JAUNTY Jools Holland loves York. One of his favourite gigs, one of his favourite places, he says, as he makes his dapper way to the grand piano.
“Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he”, you might sneer, “he’s just playing to the crowd”. Let CharlesHutchPress know if he uttered the same sentiment at Harrogate Conference Centre tonight!
The thing is, Londoner Jools does love York, and in particular he loves the pensioner’s meal deal with a free cup of tea at Wackers. Except that, on arrival, he discovered his favourite fish and chip joint was no more; the chips were down, permanently; another sad change since he last toured pre-pandemic.
He cheered, we cheered, he shouted, we shouted, as he played the chirpy ringmaster once more, introducing his speciality acts, bantering to and fro with the full house, and revelling in the company of his restored rhythm and blues orchestra.
After all those Covid months of cobwebbed closure and silent nights, the sight of a stage stuffed to the gills with brilliant players brought joy uncontained to a Barbican gathering that was up for a party from the off.
To one side were Jools’s brother, Christopher, beneath a natty hat on keyboards, guitarist Mark Flanagan and stand-up bassist Dave Swift. Squeezed in at the back was Gilson Lavis, as imperturbable as the late Charlie Watts, on drums.
To the other side was a multi-storey horn section, and to misappropriate the style of a certain Christmas Carol: on the fifth day of November, York-loving Jools gave to us: three trumpet players, three trombones, five gold saxophones. Forever on the move, in the swing, they urged each other on, enjoying each solo spotlight as much as the audience.
In the middle, pulling the strings, was Jools. Oh, and yes, sir, he can boogie, boogie woogie, all night long, or more precisely from 8.20pm to 10.07pm, on his piano. A big screen showed his flying fingers in close-up and the cut of his dandy tailoring too.
That screen combined graphics with live footage, opening with the image of theatre curtains, later showing photographs of Holland, Lavis and special guest Chris Difford in Squeeze days.
Jools plugged his new lockdown album Pianola. Piano & Friends – out on November 19 on Warner Music – most notably for the irresistibly perky, fabulously funky single Do The Boogie, co-written with Mousse T, and when filling in for Tom Jones’s vocal on the soulful Forgive Me. Morris Dance, an instrumental homage to his dog of that name, was a blast too.
The vocalists kept a’coming: tour regulars Louise Marshall and Lucita Jules; then Chris Difford, immaculate in a blue suit, white shirt and scholarly specs, with a deliciously dry-humoured line in anecdotes.
Take Me I’m Yours acquired ska trim, a 1974 Difford-Holland composition was aired for the first time, and a big-band Cool For Cats ended with Difford clouded in dry ice as he recalled Cliff Richard’s propensity for doing likewise whenever he shared the Top Of The Pops studio with Squeeze. “I thought he had no legs,” deadpanned Difford, newly tagged “Cliff Difford” by Jools as he departed.
From The Selecter’s Pauline Black to Marc Almond to Beth Rowley, Jools has had a canny knack of picking just the right vocalists for framing their songs in ska, blues and brass-powered settings. To that list now add Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie.
Yes, enter Lulu, now 73, all in black, even for the darkest of dark glasses, for an unnamed opening shot of the blues and a quick dig at British music for being “wet” before The Beatles before a knock-out version of Ray Charles’s Hit The Road Jack. Glasses off, how else she could she finish but with her teen anthem. Well, you know, you make her wanna Shout. Come on now, who didn’t join in, hands jumping, heart’s bumping? We all did!
How could Jools top that? It must be time for blues royalty, Ruby, Ruby, Ruby. Here comes Ruby Turner, first warming up with a couple of looseners, then hitting her stride in I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free, and then…the moment. Ruby Turner overdrive, as she reached for gospel glory in Peace In The Valley, waking up the entire neighbourhood. The Barbican rocked, the earth moved, time for a breather.
Of course the triple-decker encore had to have the obligatory Enjoy Yourself as the meat in Jools’s sandwich. The years may be going by as quickly as you wink, but how good it felt to still be in the pink on a Friday night in York, as the fireworks went off all around us in the night sky as we departed.
Review by Charles Hutchinson
Jools Holland & His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra play Leeds First Direct Arena on December 17; doors, 6.30pm. Box office: firstdirectarena.com.