Pop / Poetry: Shaggy dog tales of the half-unexpected
GIL SCOTT-HERON JAZZ CAFE LONDON
Tuesday 24 November 1998
They kept us waiting but, one by one, members of his band Amnesia Express drifted absent-mindedly on to the stage. For 15 minutes only the bassist remembered to play then, gradually, the conga-player floated in still eating an apple; the drummer tried to finish his roll-up in time to welcome sax, flute, keyboards and, long-after, lead guitar. Then the beanpole figure of Gil Scott-Heron loped down the stairs.
"Hey, slow down," he croons. "Your life is coming soon." He looks several centuries older than his 49 years: hair tumbling in grizzled waves from a black leather cap, bones jutting out from his too-big grey suit, cheeks cadaverously gaunt. He is all angles, but his voice still slides smooth as sex.
A toothy, lop-sided grin takes up his whole face. This man is happy. He is done with setting the agenda and will take requests - such as the soaring, feel-better jazz anthem "Lady Day and John Coltrane" (to Billie Holiday and the great tenor saxophonist - "Ever feel you've lost your way... they'll wash your troubles away"). The audience is surprisingly white and smoochily inclined; they want "Winter in America". He obliges via a long ecological preamble based on an African folk-tale: "Wonder how summer's doing? We'll just assume that he will be back. Then winter decides to stay."
Gone are those consciousness-raising caustic directives of "Inner City Blues" or "The Revolution Will Not be Televised". He is in mellow mood. "You got to take care of somebody. Take hold of your life. You got to believe in your brother. Raise your hands if you believe in peace."
After A break he lollops through one of his shaggy-dog monologues - a genial Maureen Lipman-style digression on the importance of "getting an -ology". He loves linguistic conundrums: "Do women still go every three weeks or so for what they call a permanent? Weather man says there's a 50:50 chance of rain; what you gonna do - take half an umbrella?" Then he launches into an anti-space-age eco-rant: "Space Shuttle - turning seasons upside down. Space Shuttle - raising hell down on the ground. Hole in the Ozone layer - putting the fear back in atmosphere."
Basking in the fluttering waves of Brian Jackson's fusion-fired flute, and the frenzied duelling percussion, Scott-Heron smiles avuncularly down. "Celebrate your life!" he cries.
Celebrate Gil Scott-Heron.
Gil Scott-Heron and Amnesia Express, Jazz Cafe, 3-5 Parkway, Camden, London NW1 (0171-916 6060) to Friday
MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word
Review: One Direction, Fourmusic
Review: The World of Ice and Firebooks
Film More romcom than S&M
Review: The Imitation Gamefilm
Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars
TVNetflix gets cryptic
TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth
Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 'Not suppost to cry': 9-year-old lists the worst things about being a boy
- 2 To help fuel their propaganda machine against the poor, our government has now decided to redefine the word 'welfare'
- 3 Woman opens professional cuddling shop – gets 10,000 customers in first week
- 4 Lana Del Rey rape video: Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking leaked footage
- 5 Largest ever study into the gay gene 'erodes the notion that sexual orientation is a choice'
Lee Evans announces his retirement from comedy on The Jonathan Ross Show
Iggy Azalea responds to Eminem rape lyrics: 'I'm bored of old men threatening young women'
Angelina Jolie confirms retirement from acting: 'I've never been comfortable on-screen'
Lana Del Rey rape video: Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking leaked footage
Willow and Jaden Smith talk duality of apples, holographic realities and the melancholia of the ocean in incredible New York Times interview
Rochester by-election: Ukip gains second MP as Tory defector Mark Reckless holds seat
'Beast of Bolsover' Dennis Skinner takes Ukip MP Mark Reckless to task moments after he is sworn in
'Muslims pre-date Columbus in discovering America,' says Turkish president Erdogan
Rochester by-election: Labour MP Emily Thornberry resigns after posting white van and England flags tweet
France 'blocks' Russian sailors from boarding a warship
Former Tory PM Sir John Major says 'we would not have an NHS without migrants'