There's a doctoral thesis waiting to be written about the way Sixties British pop vocalists appropriated the extraordinary sound of Ray Charles. With fags and phlegm taking the place of a background in gospel music, John Lennon, Van Morrison, Joe Cocker and Rod Stewart counterfeited that sand-in-the-throat sound of black singers with unusual fidelity.
Terry Reid, who as a 15-year-old joined the British beat boom before going on to a long solo career, is singing like that still. Based in California for the last 30 years, Reid may well be the most soulful British vocalist ever. Then there's the back-story: supporting the Stones at Altamont; playing Mick and Bianca's wedding; turning down what became Led Zeppelin; bad luck with record companies and contracts.
Backed at Ronnie Scott's by a pick-up trio plus his regular accompanist Bruce Malament on piano, Reid's opening three songs - each written in a different decade - were astonishing by any standards: spines tingled, hairs prickled on the backs of necks. But whether due to nerves or force of habit, Reid likes to take a drink on stage with him. Perhaps as a result, he drifts in and out of focus.
It's not that he's objectionable - think Stella Street's Keith Richards crossed with Norman Wisdom - but the act suffers. To be fair, he does have great powers of recovery and disaster was averted by an intermittent series of gems: the Beach Boys' "Don't Worry Baby", as a minimalist samba; a segue into Sam Cooke's "You Send Me"; the famous "River" - dedicated to Brazil's Minister for Culture Gilberto Gil, who lived in Terry's Notting Hill flat while in exile in 1969.
In Bristol the following night, on his first UK tour for 30 years, Reid rambled terribly. But laying down his guitar to be backed by Malament's piano alone, he sang "Every Time We Say Goodbye" so perfectly you could have cried. In a remarkable late recovery, he followed another superb standard, "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" with Paul Simon's "Old Friends", and then a second encore of The Shirelles' "Baby It's You" that was one of the best things I've ever heard. By the end, you wanted to take Terry home and tuck him into bed with a nice mug of Ovaltine. Not very rock'n'roll, I know, but probably what he needs, along with an album devoted to the Great
American Songbook. If Rod Stewart - a far more limited singer - is allowed three goes, Terry Reid has to be worth one.
Terry Reid plays an extra London show at the 100 Club (020 7636 0933) on TueReuse content