Two Sirs, with love

It was beneath a warm Tuscan sky in July that we took our seats for the second gig of the 19th Lucca Summer Festival. It was surreal in so many ways.

Our seats were in the front row, the outdoor venue (Piazza Napoleone, in the heart of the historic walled city) was magnificent, we were on our first-ever trip to Italy and we were about to see two legends on stage: Sir Van Morrison and Sir Tom Jones. I was lost for words.

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The couple sitting next to us arrived shortly after we did. She was beside herself, and I couldn’t help but engage with her. While we were there for Van Morrison, she – and her reluctant partner – were there to see Tom Jones.

“I don’t know what it is – whenever I see him, I just go funny all over. He doesn’t have to sing or anything – just looking at him, I just go all funny. I’ve never known anything like it. He doesn’t like it,” she said, pointing to her disengaged, eye-rolling partner.

On the dot of 8.30pm, Van Morrison and his band opened the show with the beautiful and lyrical Moondance. With characteristic lack of engagement with the audience, Van moved on to The Way Young Lovers Do and Magic Time, with its superb trumpet solo.

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He followed with By His Grace, Someone Like You (the romance in both the melody and lyrics floor me, as did the performance of Van’s stunning backing vocalist, Dana Masters), Whenever God Shines His light, a fabulous remix of Have I told you lately, and Wild Night.

I’ve learnt that when Van picks up his harmonica, he starts to play it upside-down. He did so and remedied it quickly in the intro to the stunning Enlightenment, and again enthralled with his saxophone in Little Village.

It was at this point that my neighbour demonstrated what ‘going all funny’ meant. She jumped six inches off her seat, her legs went flying and kicking, and she screamed spontaneously. She was the first of thousands to scream in adoration as Sir Tom Jones strode across the stage in front of us to join his good friend, Van, for What Am I Living For?

It was Sir Tom who introduced their second number – “This is one we actually recorded together,” – Sometimes We Cry.

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Sir Tom left the stage and Van picked up the pace with a medley of Baby Please Don’t Go / Don’t Start Crying Now and, as the light began to fade, Here Comes the Night. He followed with the lilting and romantic In the Afternoon / Ancient Highway / Raincheck, before strapping on his guitar for The Beauty of the Days Gone By, Why Must I Always Explain, and Think Twice Before You Go.

Van took his cordless mic, and I knew the end of his set was in sight. Not before the popular Brown Eyed Girl and Help Me. A quick “Thank you!” and he walked off the stage.

He responded to the audience’s applause and imploring screams to come back, and we leapt to our feet to his rousing, signature encore: Gloria. Van briefly thanked his band and, at 10pm, left the stage.

I often listen to Van – and on such wonderful occasions as this, watch him – and wonder where the music comes from. Where does he find it? That depth of passion and emotion? His words reflect deep, deep feelings and he writes extraordinary, awe-inspiring music to express it.

I don’t go ‘all funny’ when I see Van. But when I listen to his music, he reaches me in places I didn’t know could be reached. His gift is astonishing, his music sublime. He speaks a lot about ‘transcendence’; I think I’m getting to understand just what he means.

It was 10.30pm, the beautiful Lucca night was gently cooling and Sir Tom walked on to the stage with his fabulous band. After a moving Burning Hell, he greeted the audience in Tom style.

“Everybody feeling all right? Are we gonna have a good time?”

He talked about his years in Las Vegas in the ’60s, and introduced his next song:  Run On.

“I used to spend time with Elvis Presley. After the shows, we’d sing all night – well, he did and I’d listen. He loved gospel music, bless him. I learnt a lot from him.”

His huge band backed him with enthusiasm, a huge amount of fun and jolly fine music. We couldn’t take our eyes off the horn section – the saxophone, trumpet and trombone/tuba players. The three excellent musicians who sang, danced and interpreted the lyrics in such a spirit of fun were a delight to watch!

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Sir Tom followed with the popular Hit Or Miss, Mama Told Me Not to Come, Didn’t It Rain, and the wildly ‘funny-inducing’ Sex Bomb.

“Grazie!” he yelled to the audience. We responded loudly with screams and whistles.

After a brief nod to the recent wins of his much-adored Welsh football team, he talked about his late wife.

“When I used to make a new album, I’d bring it home and play it for my wife, Linda. She always had a favourite song. This was hers on my new album, The Long Lost Suitcase.

After a beautiful and emotional Tomorrow Night, he said, “Ok. Well, here’s a happy song!”

A delightful and high-energy Raise a Ruckus drew huge applause and a huge “Yeah!” from the 76-year-old legend.

Take My Love (I Want to Give it All to You), led into the new Latin-esque Delilah. This got his band dancing and the entire audience singing.

“I love Lucca! It’s humid, and that’s good for the voice. That’s why Italy has so many good singers. And why Wales does too!”

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The Soul of the Man followed, then Elvis Presley Blues – a haunting tribute to Elvis, written by Gillian Welch. The Tower of Song, and Green Green Grass of Home and a samba version of It’s Not Unusual were followed by a raunchy You Can Leave Your Hat On.

