, experts in their crafts. They clearly work hard but seem to be well rewarded by Jools, and each of them gets a moment in the spotlight. Even the lighting directors must be congratulated in creating the smoothest of party atmospheres—they always knew exactly whom to illuminate when—even when doing so as Jools name checked people at the end of a song. The cameras projecting images onto the big screen behind them all was also perfectly managed.

The night was the best Thanksgiving I’ve had since moving to London 13 years ago. It’s almost time to book for next year’s concert, and I can’t wait. I’m so thankful that Jools carries on with this tradition and that so many members of his band stick by him so we can return to see them over and over again. On our way out, even my friend with the earplugs admitted to having been absolutely delighted by the breath-taking show. PARDON?, I shouted.

And for those less masochistic of you who decided to skip to just the setlist, it is as follows (as far as I know):-

  1. Hamp’s Boogie
  2. I’m Gone
  3. Avenue C
  4. Out of This World
  5. What Goes Around
  6. Albert Ammons song (Jools--jazzy upbeat instrumental on piano)
  7. Mr Robert’s Roost
  8. The Hand That Changed Its Mind
  9. Dr Kildare theme (‘Three Stars Will Shine Tonight’)?
  10. [unknown Ruby Turner song—‘My man is a country man…’??]
  11. Nobody But You (Ruby Turner)
  12. Snowflake Boogie
  13. Teardrops in My Eyes
  14. Town and Country Rhythm and Blues (Chris Difford)
  15. Take Me I’m Yours (Chris Difford)
  16. Danger Man (?)
  17. Shake Rattle and Roll
  18. T-Bag Scuffle
  19. Count Me In (Ruby Turner)
  20. Together We Are Strong (Sam Moore & Sam Brown)
  21. Tuxedo Junction
  22. Grey to Blue
  23. Well Alright (Sam Moore, Ruby Turner, Sam Brown etc)
  24. Valentine Moon
  25. Dreams (Jimmy Cliff)
  26. Honeydripper

Copyright © 2003 by TC. All rights reserved.

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