Every now and again a gig comes up that makes my pulse quicken and my hands shake at the prospect of having discovered before the tickets all sell out, and Monday September 4th was just such a gig. After optimistically organising to meet in a pub at 6pm and then doing the usual London Underground standing-about-swearing-and-waiting routine I eventually hiked it across Soho to the fabled halls of Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club to see the one & only original Blues Brothers Band.
From the minute Dan, Craig, Brian, the incomparable Catherine Campbell and myself entered the venue we knew it was going to be a top night – everything from the rows and rows of photographs of jazz icons adorning the walls to the slightly menacing venue staff insisting that cameras had to be checked into the cloakroom and phones must be switched off. Plus the venue had carpet, so you could tell it wasn't gonna be a Carling, sweat & blood gig.
Clearly we weren't anyone important, because we were seated in the back corner, although Ronnie Scott's is a nice small room with good visibility from everywhere so it wasn't an imposition at all. The layout is parallel bench seating with desk-style tables all facing towards the middle of the room, the dining area in the centre, and the band area at one end. The room was dimly lit, and the tables each had a couple of pinkish mushroom shaped lamps provided further limited light. A piano player was tinkling away as people were coming in & being seated, and about the only thing missing was smoke and some slowly-spinning vintage ceiling fans.
I must confess, I didn't catch the piano player's name, but the second act were the Benny Green Trio – exceptionally skilled, but a little too much of the moon-gazing-note-noodling and not enough groove for me to really like them. Plus I think when he was introducing the trio he forgot the drummer's name – just sort of gave it a feel of “Hi, I'm the talent, and these guys are whoever I've been stuck with tonight”. Very talented though.
Eventually, after what seemed quite a wait, the band we were all waiting to see took the stage. Well, half of them did – led by Steve “The Colonel” Cropper on guitar and Anthony “Rusty” Cloud on keys. As they played, out of the corner of my eye I spied the horn section forming up at the back of the room, and first in line – facing directly toward me and so close I could almost touch him – was Blue Lou Marini (referred to by the other band members as “The singing dishwasher”).
The full band took stage and it was a musical tour de force by a group of veteran musicians at the top of their game. Joined by their touring singer, Tommy “Pipes” McDonnell, and guest singer Eddie “Knock on Wood” Floyd, they belted out all the tunes you expected to hear – Peter Gunn, Rubber Biscuit, Ev'rybody Needs Somebody, She Caught The Katy, Soul Man, Knock On Wood… and each one was crammed full of that dirty Chicago blues sound.
The atmosphere was nice & relaxed, and the banter between the band members felt at ease and not too staged, with the exception of when Pipes came in, “escorted by police officers” – at least it had shades of Jake & Elwood about it. Blue Lou even cranked out a couple of jokes, cheerfully awful as they were.
The only other band member from the original film was “Mr Fabulous” Alan Rubin, looking fairly aged and hidden under a baseball cap. The sound was 100% spot on though. And, as it turned out, they were performing under adverse conditions – the reason for the delayed start was that Pipes' flight to London had been cancelled and he'd had to get a later one. Equally as unhelpfully, it transpired that Eric Udel's bass had been destroyed by the airline earlier that day, so he'd had to buy a replacement – it didn't detract from the sound, but highlighted what a bunch of professionals the band are.
When the (incredibly cute) waitress came around to collect our tab I felt like I had a bit of a Blues Brothers moment myself (“You guys drank an awful lot of beer…”), however given the enthusiasm the venue staff had for things like phones & cameras I felt it unlikely that they'd let me sign the cheque on the glove compartment lid of the taxi we were getting.
We finished the night at the sumptuously decorated Papageno, although fairly heavily “style-over-substance” is still worth a look in.
At the conclusion of the gig the offer to stay on for the “late session” was incredibly tempting, but a 4am finish on a Monday night seemed just a little too hard to justify. Pity.