POP MUSIC : What a guy. What a swinger

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The Independent Culture
In case you didn't already know this, Tom Jones - the man with the incredible swivelling hips - is now hip. His audience at the first night of his three shows at the Hammersmith Apollo was full of cool people wearing black clothes. (including Chr issy Hynde, the lead singer of the Pretenders); his new album (The Lead and How to Swing It) has been produced by men with names like Youth and Flood, and they've got Tom Jones to do some rapping on it. Rapping! The man is 54, and he sounds like he inven ted Nineties dance music.

But his old fans still come along, too. There are whitehaired ladies in the front row of the Apollo, and middle-aged women in sequins ("Look at me Tom!"), and married couples in matching woolly jumpers. They have come to hear his golden oldies ("Delilah", "The Green Green Grass of Home", "It's Not Unusual") and he belts them out with enormous enthusiasm. But I'm not quite sure what they think of the new ones: there's a very loud screaming guitar in "A Girl Like You", and the rest of the band are making industrial demolition noises, and Tom sings like a cross between Bono and Elvis Presley, and Mr and Mrs Woolly Jumper sitting behind me look stunned.

As a result, it is a curiously uneasy audience. We're all sucking our Hall's Orange Throat Soothers, handed out free in the foyer (quite why, I don't know. If this is product placement at work, does it mean that Tom Jones fans are likely to have tickly coughs, or to scream themselves hoarse?)

When me and my friend Elaine (a 33-year-old die-hard Jones fan who also likes Prince and REM) start rocking around in our seats, Mr Woolly Jumper taps us on the shoulder and says will we please stop immediately as he can't see properly. When some teenagegirls in micro-mini skirts have the audacity to stand up and dance, the ladies behind them get cross and there's some more shoulder tapping. But then when the grannies get excited and start waving their arms in the air to "Delilah" ("Why Why Whhhyyyy, Delilah?"), the trendies in the audience look embarrassed.

Even Tom himself looks a bit uneasy at times. Only one pair of knickers gets thrown - during his hugely suggestive rendition of "What's New Pussycat" - and he raises an eyebrow and then ignores them, as if to say, "I don't do the knicker routine anymore,all right?"

It's not until the encore that he finally gets the audience on its feet, and he deserves the wild applause. He's sung for over two hours, he's still got the biggest voice in British showbusiness (well, him and Shirley Bassey), and if his bumping and grinding is a little stiff at times, at least he does it with conviction.

Most impressive of all, he's avoided being a camp parody of himself (unlike, say, Gary Glitter). Tom Jones, what a guy, what a swinger.

Justine Picardie

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