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.

Putting the sole into soul, Paul Carrack takes on lockdown isolation in a One On One situation for September’s DIY album

“The sound of the record is warm, I think, and engaging, and nourishing,” says Paul Carrack of his new album, One On One. Picture: Nico Wills Cornbury

SHEFFIELD voice of soul Paul Carrack will play York Barbican on February 17 on next year’s Good & Ready tour on the back of releasing his 18th solo studio album next month.

Created in his home studio base “when lockdown cast its unwelcome shadow on the music business”, One On One will be out on September 17 on his own label, Carrack-UK.

This will be his first album since These Days in 2018, a year when he performed at York Barbican on February 16.

Singer, songwriter, keyboard player and guitarist Carrack, 70, has run his record label and touring operation for more than 20 years, equipping him with a do-it-yourself mentality to cope with the need to adapt to pandemic restrictions.

Paul Carrack playing York Barbican in the pre-Covid live years in February 2018. Picture: Simon Bartle

He not only wrote, played and recorded the album, but this time, answering to his muse and trusting his instincts, he even mixed it too. From the voice of Mike + The Mechanics’ The Living Years, you could almost call One On One the result of his live-in years.

Aside from cameos from the likes of a long-time friend and collaborator, ex-Pretenders guitarist Robbie McIntosh, and former James Brown sideman Alfred ‘Pee Wee’ Ellis, he often worked on his own, effectively a one-man band on a defiantly live-sounding album, where only one song existed in demo form beforehand. Carrack conjured the rest during lockdown, the mood set by the opening track, the tour title-inspiring Good & Ready.

“The sound of the record is warm, I think, and engaging, and nourishing,” he says. “There’s two ballads on there, but the rest of it is surprisingly upbeat. I think that’s maybe because we were mid-tour when the touring was shut down, but I was still in a kind of ‘live’ mode.”

The “decidedly funky” A Long Way To Go is boosted by a stellar horn section, arranged by Carrack’s long-time neighbour, but new friend, Dave Arch.

The album artwork for One On One, out on September 17

“I gave Dave the midi part that I’d written, and he transcribed it, and voiced it properly,” says Carrack. “You can’t beat real horns. So, we had Steve Beighton, of course, who’s been in my band for 20 years and tours with me all the time.

“We got the legendary ‘Pee Wee’ Ellis, of James Brown and Van Morrison fame, Dennis Rollins on trombone, and Andy Greenwood on trumpet. So, we recorded the horns in [the studio] here, and they sound great. And backing vocals by Michelle John, who I met working in Eric Clapton’s band. She’s absolutely unbelievable.”

Moments from Carrack’s personal life inform One On One. I Miss You So, for example, emerged from not being able to visit his daughter, after she gave birth to his new granddaughter early in 2020.

It is never a case, however, of Carrack capitalising on a situation for a tune. “I hardly ever have a plan about writing a song,” he says. “I come in here, I sit at the keyboard, or the guitar, get something going, start some lines off the top of my head. And without trying to sound too pretentious, things come out.”

Paul Carrack playing at the Underneath The Stars Festival at Cinderhill Farm, Barnsley, last Friday

The ballad You’re Not Alone was released in February as the first single from the album, subsequently being picked as a BBC Radio 2 Record of The Week. “I think I was listening to a conversation on the radio, or something, and somebody said, ‘Well, if you think the world’s going mad, you’re not alone’. And I thought, ‘Yeah’,” recalls Carrack. “The sentiment is one of support really, for someone very close who was struggling with the anxiety of lockdown.”

The swinging Lighten Up Your Mood has another ‘Pee Wee’ horn arrangement and the slinky When Love Is Blind features Carrack’s son, Jack, on drums. Normally, he would have played on the whole album, had he not been living on the other side of town.

Shame On You, Shame On Me has shades of Carrack’s original 1960s’ heroes such as Ray Charles, while Set Me Free carries a simple message for our times. “Not trying to be political or anything, more a cry from the heart to get back to some kind of normal,” he says. “I’m lucky, I live in a nice place, I’ve got a great family, but we definitely miss being out on the road.”

One On One closes with Carrack’s latest re-make of a time-worn favourite, in the wake of The Young Rascals’ Groovin’, Jackie DeShannon’s When You Walk In The Room and Goffin & King’s When My Little Girl Is Smiling. This time, he enriches Charlie Rich’s country crossover hit of 1973, Behind Closed Doors.

Paul Carrack will play 27 dates on next year’s tour

The full track listing is: Good & Ready; A Long Way To Go; I Miss You So; You’re Not Alone; Lighten Up Your Mood; Precious Time; When Love Is Blind; Shame On You, Shame On Me; Set Me Free and Behind Closed Doors.

Now that doors are open once more for gigging, Carrack will play Rye Jazz Festival, Bexhill on Sea, on August 26, followed by three autumn shows that will kick off at Hull Bonus Arena on October 19.

Next year’s 27-date Good & Ready tour will feature three Yorkshire gigs: Hull City Hall on January 22, York Barbican on February 17 and a homecoming finale at Sheffield City Hall on March 19.

York tickets for the soulful vocal sound of Ace’s How Long, Squeeze’s Tempted and Mike + The Mechanics’ Over My Shoulder, Silent Running and The Living Years are on sale at yorkbarbican.co.uk. For Hull Bonus Arena, premier.ticketek.co.uk; Hull City Hall, hulltheatres.co.uk; Sheffield, sheffieldcityhall.co.uk.