Thousands of desperate housewives converged on Manchester to witness Tom Jones kick off his latest UK tour. So did their daughters, husbands, boyfriends and grandchildren. At 66, the newly knighted singer remains a formidable force of nature, with an appeal that spans as many generations as his undimmed vocal prowess. A commanding stage presence in bespoke blue suit and bright orange face, Pontypridd’s answer to Pavarotti did not disappoint. Half bullfighter and half bulldozer, Jones may represent the preposterous pinnacle of ultra-butch heterosexual camp, but he is a million miles away from kitsch. However overblown, camp is always sincere. And Jones the Voice invariably means it. Even the sheen of postmodern mockery that he acquired in the 1980s has eroded. His chest-thumping version of Prince’s Kiss, once tinged with irony, now sits comfortably alongside his raunchy manhandling of Otis Redding’s Trick or Treat. As the audience leapt to their feet for the flame-grilled melodrama of Delilah, just four songs into the set, the first pair of knickers sailed across the auditorium. But Jones did not milk these rituals, wisely spacing his best-loved tunes throughout the show. Whether skipping across the stage to the demented fairground psychedelia of What’s New Pussycat? or tossing off a nimble It’s Not Unusual, he wore his greatest hits lightly.
Indeed, he maintained a smart balance between old and new, obscure and obvious, throughout. Equal emphasis was put on guaranteed crowd-pleasers as on personal favourites. Jones has always selected material with surprisingly catholic tastes, but that volcanic voice made each tune his own.
The stage production was elegantly spare for such a large venue. Jones demonstrated his impressive range, interspersing R&B belters with antique blues numbers and jazzy standards. He struck only the occasional jarring note, bellowing flatly through a clumsy approximation of his recent Top Ten disco hit, Stoned in Love. Two hours and 20-plus tunes later, Jones left the stage as energised as he arrived. Outside, the city streets seethed with satisfied customers, united in collective post-coital glow.
Wed, Sheffield Hallam Arena; Fri and Sat, Cardiff CIA Stephen Dalton at MEN Arena, Manchester