Ruby Turner & James Taylor Quartet
Gateshead International Jazz Festival 2015
11th April 2015
You could tell I was going to something special because I not only had a shave, but also put on my ‘big boy going out trousers’ with a smart shirt and cardigan….because that’s what you do for Jaazzzzzz Maaannnnn.
Try as I might over the years I’ve never ‘got’ Jazz; I’ve got albums by Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Dizzy Gillespie and 7 or 8 compilations from Bluenote and Acid Jazz; but apart from Chet Baker Sings, they remain underplayed.
So I’ve not graced the previous 10 (TEN!) Gateshead International Jazz Festivals, even though they were on my doorstep; but when I saw that my favourite British Soul Singer Ruby Turner was performing in a double header with the James Taylor Quartet (whom I’d been assured I would ‘love’) the arrangements were made.
As the lights went down I was disappointed by the size of the audience in Hall 1, but as the JTQ grooved their way through an hour of their Hammond Organ funkiness, the once a year attendees were sheepishly allowed in; drinks in hand.
I’m a fan of Booker T and Dave Brubeck so I could see why my friends would think I’d ‘fall in love with the JTQ; as they really are quite brilliant, but sadly they don’t have a Green Onions or Take Five in their bag. What JTQ do, they do exceptionally well, but after 6 instrumentals (some fast, some less so) that all sounded similar, Mrs. Magpie and myself made a tactical withdrawal to the confines of the bar.
Although born in Jamaica, Ruby Turner came to the fore as a prime player in the 1980’s British Soul boom; and I’ve been a fan ever since I first heard her on the radio. Between 1986 and 89 I saw her play live 4 times and she was stunning each time sounding and performing better than most of the American Soul stars I’ve seen; making tonight a bit of a nervous proposition.
Dressed all in black, the band entered first and worked up a groove for a couple of minutes before Ms. Turner made her entrance from Stage Right, to tumultuous applause from the now packed venue. With a big smile and a wave she nicely joined in with Hello Baby and all of my nervousness dissolved like Spring snow.
The second song, the title track from her 1994 album Restless Moods was a gorgeous slice of Funk and had the first few dancers moving into the aisles; this was followed by one of my wife’s favourite Lulu songs, but we didn’t know Ruby Turner had written So Amazing; and tonight (in my humble opinion) Ruby knocked spots off Lulu’s version. (I’m still waiting for Mrs. H to say I’m right).
Quite early on I was scribbling notes about her band; the quartet were excellent in every area with guitar fills sounding uncannily like Wes Montgomery and occasionally Robert Cray; and the keyboards had elements of Stevie Wonder.
While introducing the Gospel song This Train; the singer bemoaned being ‘pigeon holed’ as only a Soul Singer because she can sing Soul, Jazz, Blues and as she proved with this staggering rendition which had me writing WOW! In my notes; and I still can’t think of a better description.
As the concert flew by my previous feelings towards the London Queen of Soul grew deeper and deeper, as she alternated classic songs like Dark End of the Street with more of her own, with Fire in My Heart and Trouble in Mind both sounding exceptional.
In a concert that seamlessly went from Soul to Blues to Jazz to what I can only describe as Spiritual Gospel the very best was kept until last. While not even a Top #10 hit the Soul Standard I’d Rather Go Blind was Ruby’s biggest hit (#24 in 1987) but it is her ‘signature song’ and tonight it lasted around 10 minutes and was a roller-coaster of emotions starting as per the record and at one stage she hit notes so high several smaller planet in the Cosmos imploded; but ended with the most beautiful a cappella singing I’ve ever heard in my long cynical life.
As the final notes echoed around the hall; I found myself involuntarily on my feet applauding like crazy. This; dear reader is something I generally look down my nose at; but Ruby’s theatrical presentation of ‘her song’ deserved nothing less.
The applause was absolutely deafening as Ruby and band left the stage for the obligatory 45 seconds before returning for an encore; and what an encore it was…..her other ‘hit;’ If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me) which rocked the joint and put a gorgeous full stop on a wonderful concert.