Music: By George, the man has style
GEORGIE FAME'S BIRTHDAY BIG BAND THE FORUM LONDON
Monday 29 June 1998
The reverence is all because the man born Clive Powell in Leigh, Lancashire 55 years ago today has been raised to god-like status for sticking bluesy jazz and R&B on a British map that hadn't too many pins in it before. His winning ticket was a nasal croon and that funky Hammond organ - though, after a stint in a local cotton mill, Fame's first job was as a pub pianist. By 17, he was playing alongside Billy Fury, Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent, but it was in 1962 that he and the Hammond got together.
Holding court at Soho's Flamingo club, the gap-toothed prodigy entertained audiences of American GIs, budding Hepcats in what sounds like a take from Colin MacInnes' Absolute Beginners, and much of what he plays tonight dates from those ultra-cool days. Because it's Georgie's party, with the whole of the upstairs sectioned off for his birthday guests, and he can play what he wants to.
The stage at the Forum is fairly dripping with brass - five saxes, four trombones, a sea of trumpets, including young maestro Guy Barker - plus guitars, drums, vibes, even a conductor: more of a crowd than we have in the audience. Which is a shame because Fame, who actually looks like a wiry mid-point Sinatra with more hair, is hot, from a belting "Yeh Yeh", and a loose "Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde", through... just about everything else.
Fame's recent rennaissance was partly cued by his work with Van Morrison - and we're half expecting Morrison to appear. No one missed him. These were Georgie's people and they buoyed him up through two hours of shiny bebop and soulful beauty. Fame is a modest and friendly cove, and there's no doubting his proficiency on barnstormers like Gershwin's "Strike Up The Band".
Still, it's the gorgeous meditative pieces that stand out, like Chet Baker's blue-note lullaby "But Not For Me" or Mose Allison's regretful "Was": "When I become was, and we become were/ Will there be any sign or a trace/ Of the lovely contour of your face.../ Wonderin' aloud to a friend/ What was it like, to be then?" Having proved he can warm up this echoing Valhalla, Fame really doesn't have to think about "then" at all.
This review appeared in later editions of Saturday's paper
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