ROCK / The old Young again

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The Independent Culture
THE New York Times once wrote of Paul Young: 'Of the many soul singers to emerge from the British pop scene in the last five years, no one captures the intense kinetic energy of a '60s soul revue with more brio.' That was in 1985. In 1994 there is a 'Where are they now?' feel about him, though he was in the Top 20 only last October, with 'Now I Know What Made Otis Blue'.

For the past year he has been hawking round a small acoustic outfit, and at the Jazz Cafe he employed a four-piece band, with a couple of backing singers. Since MTV began the 'Unplugged' phenomenon, acoustic sets have become de rigueur for those wanting to emphasise their deep-seated artistic credibility. Even Nirvana have been at it lately.

Young's set did not sound particularly unplugged, in fact. Electric piano and bluesy swirls of Hammond organ were high in the mix, and the pick-ups on the acoustic guitars gave them an electric quality, while the double bass and semi-acoustic bass guitar, similarly amplified, gave off echoes of the fretless bass that was all too prominent in his early solo work.

He kicked off with a gently swinging version of his best- known hit, Marvin Gaye's 'Wherever I Lay My Hat'. His voice showed signs of a month spent touring France, which was no bad thing. For a heady moment his agreeable rasp approached the gravelly depths of Tom Waits. When Young has to work against his throat, riding roughshod over his vocal cords, the results are much more affecting than when he plays the smoothy.

An extrovert performer, prone to climbing speakers, Young was restricted by the venue to an engaging matiness, but the audience seemed happy with that. There was always a touch of the white stilettos about his fan-base, but none were in evidence here - though there were many pairs of neatly pressed jeans, the kind that look as if they could stand to attention unaided.

As the set veered between slightly ponderous ballads and funky work-outs, the clapping became increasingly rhythmic (there was even some syncopation, which the audience took in their stride), the swaying more insistent. 'It Will Be You', a song reminiscent of Otis Redding's 'Try a Little Tenderness', induced dreamy expressions on female faces, but the set built to a partying climax with Joe Simon's 'Drowning in a Sea of Love'. If the Jazz Cafe had aisles, they would have been dancing in them. The first encore, Hall & Oates' 'Every Time You Go Away', had couples mouthing the words, swaying gently in each other's arms. It was like a cross between 'Our Tune' and last dance at the school disco.

Some of Attacco Decente's songs might almost qualify for the Simon Bates treatment. Under the Bass Clef's low ceilings this Brighton duo's gentle, yearning songs were in their element, Mark Allan's acoustic guitar meshing sweetly with Jeff Smith's Costelloish vocals and his work on the dulcimer.

The dulcimer? Anyone incorporating it as anything more than an occasional embellishment runs the risk of having every song sound like 'Lady Jane' or the theme tune to a well-mannered television drama. But Smith's deployment lends an exotic, vaguely Middle Eastern ambience to Attacco Decente's ambitious songs.

Their banter seemed at odds with the material, taken from the 1993 album Crystal Night, in which they sing of pain and sex and desperation. The tunes and harmonies are exquisitely crafted, and it would be intriguing to see them standing up to bigger arrangements. But that might swamp the dulcimer.