Between each number, Sir Tom yelled, “Yeah?” We responded, “Yeah!”, so he yelled, “Oh yeah! Come on!”

After If I Only Knew, Sonny Boy Williamson’s Early In the Morning offered each of Sir Tom’s band members a chance in the spotlight. As  I Wish You Would ended, Tom left the stage and the audience screaming, whistling and shouting for more.

It was past midnight, and Sir Tom and his band came back on stage for Thunderball, with a collage of Bond movie-clips on screen behind them. The beautiful Kiss, a gracious tribute “to the genius that is Prince”, was followed by a song that Tom described as “rock ‘n roll, blues, gospel, with some boogie woogie on the side”. An extraordinarily arranged Strange Things Happening Every Day showcased his band’s energy and depth of talent, and ended the evening on a high.

Sir Tom Jones, to the adoring screams of thousands of devoted – and a whole lot of new – fans, assembled his band members. He introduced each fondly, and then thanked the audience.

“It’s because of you, that we do what we do. Thank you, and God bless you!”

The Two Sirs, the two legends, have 146 years between them. The two friends, with two hugely differing styles, gave us four hours of musical magic. It really was one hell of a gig.

 

 

 

These are the good times

Having lived in London for two years, it was only last week that we experienced our first open-air concert in the rain. BBC Radio 2’s annual music festival in Hyde Park is a wonderful day’s entertainment. Add four seasons into that day, and I bid you welcome to British autumn.

Hyde Park’s summer season of open-air concerts ends with this one. It’s kind of ‘goodbye open air concerts; goodbye summer; hello any season you like, all at once’.

It was a huge line-up that we bought tickets to see. Billed by BBC Radio 2 as ‘a festival in a day’, the programme ran from 3.30pm to 10pm (‘any later and we’ll keep the Queen awake!’), packed in a whopping 12 artists in a row and 40,000 people into the park. The rain came and went, as did the sunshine and wind. The evening ended with a full-moon rising, blurred behind the clouds.

The likes of ’70s African American disco and R&B band, Chic, played numbers from our disco days:

Chic - who brought Le Freak to the world in 1978

Alabama-born duo, The Pierces, brought new American sounds into the mix, along with dazzlingly popular UK band Take That’s Gary Barlow. Add in some Will Young, James Blunt, Imelda May, Lenny Kravitz, Jonathan Jeremiah, Caro Emerald, Beverley Knight, Bellowhead and Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra, Ruby Turner, Louise Marshall and a rare live performance from Sandy Shaw, and you have a spectacular afternoon of music and entertainment.

A number of the artists were new discoveries for us: Jonathan Jeremiah with his mesmerising ‘Lost’.

Jonathan Jeremiah - I just loved his 'Lost'. What a great find.

Imelda May’s contemporary rockabilly beat seriously rocked, and I was entranced with her playing of the bodhrán (Irish frame drum), not to mention her unique style and talent.

Imelda May - a great Irish rockabilly star

British talent is always popular in London. Will Young was ill and without much of a voice, disappointingly, but he did his best; he even tried miming to one of his songs. That wasn’t such a great idea. James Blunt rocked the park, much to my surprise, and I didn’t see his jumping-on-to-the-piano dramatics coming at all. Not at all.

Beverley Knight brought rocking soul to the stage, while Bellowhead – with their 11-piece band of piano accordion, banjo, mandolin, cello, fiddles, trombone, saxophone and tuba – brought a kind of medieval story-telling into the mix. I really loved them.

Caro Emerald, from Holland, was another new and lovely voice to hear, while Lenny Kravitz – in his trademark shades – was just incurably cool.

Lenny Kravitz is too smooth. And he does move

Ruby Turner filled the park with her big voice and rousing Infatuation and Moving out of the Cold, with sensational backing from Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra. Backing singer, Louise Marshall, also grabbed the mic and the audience’s attention; she’s another one to watch.

Gary Barlow stood in for headline act, Lionel Ritchie, who was either ill or busy with a new album, or both. Gary is currently heading the judging panel on the new season of X Factor and, if the contestants represent a chunk of the UK population, a lot of women on this island are in love with Gary Barlow. He couldn’t have been better received.

Gary Barlow. Much-loved British artist

I have to say, though, that my favourite favourite of the whole day might not be what you’d expect. Contemporary music, new music, rockabilly, heart throbness, coolness, retro beat, story-telling and miming aside; this grand lady floated on to the stage in sparkly short pants, fringed top and shining black locks. With long beautiful legs that flowed all the way to the ground and into two bare feet, her two songs took me back to a childhood in dusty Zambia, where – despite being light years behind the rest of the world – we still knew iconic pop music when we heard it. Even if we were only six.

Here’s the original version of one of Sandy Shaw’s two songs:

Rain, sunshine, wind and many drunken revellers notwithstanding, our red box got richer by two more tickets. And, in the words of Sandy Shaw’s second number last Sunday, there’s Always something there to remind me.

Sandy Shaw - on the soundtrack of my childhood - performing here with crazy-talented Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra
If you look beyond the brollies, you can see Will Young

Sunshine signing off for today!