MUSIC REVIEW: Jools Holland and Purdy at Royal & Derngate

Jools Holland
Jools Holland

Swaying, jiving, clapping, singing. A group at ease with themselves as well as the joy of a rhythm and blues orchestra and not giving a fig who knew it.

And this was the middle-aged audience at the Derngate at the end of Jools Holland’s third or fourth encore number.



I think the first women to stand up and dance in the aisles did so during KT Tunstall’s version of ‘I Want you Back’.

But they were definitely all chanting along with the choruses long beforehand, like the rapt football crowd they had gradually become.

Chief cheerleader was Jools himself, who, on top of his trademark easy banter, was wont to let his preternatural piano playing spill over into leading Freddie Mercury-style sing offs. They were happy to oblige.

It wasn’t like they weren’t already warmed up by that point.

Support act Purdy showed she belonged on the same bill as all that illustrious talent with a velvet-lined voice that set fires burning in all present.

Striding onto the stage in a see-through skirt, the tall blonde made sure she had everyone’s attention before slowly making us melt into our seats.

The coy links between songs only endeared her to us more and by the time she got to Peggy Lee’s Johnny Guitar, Purdy and her band made us forget all about Jools and his.

But, after we were allowed the interval to recover, Mr Holland arrived with a sky-high wave and anyone who doubted he was the main event were soon jolted back to reality.

He and his dozen instrumentalists launched into a 24-song set that stamped a grin on your face as wide as his new piano. (I’m going by the official set list although the promoters were obviously as bewitched as we were and have missed at least two more songs).

Why? Because they were simply having fun. Solo fun under the spotlight, fun showing off, fun in a tight disciplined section, fun just going for it, letting their talent lead them where it might and billowing pure magic into the auditorium.

Saxophonists, when they weren’t exhorting even higher efforts from the others, or the crowd, or some personal rhythm and blues deity, kicked out their legs in pleasure as they traversed a particularly satisfying flurry.

Jools himself is obviously a masterful piano player, whose casual style almost conceals his genius Yet he is a great singer in a way that almost defies scrutiny. He doesn’t hold notes, he declares them and his phrasing is simple and natural. Heard live, he’s a compelling proposition.

His friends for the night were four ladies of gigantic talent, including Northampton’s VV Brown who seemed born to sing her version of Nina Simone’s ‘My Baby Just Cares for Me’.

But musically-speaking it was Ruby Turner who climbed into our ears and made off with our hearts.

Pulled onto the stage by chants of her name she delighted everyone with a mini-set of five songs, culminating with Peace in the Valley that saw the Derngate swaying as one happy mass.

If you were looking around at that point, a good two-and-a-half hours in, you would have seen beaming faces, clapping hands and couples doing a slow dance in the boxes.

It was that kind of night. Something special was produced on that stage and we all took a piece of it home with us.

Innocent joy celebrated en masse. Thank you Mr Holland, and all your friends.