Review: Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings at the Barbican

Bill Wyman

Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings
(Barbican, 25th November 2013. Review by Alyn Shipton)


Gone were the free stage, the printed paraphernalia of a London-wide event and the hordes of people of all ages who had been milling about the Barbican foyers over the last ten days. But even though the 21st London Jazz Festival lowered its final curtain the night before, the spirit of the music was still strongly in evidence when Bill Wyman’s band and its attendant audience of baby boomers invaded the Barbican Hall on Monday.

Strangely enough, despite the close links between jazz and blues, there hadn’t been a dedicated blues show on the LJF programme, but Wyman’s band more than made up for it, with songs by Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf, Chuck Berry and Etta James. Sadly after going down with pneumonia earlier in the tour, Georgie Fame was not well enough to appear, but a surprise appearance by Mick Hucknall, singing the old Lowell Fulson blues Reconsider Baby with power and passion, filled the gap admirably.

Wyman’s band hit its stride early in the first set as saxophonist Frank Mead switched to harmonica for Just a Fool, with the rhythm section as tight as any Chicagoan blues band, anchored not only by the leader’s minimalist bass, but by the superlative drumming of Graham Broad. No matter what metre or genre the band ventured into, Broad was always there, precise, propulsive, flamboyant, but never so much as to take attention away from the singers or soloists.

The star soloist was guitarist Albert Lee, nimble, agile and inventive, even on tunes he must have played hundreds, if not thousands of times before, and he also showed his versatility with a touching keyboard and vocal version of the Everly Brothers’ Crying In The Rain, which made a neat contrast to his charismatic singing and guitar playing on Jitterbug Boogie. The Everly Brothers harmonies were conjured up by the band’s usual singer, Beverley Skeete, who came into her own with a perfectly paced version of James Brown’s It’s a Man’s Man’s World. As well as nonchalantly turning in the impressive bassline to this song, while hardly appearing to move a muscle, the stony faced Wyman allowed himself a smile as Mead launched into an alto solo worthy of Maceo Parker.

The notorious Barbican sound system did Skeete no favours in the first half, muffling her delivery, but it improved greatly for her second half features, and for the singing of the band’s special guest Maria Muldaur. Yes, we got the inevitable Midnight at the Oasis, but we also got some genuinely bluesy singing from her, as she rattled the exoskeletons of two tambourines and soared into her highest register, admonishing us with Blue Lu Barker’s song Don’t You Feel My Legs.

By the time the band reached the last number, Wyman himself was coaxed to the vocal mike and as they roared into Chuck Berry’s You Never Can Tell, the audience was on its feet, clapping, jumping up and down and even dancing in the aisles. As much good time fun had been packed into three hours as in most of the preceding week of concerts in the same venue.

REMAINING TOUR DATES

Tuesday 26th Nov Brighton Dome
Wednesday 27th Nov Southend Cliffs Pavilion
Friday 29th Nov Poole Lighthouse
Saturday 30th Nov Plymouth Theatre Royal

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