ROCK / You people deserve to hear this right: Al Green returned to the London stage this week, raring to stop and start. Jim White watched him at the Royal Festival Hall
Thursday 15 July 1993
When Green finally appeared, his mirrored lapels dazzling, the audience was on its feet enraptured. He flapped a white hankie in their direction, begging them to stop cheering ('No, please, you're too kind') like a soulful Clive Anderson. He then essayed a few tricksy dance steps, handed out half a dozen red roses, complained about his PA ('Oh, fix this mike - these people deserve to hear this right'), applauded his audience and told us how at home he felt in Great Britain. And that was just his first number.
Green is not one to stick to an agenda. Not for him slickly rehearsed sequences or scripted asides. Barely into his second song he was off on the first of an evening-full of tangents. His trio of backing singers was singing about the holy name of Jesus, while Al was apparently reading the back of his tour T-shirt. 'Yeah we been to Oslo, Norway,' he sang in his unmistakable gravel. 'Then we flew down into Copenhagen, Denmark.' During his third number, 'Amazing Grace', he announced that he had needed an injection before the show because his larynx was shot and would his audience be kind enough to sing for him. Amazingly they did.
Behind Al, the band was sensational, and it needed to be. He exuded an air of barely suppressed shambles, stopping, starting, giving up, switching songs mid-phrase. Somehow they were with him wherever he went, ready to stop a rousing standard midstream if he felt like it, or pick up something completely different if that was what he decided. When he took off on a series of sorties into the audience, his organ player kept her eye on him wherever he went, ready for any indication as to what she should play next.
Or maybe she was concerned for his safety. Green's little jaunts through the stalls provoked a teenage response from a considerably older crowd - 'That was not a church holler,' he chastised one squealing fan. And he had yet to sing a full number. He has had problems with fans in the past. One, at the height of his fame, showed her appreciation by chucking a pan of boiling fat down his back while he was taking a shower. Green never fully recovered, and, stooped and breathless, he was clearly battling pain for much of this performance.
His voice, however, seemed in tip- top form. When we heard it. He had a habit of stopping his band in full flow, insisting they take the sound right down, while he put the microphone on the stage and addressed it on his hands and knees from five paces back. Though he was capable of hitting such notes in this position, even his backing singers applauded; after the 10th time of asking this had become an irritation.
But it was as nothing compared to the manner in which he resolutely refused to complete, and sometimes even start, a song. Two bars into 'Let's Stay Together', for instance, he gave up, handing the singing duties over to his audience while he strode the stalls beaming. So instead of the finest voice in soul, you were obliged to listen to the flattest voice in Neasden, two rows behind, gurgling in your ear. It was like watching Ryan Giggs beat three men with a dazzling body swerve, then, just as the goal beckoned, give up and start waving to his mum in the crowd.
Green did, however, know how to wind things up. 'Um-hmm, I could go on all night,' he had said several times. But, like a mendacious lover, he was finished much sooner than anyone expected. 'I could go on, but you people have better things to do,' he explained, as he accepted bouquets, kissed hands and staggered into the arms of the man with the briefcase (which, it transpired, contained a couple of towels) after little more than an hour. The crowd went home beaming with delight. Such is the power of legend.
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food