Jools Holland and his band accentuate the positive

by Jeremy Miles

Jools Hollands Rhythm & Blues Orchestra: Bournemouth International Centre

Heralded by a fanfare of trumpets, Britain’s favourite bandleader steamed onto the stage at the BIC on Friday and with his brilliant 17-piece band in tow and delivered a night of good-time blues, boogie-woogie and big-band bonhomie.

Jools Holland of course makes it all look effortless. An adept showman, who somehow manages to remain low-key while sporting flashy red spats, he seamlessly drives the concert on with astonishing virtuoso piano but also draws on the many strengths of his band.

Stalwart members include his old Squeeze bandmate Gilson Lavis, who’s drumming is so central to the Rhythm and Blues’ Orchestra’s sound,  Mark Flanagan on guitar and Dave Swift on bass. Jools’ brother Chris is on keyboards ( he was raised by wolves in Deptford Park or so a cheeky JH informed us) and then there’s the  stunning 12-piece horn section. It’s a compelling line-up. Though notable by his absence  this year was Rico Rodriguez.

Jools Holland

Jools Holland

And when you add to that the brilliant vocals of the Queen of boogie-woogie herself Ruby Turner, regular vocalist Louise Marshal and third singer, Jools’ daughter Mabel Ray, who has also joined the family firm, you have something very special happening indeed.

A brief opening set by American singer-songwriter Galia Arad got the evening off to a great start. It was good to hear someone with strong songs and the kind of personality that could transcend the indignity of playing to an audience who had in the main never heard of her and, initially at least, weren’t particularly interested. In fact I am sure that Arad, a one-time New York Hedge Fund employee (though as she was at pains to point out “only on the reception desk”), gained quite a few fans. Guest star for the evening was Mel C. The woman, who in a previous life was Sporty Spice, proved a powerful and impressive vocalist and another example of how Jools Holland can spot a pop singer with serious talent at a thousand yards. Mel strutted her funky stuff with style, particularly impressing with a rousing version of  Nina Simone’s Ain’t Got No/I Got Life. There was much, much more. Big band classics like Tuxedo Junction, singalong favourites like Enjoy Yourself and Accentuate the Positive. Even a boogie-woogie tribute to Richard Wagner to celebrate the great composer’s 200th birthday.

A lovely evening which, without resort to too much tinsel and tat, managed to encapsulate the spirit of Christmas and New Year. But then the concert came just a couple of days after Jools and the boys and girls suspended disbelief, walked into a TV studio and recorded the 2013/14 Hootenanny. It’ll be a classic I am told.

Jeremy Miles