REVIEW: Jools Holland & His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra, York Barbican, 5/11/2021

Jools Holland: No Friday fry-up at Wackers, but a feast of a blues, ska and boogie-woogie set with Chris Difford, Lulu and Ruby Turner at full power at York Barbican

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.

Squeeze up! Glenn Tilbrook puts The Crescent in his diary for March concert

Glenn Tilbrook: Heading for The Crescent in 2022

GLENN Tilbrook will play The Crescent in York on March 13…next year.

As far away as the gig is, nevertheless tickets have gone on sale already for the solo show by the Squeeze singer, songwriter and guitarist, now 63.

More than 45 years after he first answered an ad placed by Chris Difford, looking for like-minded sorts to form the Deptford band that became the evergreen Squeeze, an ending is nowhere in sight.

Squeeze made their recording bow with the Packet Of Three EP in 1977 and a multitude of hits ensued: Take Me I’m Yours; Cool For Cats; Goodbye Girl; Up The Junction; Pulling Mussels; Another Nail In My Heart; Tempted; Labelled With Love; Black Coffee In Bed; Is That Love and Hourglass, complemented by such albums as Argybargy, East Side Story and Some Fantastic Place.

A series of solo albums have ensued, kicking off with 2001’s The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook, followed by 2004’s Transatlantic Ping-Pong and 2009’s Pandemonium Ensues, made with his solo touring band The Fluffers. In 2014 came the mostly acoustic Happy Ending, his most personal work to date with its series of evocative portraits of time, people and places.

Presented by The Gig Cartel, tickets for Tilbrook’s show cost £20 at seetickets.com.

Leo Sayer and Squeeze’s Chris Difford to join Jools Holland for York Barbican gig

Jools Holland: on tour for 32 autumn and winter dates

BOOGIE WOOGIE pianist Jools Holland and His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra will be joined on tour for the first time by veteran singer Leo Sayer, as well as original Squeeze compadre Chris Difford.

Both Sayer and Difford will perform at York Barbican on November 11, Harrogate International Centre on November 27 and Leeds First Direct Arena on the 32-date itinerary’s closing night, December 20. Sayer, but not Difford, will be a guest at Holland’s Sheffield City Hall show on December 3.

Tickets for Holland’s 24th autumn and winter tour will go on sale at 10am on Friday (February 7) via Ticketmaster, See Tickets, Ticketline and Stargreen, as well as the venues.

Leo Sayer: touring with Jools Holland’s orchestra for the first time in 2020

Joining jaunty Jools too will be two long-term participants, gospel, blues and soul singer Ruby Turner, who has written songs with Holland, and original Squeeze drummer Gilson Lavis. Regular vocalist Louise Marshall will be there each show too.

Sayer, 71, who became an Australian citizen in 2009 after moving to Sydney, New South Wales, in 2005, charted in the Top Ten with all of his first seven hits between 1973 and 1978: The Show Must Go On, One Man Band, Long Tall Glasses (I Can Dance), Moonlighting, You Make Me Feel Like Dancing, the chart-topping When I Need You and How Much Love.

Further success followed with I Can’t Stop Loving You (Though I Try) and More Than I Can Say in 1978, Have You Ever Been In Love in 1982 and Thunder In My Heart, contributing vocals to Meck’s number one in 2006.

Chris Difford: Squeezing in autumn and winter dates with Jools Holland

Difford, Holland’s fellow Squeeze co-founder, has worked through the years with Glen Tilbrook, also writing with Elton John, Paul Carrack, Lisa Stansfield, Bryan Ferry, Helen Shapiro, Elvis Costello and Holland too, who calls him “the John Lennon of London, the John Betjeman of Blackheath and the Alain Delon of Deptford”.

Holland and his orchestra have performed previously with Eddi Reader, Lulu, Joss Stone, Fine Young Cannibals’ Roland Gift, Spice Girl Melanie C and Marc Almond. For his 2020 tour, UB40 featuring Ali and Astro will join him for three November gigs in Guildford and London.  

Jools is recording his next album, whose focus will be on piano stylings, duets and collaborations with top instrumentalists, for autumn release.

Tickets for York Barbican, where Holland last played on October 31 2019, will be on sale on 0203 356 5441, at yorkbarbican.co.uk or in person from the Barbican box office; Harrogate, 01423 502116 or harrogatetheatre.co.uk; Leeds, firstdirectarena.com; Sheffield, 0114 278 9789 or sheffieldcityhall.co.uk.