Reviewer: James Garrington
Jools Holland is a familiar sight on our television screens. As well as presenting a regular TV programme throughout the year, he is now an almost permanent fixture on New Year’s Eve when he presents his annual Hootenanny. This stop at Symphony Hall is part of a tour that will take him and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra around the country until next Easter.
The evening starts with a fairly low-key but nonetheless pleasant and entertaining 25 minute set from Holland’s guitarist, Mark Flanagan. Alone on the stage, accompanied only by his own guitar, he presents a set of blues with hints of folk and country thrown in. Flanagan is clearly a very talented musician and has a pleasing voice, ideal as an introduction to the main event of the evening.
Following a break, Jools Holland and his orchestra take the stage and for a moment the quiet mood continues as Holland plays – until, after only a few seconds, the stage bursts into life as the orchestra launch into the first number of their set. The music that is presented has huge variety. In addition to classic Rhythm and Blues numbers, Holland seems able to turn his hand to almost anything: so the audience are treated to a ‘Three minute Tannhauser’ to celebrate Wagner’s 200th birthday, very cleverly done to present some of the more popular melodies from the opera, but with an underlying Boogie Woogie rhythm driving the music forward. As the evening progresses, there are also touches of Glenn Miller, Bach and Reggae.
For this tour, Holland is joined by two guest vocalists to add to the talent he has in his orchestra. Melanie C, originally one of the Spice Girls of course, is in exuberant form as she presents a short set including Nina Simone’s ‘Ain’t Got No’ and Stevie Wonder’s ‘I Wish’. Later on the evening, Holland is joined by – as her introduces her – ‘The Queen of Boogie Woogie’, Ruby Turner. Turner’s set is full of energy as she sails through number after number with so much emotion that she seems physically drained by the end.
Holland has reintroduced the classic Big Band feel, but with a modern twist. His 15-piece orchestra delivers what is almost a wall of sound, with two vocalists adding an extra dimension. As the evening progresses, every one of those musicians proves their skill by presenting some solo or other – and what a talented group they are. There are many highlights during the long evening, including a beautiful version of ‘Valentine Moon’ by Holland’s own vocalist, the talented Louise Marshall who proves that she can perform just as well as the star names on the programme. Drummer Gilson Lavis presents a spectacular solo including something that I certainly have never seen before: part way through, he broke the head on his snare drum and, without missing a beat, he lifted first the drum then the stand out, and once the drum had been replaced he lifted them both back into position. You can only marvel at the skill and confidence that enable him to not only continue the solo with a broken drum but actually get it repaired too.
It would also be wrong not to mention Holland’s own superlative skill as a pianist, and the energy he himself gives to the performance. He hardly leaves the stage for the entire set, and when he is on he is invariably playing either his piano or a second keyboard. His skill is matched by his brother Christopher, who plays keys in the orchestra and joins Jools at the piano for a memorable duet. The whole experience is complemented by colourful lighting which sets the mood for the different numbers.
The concert finishes with two of Holland’s best-loved and popular sing-along numbers: ‘When You’re Smiling’ and ‘It’s Later than you Think’; and by that time the audience were certainly smiling, and it was also later than anyone might have thought when the evening started, as Holland and his orchestra had been on stage non-stop for some two and a quarter hours of high-energy, spectacular fun. Highly recommended.
Reviewed on 8th December 2013; on tour until 17th April 2014