Perth Festival

Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra

Perth Concert Hall

Lorraine Wilson

four stars

THERE has always been something decidedly no-nonsense about Jools Holland. Even as the leader of this boogie-woogie behemoth, he ambles on, sits down after a cursory wave, and gets straight to business. That business is clearly making thousands of people cheerier than when they walked in. Even though it takes a while for most of the auditorium to get to its feet, the rows are rocking with seat-jiving.

The 10-piece horn section plus drums, bass, keyboards, guitar, two extra voices, and Jools on grand piano has always allowed flexibility in the set, allowing rock and pop guests to break up the rhythm and blues with contemporary (1970s onwards in this context) hits, but with added punch.

Despite the tributes to Leadbelly, Louis Armstrong, and T Bone Walker among others, it’s Holland’s own material that stands out, singer Beth Rowley bringing something fresh to Just To Be Home with You. The highlight was a two-hander with drummer Gilson Lavis on Grand Hotel, a co-write with Sting and one that showcases his stride piano playing. Holland has his own brand of showmanship – warm without the smarm and he certainly smiled more during this one show than during a full series of his BBC Two musical lucky bag Later… As the night’s guest, Chris Difford had a partial band reunion. Three Squeeze tunes allowed Holland to revisit his piano work, on Cool for Cats while brother Christopher provided the Glenn Tilbrook vocals to Difford’s trademark growl.

It felt that the show had more variety than in recent years, before Ruby Turner arrived – with no introduction. It wasn’t required as the faithful bowed down to their “queen of boogie-woogie”. From then it was familiar territory with a microphone-busting performance from Turner before the closing singalong Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think).