WHEN English Heritage decided to start staging summer evening picnic concerts at Audley End House, shows like the one put on by Tom Jones on Saturday were surely what they had in mind – the perfect marriage of star and setting.Old, imposing and spectacular. The house was looking good, too. The pop behemoth's huge voice, stage presence and charisma washed over the stately home's grounds, conquering an arena which can make lesser acts seem very small indeed.
The Welshman opened with a volley of tracks from his latest album, last year's Praise & Blame. The canny versatility which has proved the key to Jones's astonishing longevity saw him take on a mixture of blues-rock and gospel, providing a superb showcase for that unique voice and warming up the crowd nicely for what many were surely waiting for.
After winding back the clock to 1964 and his debut single Chills and Fever, Jones brought out the first of his big guns with turn-of-the-century hit Sexbomb, much to the tangible delight of the sell-out crowd.
Possibly the highlight of the night was a mariachi-style rendition of Delilah. Its varying tempo and stop-start narrative had the crowd firmly under the star's spell, singing – and laughing – along with maniacal gusto.
More recent hits – including a double-bill of covers of Randy Newman classics Mama Told Me Not to Come and You Can Leave Your Hat On – kept the party going until he closed his regular set with his first number one It's Not Unusual, saving some of his best moves (probably nicked from old pal Elvis Presley) for last, gyrating in a way that he – and we – knew was probably inappropriate for a 71-year-old. But such self-awareness is key to his charm and knack for longevity.
Long may he continue to reinvent.
Written by Alex Day