An Evening of Rhythm and Blues

The Arts Centre was blessedly transformed back into a music venue last weekend, having done business as an exam hall for the past month. A rousing return to revelry was much appreciated, and who better to set the tone for the summer than Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra!

Opening the evening for Holland was Clive Gregson, a musical jack of all trades who has worked with a plethora of well-known names, from Nick Drake to Jimmy Buffett, through his long career. Greyson’s solo acoustic set exhibited a lot of what is good about modern folk music; with no mean skill on the guitar and showcasing his substantial songwriting talent to a packed hall, the ageing rocker was well received.

In spite of a well-crafted set that moved from folk through blues and country, Greyson’s inner guitar virtuoso just couldn’t wait to get out. Sadly, it should probably have stayed put. Good audience repartee that had a heavy focus on self-deprecation allowed his faults to be accepted with good grace. Don’t get me wrong, Greyson played a good crowd pleasing set and is obviously a considerable talent in the world of acoustic folk music; however, Gibson wielding axeman bestriding the stage afore a massed crowd of thousands he wasn’t. I just wish somebody had mentioned this to him before he began his journey up the fretboard for one last guitar solo.

Holland’s own twenty piece ensemble well and truly roused the crowd after the interval, with a well-rounded sound that well and truly shook out any stray cobwebs that had amassed over the exam season. Delivering an aural treat big enough to deserve the name orchestra, Holland’s band had the audience jiving in no time, with a solid rhythm section, fat brass sound and virtuoso performances from every band member through the course of the evening’s performance.

The first of the evening’s guest appearances was from Louise Marshall, whose powerful alto added an extra dimension to the already full-bodied sound. She complemented the bluesy horn section during a big band number before reaching soulful heights on the slower, piano driven Valentine Moon.

Playing with the band throughout the evening- and making the most of the opportunity for a solo performance- was ska music pioneer Rico Rodriguez. The trombonist, adorned in Jamaican national colours and looking as though he may have partaken slightly too much in pre-show herbal recreation, nevertheless added a distinct twist to the evening, and showed just how versatile the backing band could be in terms of style and genre.

Holland’s infectious stage presence remained strong throughout the evening, his audience repartee never fading and his piano skills as transcendent as ever. His brief flirtation with guitar playing seemed perhaps more of an opportunity to show off than a decision made for auditory improvement, however, his proficiency ensured that the small vanity could be easily overlooked.

The evening was rounded off with Holland announcing he was to “unleash the spirit of boogie” to get the audience even more mobile and raise those seated in the balcony to their feet, and introduced to the stage soul legend and “boogie-woogie queen” Ruby Turner. Turner rounded off what was a magnificent evening at the Arts Centre, with everyone leaving in high spirits after an encore of Enjoy Yourself, sung along with gusto by an audience well satisfied and looking forward to the summer.