Actually, that’s the title of a song by Clive Gregson. I’d heard of him before, but not heard him. Last night he was the support act for Jools Holland at the brilliant St George’s Hall in Bradford. I know two gigs in three days sounds excessive (Imelda May supported by Big Boy Bloater in York last Friday), but I had a couple of days break – the only break between August and post-Christmas – and it was my birthday!

Clive Gregson was fantastic. Like Bruce Cockburn, you can’t hide when you are playing acoustic guitar in front of a live audience. Great songs, great musicianship, great chat to the audience – Clive set up a great evening. (Sorry for the superlatives, but it just was great.)

I have seen Jools Holland every year for the last decade or more – usually at the Royal Albert Hall or in Croydon. Last night he had the usual suspects with him: Ruby Turner, Louise Marshall and, standing in for the cancelled Shane MacGowan (ex-Pogues), the inimitable and always understated Chris Difford (Up the Junction, Cool for Cats, etc.). Other tour dates have Sandy Shaw and the epic German rocker Herbert Grönemeyer (who I once saw live in a stadium in Linz, Austria – long story…) with Jools, but I was happy with Squeeze‘s Chris Difford who has supported him many times.

This gig is worth every penny. It is sheer energetic joy from beginning to end – an evening devoted to brilliant musicianship from people who clearly love what they are doing and draw the audience (however reluctantly) into a serious bit of bopping. From the moment Jools walks onto stage the music doesn’t stop – boogie woogie, blues, ska, etc. See here for previous posts on these gigs. Sheer unadulterated joy. Even an embarrassment like me can’t help but try to dance.

I realise this is a bit of a tenuous link, but it was in my mind while writing. Yesterday began with the Remembrance parade at the Cenotaph in Bradford – always a moving event, but especially when a photograph of someone’s son killed in Afghanistan or Iraq is placed among the wreaths. Remembrance isn’t simply about history or the past. It brings the past into the present and reinforces the responsibility to deal justly in the present in order to vindicate the sacrifices of the past in order better to shape a common future. But, memory is not restricted to wars and the military; it drives us back to the whole of life’s experiences.

Much of the music played yesterday had its ultimate roots in the experiences of the slaves. Black music didn’t just give expression to the misery of loss and humiliation, but it also confounded that subjection with musical exuberance and joy that promised a future. The language of Exodus fired the hope of a people who knew that empires come and go, that ‘now’ isn’t the final word, that ‘justice will out’. It defiantly dances in the face of the miserable oppressor who above all fears losing his status or possessions.

Or, as Clive Gregson puts it on his album Bittersweet:

The door is open, somewhere, somehow,

There has to be a better life than the one we’re living now,

I won’t believe it’s for a chosen few,

The door is open, let’s go on through…


One of the best nights of the year in my little life has to be Jools Holland at the Royal Albert Hall in London. We get there each year courtesy of a mate of mine and it is just brilliant. Every time. Without fail.

Not only do you get the huge sound of Jools himself on piano, but also the most amazing array of musical talent you could hope to see. Three great trumpeters, four trombonists, five saxophonists enjoy their way through a beautiful noise. Gilson Lavis takes my breath away as probably the best drummer I have ever seen – his long solos bring the audience to their feet. Dave Swift is the coolest bass player ever. Mark Flanagan is the Scouse guitarist who makes playing the blues look easy. Chris Holland brings the organ alive with a never-intrusive finesse. The sound is huge and you can’t help but get up and dance. Even in a box.

And not only does Jools give a couple of hours of totally enjoyable and flawless entertainment, but he gives spotlight space to the wonderful voices of Louise Marshall and Ruby Turner (the Queen of Boogie-Woogie). They best their way through song after song with a joy and energy that has to be seen to be believed.

The other great thing is how Jools nurtures new talent and gives space for younger musicians to learn their trade and play to huge audiences they could never command for themselves at this stage of their career. Look where the wonderful rockabilly Imelda May is now. This time it was Rumer in support – great singer, lovely voice, but a bit samey…

However, it is the main guests who do the challenging stuff. In the past we’ve seen Paul Rodgers, Jimmy Cliff, Lulu, Marc Almond, Solomon Burke and other greats. This time it was Alison Moyet and she didn’t disappoint for a single second. No prima donna showmanship – just excellent music from excellent musicians at the top of their game.

Can it get any better than this? Well, try Rico Rodriguez doing a ska version of Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World. One of the creators of Jamaican ska, he doesn’t seem to care what anyone thinks and just sings his way through. He gives another go in the first encore with the glorious:

Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think. Enjoy yourself while you’re still in the pink. As years go by as quickly as a wink, enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.

(Which is parodied by one of the crew as ‘Endure this song, it’s longer than you think…’)

Jools tours most of the year. Go to the website. Book for a gig near you. You will not regret it. Whatever your taste in music, this is musicianship at its joyful best.