Fame's band work has a lot going for it. He's powerful and sure-footed enough to be comfortable in front of an 18-piece band. His measured delivery squeezes the emotion out of a standard in a way that must make the likes of Bacharach, Donovan and Lennon and McCartney proud. You'd want him to sing your song.
The band did a couple of tunes by themselves before Fame made an authentically showbiz entrance, finger-clicking and air-punching to his first great hit, "Yeh Yeh". Gershwin's "But Not For Me", complete with an ingenious arrangement by the director Steve Gray and a skilful lyricised version of a lovely old Chet Baker trumpet solo, was a masterpiece. Eight tunes in, he sat at the Hammond organ, briefly turning a homage to the Bull's Head Jazz Club into a Jimmy Smith-style soul jazz shuffle blues.
But Fame spent almost every other moment pacing in front of the orchestra.
The cult composer Lalo Schifrin once remarked that he'd told his wife he wanted the BBC Big Band for his next birthday. From the composer of the themes to Bullitt and Mission: Impossible, this was some endorsement. But Mrs Schifrin's lack of generosity was Georgie Fame's gain. This long- running orchestra's association with Radio 2 has done nothing to blunt its sharp edges.
There's something about the opening shock blast of a good jazz big band that makes the corners of your mouth curl. Steve Gray looked as if he were trying to suppress a grin all night. The BBC Big Band did it all, from ballads to R&B and a rendition of Fame and Gray's original "City Life" that almost defined swing.
All in all it was a worthy commemoration of a 40-year career; and Georgie Fame proved he still has what people's dads call star quality.
A version of this review appeared in later editions of yesterday's paper.
Linton ChiswickReuse content