Music: By George, the man has style


THEY SAY Georgie Fame is hip again now; but if that's true, why am I sitting in a venue as bare as a Scunthorpe dance hall on a wet Wednesday night, surrounded by Puffa jackets and perms? It wasn't supposed to be like this. But then, maybe booking the Forum on England's World Cup match night was ambitious. It's true that, around the mid-Eighties, when he was one of the best paid producers of advertising jingles, and purveyor of pseudo-pop cabaret, Georgie Fame really was the height of un-hip. Some purists even lambast him now for the "novelty hit singles" he put out around the late Sixties; though how many of us would know him without "Yeh Yeh, the zippy Get Away" and his winsome remake of Bobby Hebb's schmaltzy "Sunny"? There are also those who don't much like "Rosetta", his collaboration with ex-Animal Alan Price - though on reflection, that was a bit trad, dad.

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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