Allen Toussaint and The Blind Boys of Alabama, The London Jazz Festival, Barbican, London

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The Independent Culture

Dixieland descended upon the London Jazz Festival yesterday and transformed the Barbican into a New Orleans gospel church for one night only.

Allen Toussaint, more famous for writing than performing, or at least samples than singing, told the tales of his life, its loves and losses and everything that inspired each song he sung. He made clear how important growing up in Mississippi was, and where a master of words might have used onomatopoeia to emphasise a point this legend of the piano lowered the keys to describe his tales. He’d narrate personal histories over a repeated riff and bring his stories to life with classics like Working in Coalmine and Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky. Hip-hop heads would have wanted to hear Louie, however, for the easy-listening crowd who were there these were just fine.

If a festival could warrant billing a group simply for one song, The Blind Boys of Alabama didn’t disappoint with their version of Tom Waits’ Way Down in the Hole. Oh, also known as the soundtrack to season one of The Wire. The distinctive blues intro had some members of the audience palpitating with the prospect of this fictitious TV show nearing reality for them. However, whilst a cynic might suggest that the blindness of these Boys from Alabama has helped their success, gospel singing is powerfully persuasive in its positivity and the remaining four members of this unique group certainly put on a good show.

The night came to an end whilst the audience clapped to the beat and singer Jimmy Carter paraded the concert hall with a spotlight on him. There were moments when the performance seemed authentic and if the message of gospel is liberation then an attentive crowd who did their best to keep the rhythm whilst standing up gratefully received it.