Woah there tiger! Cut to an audible audience gasp as a curly-haired, ever-lusty sexual dynamo roams the stage, eyeing the crowd alluringly. Wild whoops and cheers drive this slickly attired, vocally gifted beast even further into a sweat-soaked frenzy; indeed, by the end of his set so many pairs of knickers have been thrown at the wailing Welshman in question that he resembles a moving and crooning marshmallow man made entirely out of used underwear. What a sight to behold…
Though in truth it was a sight that – contrary to any outdated expectations of what a Tom Jones gig might involve – didn’t actually happen, probably for the relief of all involved. (Or at least if it has occurred in Glasgow, it was more likely at his first ever gig in the city at the now deceased Apollo many moons ago, of which Jones last night recalled: “It was good – rough and ready, but good….”)
No, this is the mature Tom Jones, a man who has hit the big seven-oh and has finally grown up in the process. It’s an edifying sight, far better than any tired attempts teaming him up with the latest dance producers or chart stars to try and ensure continued relevancy. Finally someone in a position of power realised that a voice like that is never going to go out of style, not while there’s any decency in this world of ours, anyway.
So the Welsh wonder has stripped back his sound, and as part of Celtic Connections’ gospel strand he was in town to perform in its entirety his latest album Praise & Blame, coming as it is steeped in a genre custom-made to allow his voice to soar, as well at intermittently dip into a gravelled croon imbued with a remarkable richness. (It’s probably at this point that I ought to throw in a comparison to fine wine, but I think you already get the gist.)
Forget any contrived controversies about record label wrangling, Jones seemed more at home in this sort of setting than he has in years, clad all in black – the tight trousers thankfully left at home – and fronting a band not afraid to also take things back to basics. For John Lee Hooker’s Burning Hell they were content even to reduce the instrumentation to nothing more than dirt-encrusted guitar riffage and a stomping drum beat, Jones hollering over the top and proving himself to be someone still at the top of his game. Goodness, and let’s be clear on this, that’s something not to be taken for granted when you hear what has happened to singers of the same – or of an even younger – vintage.
As might be expected of an album billed as “gospel” there was a more thoughtful and considered nature to the show, though a good dose of bar-room blues and rootsy upbeat numbers ensured that the entertainment flowed wonderfully, and was never too worthy in this newly repossessed earthiness. It’s most definitely worth noting that despite tackling Praise & Blame track by track from start to finish – a pretty bold move given the back catalogue – the audience never appeared restless, instead lapping up the likes of a rollicking Lord Help and Didn’t It Rain, which revelled in unreconstructed (in a good way) boogie.
Their enjoyment of course would only have been aided by the easy stage manner of Jones, who appeared relaxed throughout. There was a bit of mischievousness thrown into the mix early on as he explained: “It’s great to be here at Celtic Connections, because I’m a Celt. Or at least I think that’s what they call me…”
And – as you might expect from such a consummate professional – the singer threw in a few of his classics at the end: Green Green Grass Of Home, I’ll Never Fall In Love Again and It’s Not Unusual just as much fun as you’d expect, the latter getting the crowd to their feet only for the finale to take the wind from their tales slightly unexpectedly.
Before that triumvirate of showstoppers Jones introduced the last track on his most recent album, Run On, by explaining that it was Elvis’s favourite gospel song, and that while both were together in Las Vegas back in the day – now that would have been some party – The King had asked The Voice if he had ever recorded an album of gospel songs. Apparently, Jones replied that he would one day, joking to last night’s Glasgow crowd: “I didn’t realise it would take this long.” Thankfully, it’s been well worth the wait.
By Michael MacLennan
Pics: © Dave Taylor