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Jools Holland. Embassy Theatre, Skegness. 08 June 2024

It was an absolute pleasure seeing the Embassy Theatre packed to the rafters to see the return of Jools Holland's Rhythm and Blues Orchestra. Around 1100 people were present, I knew it would be busy as I had to drive around the car park at the Embassy Centre for 20 minutes until a parking space became available. Thankfully, I had set off early anticipating parking issues and so was able to arrive at the venue in good time.

Every tour, Jools Holland selects an up and coming support act to join him on tour and this year was no exception. Isabella Coulbeck has supported Jools Holland previously, and also counts global superstars The Who among her fans who offered her a support slot on their tour. Coulbeck delivered a great set with confidence and musical mastery. She has a confidence beyond her years as she strode onto the stage wielding her guitar like a Western gunslinger and she played a fascinating blend of folk, rock and country with an edge. Between songs she was warm and self-effacing winning the audience over almost instantly and confidently led them in singing her own version of a drinking song at the end of her set. She is a skilled guitarist and a promising songwriter and I would love to see and hear more of her in the future.

After a short interval, the main act took to the stage, Jools Holland's 20-piece Rhythm and Blues Orchestra began with a little traditional boogie woogie stomp, and led the crowd on a journey through time playing some really old standards and a few new numbers along the way. We were treated to a rich, lively sound from the assembled musicians all at the height of their powers and a series of vocalists who lifted the roof with soaring vocals and sheer charisma oozing from within each performer.

Jools Holland is a consummate musician, adept at many styles who I first recall listening to on his solo EP on Deptford Fun City Records at the end of the 1970s. Then I realised he was also the keyboard player of the New Wave outfit known as Squeeze. I realised that this man was the real deal as a piano player and have watched his rise to fame from burgeoning musician through to fledgling TV presenter on The Tube all the way through to his current status as a national treasure respected throughout the music industry and beloved by his audience.

Holland is so at ease on stage that his effervescent pleasure at playing some of his favourite music from down the years is infectious. There is nothing Holland cannot perform it seems. At one point, he even changed from piano to guitar as his brother Christopher stepped into his shoes on the Yamaha grand piano, to play some classic blues. To see Holland watching others play makes you realise how much he loves watching his fantastic band mates and how much pleasure he gets as every member of his band steps into the limelight. Generosity seems to be a keyword in describing Holland's stage presence, never hogging the limelight and always allowing others to shine.

His regular guest vocalists are Louise Marshall and Sumudu Jayatilaka, two of the most in demand session singers on the scene today and also performing was his usual partner, the sensational Ruby Turner. First up was Sumudu Jayatilaka whose vocal pyrotechnics were delivered with ease and elegance and I loved her performance of Them There Eyes. Louise Marshall equally impressed with a fierce performance and really provided some sass. However, nothing could quite compare to the towering performance by Ruby Turner - her rendition of Peace in the Valley absolutely blew the roof off the venue and her gospel/blues repertoire drove the audience into an understandable frenzy before drawing the concert to a close.

Two other performers also joined Jools Holland on stage to showcase their individual talents during the show. The first was teenage guitarist and vocalist Cody Lee, whose playing was sublime and again, another performer who has no right to be so talented for one so young. His sophisticated fretwork, accompanied by gutsy vocals mark him out as a special talent.

The other guest star was a thrill for me as it was one of my favourite vocalists, Imelda May. No longer hampered by her neo-rockabilly persona, May performed a set with conviction and gusto and paid credit to Holland and his sax player as two of teh men responsible for her career being precisely where it is today. The mutual affection and respect was clear to all. She smiled and dazzled as her voice worked its magic and to see Imelda May and Ruby Turner singing together at the end of the show was both a delight and a privilege.

I enjoyed this gig so much that I even looked into trying get another ticket to see the show when it visits the Grimsby Auditorium in July. I hope that seeing this big band will become an annual pleasure at least for me, if not somewhat more frequent!

Andy Evans 09 June 2024.

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