Review: Georgie's party drips with brass

First Night: Georgie Fame's Birthday Big Band, Forum, London
Click to follow
The Independent Online
THEY SAY that Georgie Fame is hip again now, but if that's true, why am I sitting in a venue as bare as a Scunthorpe dance hall on a wet Wednesday night, surrounded by Puffa jackets and perms? It wasn't supposed to be like this. But then, maybe booking the Forum on England's World Cup match night was ambitious.

It's true that, around the mid-Eighties, when he was one of the best- paid producers of advertising jingles, and a purveyor of pseudo-pop cabaret, Georgie Fame really was the height of un-hip. But how many of us would know him without Yeh Yeh or the zippy Get Away (adapted from a TV petrol commercial).

The new reverence is all because the man born Clive Powell in Leigh, Lancashire, 55 years ago today has been raised to god-like status for sticking bluesy jazz and R&B on the British map. His winning ticket was a nasal croon and that funky Hammond organ.

After a stint in a local cotton mill, Fame's first job was as a pub pianist. By 17, he was playing alongside Billy Furyand Gene Vincent, but it was in 1962 that he and the Hammond got together. Holding court at Soho's Flamingo club, the gap-toothed prodigy entertained audiences of American GIs, and much of what he plays tonight dates from those ultra-cool days.

It's Georgie's party, with the whole of the upstairs sectioned off for his guests, so he can play what he likes.

The stage at the Forum is fairly dripping with brass - five saxes, four trombones, a sea of trumpets, plus guitars, drums, vibes, even a conductor: almost more of a crowd than we have in the audience. Which is a shame, because Fame, who looks like a wiry mid-career Sinatra with more hair, is hot, from a belting Yeh Yeh, and a loose Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde, through almost everything else.

Fame's recent renaissance was partly cued by his work with Van Morrison - and we're half expecting Morrison to appear, since he's in the country. But he didn't, and no one missed him. These are Georgie's people - more and more of them as the night goes on - and they buoy him up through two hours of shiny bebop and soulful beauty.

Fame is a modest and friendly cove, and there's no doubting his proficiency on barnstormers such as Gershwin's Strike up the Band. Still, it's the gorgeous meditative pieces that stand out.