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Concert Review by Nick Morgan

Ronnie Scott’s, London
March 7th 2009

It’s a full house at Ronnie Scott’s as a trim and dapper Georgie Fame takes to the stage for the first show of the evening. It’s the end of a seven-day residency – “it’s been a long week – and now all we have to do is blow our brains out for ninety minutes – twice”.

Ronnie Scott's London
Fact of the matter is that Fame and his band were probably holding a little in reserve for the second set (veteran saxophonist Alan Skidmore was certainly trying to avoid bleeding lips so early in the evening), but no-one in the audience was going to complain about that. Just like Ronnie Scott’s (this year celebrating a fiftieth birthday), where he’s been playing an annual residency for four decades, Fame is a British jazz institution. And this early Saturday evening audience – birthdays, anniversaries, you name it, they’re celebrating it - are looking for the sort of entertainment that Fame and his band are guaranteed to deliver.
And it’s not just music, fantastic solos almost casually thrown out with the sort of charming insouciance that one might expect from British jazz musicians, that we get. We are, after all, in the presence of one of the great personalities of UK music. Someone whose list of collaborators reads like a who’s who of jazz, R&B (as we used to call it) and even rock. Fame gently reminds us of his rank after song number two, ‘Get on the right track baby’. He leans forward over the keyboard of his Hammond organ (Fame, it is claimed, was among the first British musicians to adopt the Hammond) , and seems to manage to catch the eye of everyone (even those looking at his back) in the audience. Gerorgie Fame
He speaks with the authority of a benevolent uncle who brooks no contradiction. “Now, I personally believe that Ray Charles’ popularity in Europe was solely down to Eddie Cochran, who brought his love of Charles’ music to England when he toured here in 1960. That of course was the infamous tour when he died in a car-crash just outside Chippenham. I was his 16- year-old piano player”. There’s no bullshit here: Fame, whose face and grey hair may give away the years, but whose voice is astonishingly timeless, is the real thing, and he oozes an effortless coolness.
And who wouldn’t be cool with a band like this? Fame’s two sons, Tristan and James Powell, are on guitar and drums. Alec Dankworth, of the great jazz dynasty, is on bass. Anthony Kerr is playing vibraphone, Guy Barker trumpet, and Skidmore, apparently unencumbered by a bandaged hand, saxophone. It’s a band that’s been playing together for 15 years or more. There are more reminiscences from Fame: in “the obituary section” he plays a song he wrote for the recently-deceased Blossom Dearie, who had penned one for him after seeing him perform for the first time in the 1960s, and also recalls composer Steve Gray, who died last year. “This song needs an obituary too”, he says, before introducing ‘Yeah yeah’, his chart hit.
Skidmore rips his way through a solo on ‘Birdy birdy’ (“it’s as close to rock and roll as I can get these days”). And with his own Mose Allisonesque lyrics Fame sings some new songs – ‘All I know’, an exploration of the memory loss that comes with advancing age, and ‘Guantánamo by the sea’, thoughts prompted by a frustrating attempt to get a work permit at short notice to play at New York’s Blue Note Club.
This is a more than satisfactory performance. The playing is outstanding, the band all in equally good humour. And it’s not that we haven’t seen Fame perform before, by himself and with Van Morrison, it’s just that he simply belongs here – ‘forty years at Ronnie Scott’s and nothing changes’ he complains as he struggles to adjust the piano stool. He is, as we sometimes say, ‘in with the bricks’. So if you visit London, and get a chance to see him at Scott’s, then don’t hesitate to get a ticket, whatever the cost. - Nick Morgan
Listen: a nice and famous old one by Georgie Fame and the Blue Fames, Sitting in the park (1966)

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