Review Date September 1, 2011

Review By Alan Harrison

Location Ronnie Scott’s Club, Soho, London

If Ronnie Scott’s Club in Soho isn’t the best music venue in the world it’s certainly the coolest. I’ve dreamt of visiting this legendary venue since the mid 1970s when I would see their advert in Melody Maker every week; so seeing that James Hunter had a 3 night residency when I was visiting my family in London was a dream come true-the best of British r&b at the spiritual home of British jazz; what’s not to like? For those of you who have never been, it’s a magical place with flickering candles on every table and every seat provides the audience for a perfect view of the stage. This was the fourth consecutive year James has played the club, but this time it was for two sold out shows on each of three nights and the audience was a bizarre mix of Hunter fans, regular Ronnie Scott patrons and plenty of tourists. The atmosphere crackled as James and the band made their entrance for the first show and whizzed through their opening number She’s Got A Way. People Gonna Talk and No Smoke Without Fire set the tone for the evening as they were both slightly more restrained than usual and smouldered like a coal fire on a winter’s evening. The club’s semi-strict “no dancing’ rule was quickly flaunted around the tiny bar area during the country shuffle Don’t Walk Away and remained that way for the next hour and more. Hunter isn’t the most prolific of songwriters but managed to introduce three new songs tonight, with the tender heartbreak song Drop On Me being the first on show. The Hunter band have been playing together for quite a few years now and you can tell, as Andrew Kingslow’s piano and organ playing is as authentic as it gets, drummer Jonathan Lee and double-bassist Jason Wilson keep time like a Swiss watch which allows Damian and Lee on saxes the freedom to swing like pendulums and James gets to do what he does best out front. Their combined interplay was amazing all night and it makes a change to see a band smiling all night. The sweet soul of Hand It Over was as smooth as silk, Hard Way had my toes tapping and Hunter’s rasping warble on There’s A Riot Going On must be the best advert for smoking cigarettes since the Marlboro Man! By the time of the second new song; the Chuck Berry-influenced Betty Lou the band were in full flow and not only did James’ under-rated guitar playing come to the fore but Kingslow’s organ was virtually smoking by the end! It wouldn’t be a James Hunter gig without the obligatory 5 Royale songs and tonight we had two, Baby Don’t Do It and Think which surely must be the embodiment of r&b but he also slipped in a rare Bo Diddley cover-Dearest followed by the final new song, Down Home Girl was a real Chicago blues belter and left the fans drooling at the prospect of the new album. What more can I say? I saw one of my favourite ever acts play in a venue that I’ve only ever dreamed of visiting and the combination had me misty eyed as I made my way through a steamy Soho on the way to the Tube station at midnight.

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