What is noteworthy about Jools Holland is that he seems to relish every minute of performing, and there is absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind that he is exceptionally good at it. However, one notices pretty soon at a gig with his 15 piece Rhythm & Blues Orchestra that it is clear Holland is not the only consummate talent on stage. Every one of the brass section, which consists of five saxophones, three trombones and three trumpets could easily hold the stage on their own, as is evident when Holland showcases their solo performances, and that’s just for starters. Christopher Holland, the other pianist in the orchestra, gives the former Squeeze musician a run for his money, but Jools is not at all fazed and actually seems genuinely in awe of his talent; but then they are brothers.
The show begins with a high energy number and Holland delivers everything we expect, finding his musical offering matched with an accompanying roar from the delighted crowd. The music parades through blues, swing, boogie-woogie, rock and roll, jazz and gospel numbers and at times the orchestra is like a mighty wall of harmonic sound. You can choose to tune in to the intricacies of the arrangements or the expertise of an individual musician or you can simply drink in the whole effect and be astounded.
Holland’s newest and youngest band-member, his daughter Mabel Ray, has a sweet but unique quality to her voice, which is very fitting for her rendition of “Sweet Bitter Love”. She lacks the confidence of Louise Marshall and Ruby Turner, but she definitely is one to watch, because her raw talent is unmistakable. Resident vocalist, Louise Marshall, and special guest, Rumer, sparkle almost as much as Rumer’s dress. Her rendition of “God Bless the Child” is sultry and smooth and her version of “Accentuate the positive?” is cheeky and fresh. Marc Almond, Holland’s other guest vocalist, virtually capers onto the stage and boy does he still have it. It is at this point that the gig really hots up. He opens with “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye” before plunging into an inspiring performance of the Edith Piaf song “If You Love Me, Really Love Me”. Of course it wouldn’t be right without “Tainted Love”, and Holland’s arrangement is simply superb. The audience are on their feet, and so is Holland, and there is a real sense of joy in the room as Almond astounds and delights the happy throng with the realisation that he is no 80s has-been, but an impeccable talent. He runs across the stage with all the enthusiasm of a child at Christmas and his energy lights up the room.
At this point in the show the sheer fun on stage is infectious. Holland introduces Ruby Turner as “The Boogie-Woogie Queen”, but it doesn’t do her justice. She takes it to another level, giving it everything she has and more. As her honeyed tones reach higher and greater levels the audience is astounded and when she is finished it seems like she has nothing more to give, but two minutes later she is back leading the encore.
As always, this is not simply Jools Holland. Yes, he might be the big name on the front of the programme, but this is a collective. A collective of jaw-droppingly, toe-tappingly, show-stoppingly fine musicians who together urge audiences to ‘Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think’.
Four and a half stars
I saw Jools Holland and his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra at Symphony Hall, Birmingham on 17th December 2014
Originally written for http://www.thereviewshub.com and reproduced here with their permission