ROCK / Yeh, that's what I say: Phil Johnson on Georgie Fame at Ronnie Scott's, London

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The Independent Culture
Although he'll be 50 this year, Georgie Fame still looks and sounds like his Ready Steady Go incarnation of 1964, recently disinterred for BBC 2's Sounds of the Sixties. The hair is greyer and the bags under the eyes more pronounced, but everything else is gloriously intact; deep, languid voice, effortlessly hip demeanour, a Hammond organ grown old in the service and a repertoire of jazz, blues and soul tunes culled from the Soho record-shop import racks of 30 years ago. As the ultimate badge of credible continuity, he even has his original conga player, Speedy, slapping out the backbeats. Lest we forget, 'Yeh Yeh' was kept back as far as the second number in the set.

It would be difficult to think of any other artist who, over such a long time-span, has kept faith with his original influences so assiduously and yet managed to avoid slipping into self-parody or nostalgia. This is at least partly because of the sense of responsibility Fame feels towards those who have traditionally provided his material: the songs may come via King Pleasure, Ray Charles, Mose Allison or Chet Baker, but now they are prefaced by almost scholarly footnotes about their origins. Eddie Cochran, who Fame once supported as the pianist with Billy Fury's Blue Flames, gets a dedication for introducing the work of Ray Charles to this country and the complex genealogy of 'Yeh Yeh' is generously detailed: 'I bought the record and 22 years later Matt Bianco bought mine,' Fame says.

The pleasures of this performance were many, including an excellent band featuring some terrific trumpet playing from Guy Barker, mean sax solos by Alan Skidmore and a classic soul-jazz pairing in Fame's organ and the vibraphone of Anthony Kerr.

Perhaps best of all, though, was Fame's voice. Even judging by the shaky evidence of Sounds of the Sixties, it was clear that he could sing, though a lot of the appeal rested on his intonation and the rhythmic bounce of the delivery. Opening the first set with King Pleasure's 'Red Top', and standing at front of stage, Fame showed how skilled and sophisticated a vocalist he is. Moving the hand- mike up and down to modulate the volume of his voice, trembling his jawbone to bend a note and alternating baritone, tenor and even falsetto registers, he sounded quite masterly.

On 'Moondance', by Van Morrison ('My erstwhile employer', as he pointed out), Fame made the tune sound his own. A delicate medley of Gershwin songs delivered in the style of Chet Baker's trumpet-playing - with Fame making trumpet-fingering movements in the air as he sang - capped a commanding performance, before the set ended, as it had begun, with an upbeat King Pleasure number, 'Jumpin' with Symphony Sid'. The songs may be much the same as in the Sixties but Fame, and his band - including his son on drums - are better by far.

Georgie Fame continues at Ronnie Scott's, London W1, until Saturday 13 February (telephone bookings: 071-439 0747).

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