Jools Holland & His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra - Wolverhampton Civic Hall
I won’t lie, I don’t know much about boogie-woogie. Hardly anything, in fact. However, the twelve year-old keyboard enthusiast in me (my specialty was ‘For Once In My Life’) has always had a soft spot for Jools Holland, turning on his TV show late on Friday nights (that’s what playing keyboards instead of guitar will do, kiddies) to listen to new music acts and discover the established ones that dads talked about. More importantly, Later… has always been a live platform for singers and bands, giving it a ring of authenticity when so many other music shows have sought to smooth out the rough edges; indeed, Holland himself – to his detractors’ eternal annoyance – has got involved, pairing up with some incredible talent for snatches of duets with his fingers on keys.
That’s why, when given the opportunity to catch Holland in a live setting with the rest of his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra, I was intrigued not least because his recent The Golden Age of Song compilation has some stonking moments on it. Also, a chance to earn pointers off Mom, a willing plus-one, is never to be sniffed at. In the end, it was just what I expected but maybe a little more, and a very chuffed mother now ranks it up there as one of her best gigs – and she’s a tough crowd, so well done Jools!
The setup was thus: Holland on piano (well, duh!) and surrounded by a very talented collective, from an eleven-piece brass ensemble to longtime drummer Gilson Lavis. Even little brother Christopher was on board, providing extra keys and also filling the support act slot for the night. Although Holland is the ringmaster, ushering vocalists and players into the spotlight for their solos and often leading the band in, it’s a group effort and it’s this that keeps the momentum going for over 90 minutes. Fine Young Cannibal frontman Roland Gift pops up for three songs halfway in, marking the point where the seated crowd get up and then do not sit down for the remainder of the evening; however, Holland also has two very fine young female vocalists who shine as well as a not-so-secret weapon that trumps Gift in the form of Ruby Turner.
The final third of the show is fronted by Turner’s vocal powerhouse, as showcased on Holland’s annual New Year ‘Hootenanny’ shows, and it’s here where the now-standing crowd take to the aisles to dance, a number of older couples taking the opportunity to spin and twirl each other with abandon. Simply put, I’ve never seen music have such an effect at a gig by an indie band, even a dance act. A rousing ‘Enjoy Yourself’ is the zenith, with the whole of Wolves Civic not only dancing but singing along too (Mother McNaney even provided wolf whistles), and by this point even those with little knowledge of boogie-woogie can’t help but be swept along in the enthusiasm and sheer craft being displayed onstage. It never feels indulgent (even when there’s a five-minute drum solo) and, aside from a few down-tempo ballads performed with gusto, it really is just one long big, exquisitely played party. Who needs the big guest names? If anyone can bring the Hootenanny to Wolverhampton, it’s Jools.