Having stopped trying so hard to be down with the kids, Jones is making music as hot and heavy as the hippest indie band. Rating: * * * *
Tom Jones is not normally someone you would expect to find singing in a church, what with his reputation for testosterone-fuelled, bare-torso lustiness and knicker-throwing fans. But here he was, astride the altar, beneath beautiful stained glass, performing his new, spiritually themed album, ’Praise And Blame’, in its entirety. And giving it loads, it must be said. The Union Chapel is a gorgeous venue that frequently brings out a certain quality of reverence in performer and audience. I’ve seen a lot of stripped-back, acoustic-flavoured gigs here characterised by a kind of hushed intimacy, as if rock and roll ought to whisper in the presence of God. There was none of that for Mr Jones, who seemed to be having far more fun than you are supposed to in an English place of worship.
Smiling, joking and wielding his remarkable voice with a lusty, tangible pleasure, he brought the joyousness of a southern gospel Baptist meeting to the occasion. His chosen material appropriately places more emphasis on acknowledging the faults of the sinner than the glory of God. “If you’re gonna take the praise, you gotta take the blame,” he joked. Backed by a red-hot band really riding on slinky, rocking blues grooves, Jones singing shifted from an ominous bass growl to a raw, pleading tenor, digging into the torment and redemption of such rich, old material as Lord Help, Strange Things, Don’t Knock and Nobody’s Fault But Mine. It is great to see Jones performing to a more musically organic backing, neither blasting it with a big band nor chasing contemporary pop fashions. You can tell he really loves this material. He’s got history here, even if it is not the history the public associates with him. “Elvis Presley was a very good friend of mine and he loved gospel music over everything else he did. We used to sing this song together after the shows we did in Las Vegas,” he announced, introducing an uplifting, hand-clapping tumble through ’Run On’, guitar lines snaking through the vocals, his two female backing singers waving their arms like a couple of over-excitable cheerleaders. Such was Jones’s cheerful informality, the audience became encouraged to shout out comments. “Play some rock ’n’ roll!” yelled one misguided man. “What do you think that was?” retorted Jones. “That’s where rock’ n ’roll came from. Spiritual music. You just have to change the words a bit!” Then he delivered a version of ’Burning Hell’ with just a fuzzed-up electric slide guitar and pounding drumming that echoed the elemental power of the White Stripes. It is perhaps ironic that, having stopped trying so hard to be down with the kids, Jones is making music as hot and heavy as the hippest indie band. “So that’s where rock ’n’ roll comes from,” he told his heckler. “If you didn’t know, you do now.” That’s telling them.
By Neil McCormick
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