Live Music Review: Jools Holland and his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra

Jools Holland and his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra played a storming gig at Cork Opera House, writes Des O'Driscoll

Jools Holland
Jools Holland

While music fans were watching Jools Holland introduce the first episode of his new Later Live series on BBC on Thursday, the wonders of either bi-location or pre-recording meant a thronged Cork Opera House got to see him in the flesh performing a magnificent gig with his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra.

Despite a hefty ticket price of €69, the show sold out quickly when announced back in spring, and by the end of the night most attendees were in agreement it was worth every cent. In fairness, it’s not a cheap show to put on. As well as the main man, there are 16 musicians on stage — 11 of them brass — and also up to four vocalists, including Eddi Reader and Ruby Turner for this tour. That’s a lot of talented mouths to move and feed.

Another element ticking the value box is that a set of almost two hours feels like at least three gigs in one. Holland and the band start off with some old-style rhythm and blues, the brass players taking their turns to come to the front for short solos. The virtuosic outfit also included Gilson Lavis, a former drummer with Holland’s old band Squeeze, the remnants of which had graced the same stage a few nightsearlier.

One former regular missing from this lineup was the late Rico Rodriguez — possibly best known from his work with The Specials — and a lovely version of ska classic ‘Carry Go Bring Come’ pays tribute to the great trombonist on what would have been his birthday (he died in 2015).

By the midway point of the gig, Eddi Reader takes to the stage, so charming as she channels her inner Edith Piaf for a loungey ‘La Vie En Rose’, and bringing everyone to their feet for a singalong with her Fairground Attraction hit ‘Perfect’.

From there, Holland — front and centre with his piano — takes us to a boogie-woogie wonderland and onto arguably the highlight of the night with the vocals of Ruby Turner. The Jamaican-Brummie has had a fairly decent career, but here stakes her claim to major stardom with serious soul and gospel bona-fides. Worth the price of admission alone.

For the encore, the entire ensemble reunites on stage for ‘Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think)’, a song that reminds us to make the most of life, apt indeed in the midst of a celebration of great music that really did leave us in the pink.

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