'A true showcase of musical excellence': Jools Holland brings his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra to Birmingham - review

By Rebecca Sayce | Music | Published:

Breaking news banners roll, prime ministers come and go, and who knows what's happening with Brexit.

Jools Holland brought his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra to Birmingham on tour

But when we turn on our television screens, that so often feels full of doom and gloom, there's one man we can always rely on to brighten our day.

Music maestro Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra have been entertaining legions of fans since the 1970s, from his early days with Squeeze through to TV success with Later With...Jools Holland and his annual New Year's Eve Hootenanny.

And last night, the 61-year-old musician brought his orchestra and a series of special guests to Birmingham's Symphony Hall for a night of rip-roaring entertainment.

"Hello Birmingham, let's boogie and get ourselves warmed up," Jools bellowed to the crowd, before storming into a marvellous big band introduction.

Jools Holland does not simply play the piano. The musician and his instrument were one as his fingers effortlessly intertwined with the ivories to make beautiful music.

It's a talent he makes look simple - at one point tinkling away with one hand while surveying his orchestra at work.

He treated fans to songs from throughout his career, from a ditty created with Nigerian poet Ben Okri, through to an ode to his dog Morris.

Each hit demonstrated Jools' musical prowess at its best. Whether he was singing, playing piano or strumming away on a guitar, all eyes were on him, and mouths were agape.


When he wasn't playing an instrument, Jools had an intimate rapport with the crowd, affectionately joking along with his fans and praising the city.

"I love being here, this venue is simply beautiful," Jools gushed, and the audience made their similar adoration known with deafening applause.

Every member of the Rhythm and Blues Orchestra had their own moment to shine, with the audience raucously cheering every toot of the trumpet, smooth saxophone melody, screeching guitar chord and piano medley.

A real highlight of the show was a sprawling drum solo from long-time orchestra member Gilson Lavis. Every ounce of passion he has for music he channelled into the powerful hit of the skins, and his talent reverberated around the walls of the venue.


The first guest Jools treated fans to was the sublime voice of Louise Marshall. Her smooth jazz vocals demonstrated an impressive tone and range that carried each song to new heights.

As well as having a tremendous voice, Louise captivated the crowd with her animated stage presence and comfortability with performing - you would think she's singing for a group of friends rather than thousands of people as she commanded the stage so breezily.

Next up, Coventry icons The Selecter members Pauline Black and Arthur ‘Gaps’ Hendrickson turned the entire room into a bouncing sea of heads as they turned back the clock with 2Tone and ska hits from their glittering career.

Music fans skanked up and down the aisles to songs such as On My Radio and Too Much Pressure, with Pauline and Gaps dancing across the stage with a spring in their step.

Pauline's vocals would not have been out of place in a big budget Hollywood flick from the 1950s, as a rendition of Doris Day hit Secret Love would be a testament to.

Gaps' lightning-fast bars and deep vocals sounded as powerful as ever as he masterfully executed each iconic track.

Now the party was in full swing Jools brought out his final guest, the magnificent 'Queen of Boogie' Ruby Turner.

Her breath-taking gospel, soul and rhythm and blues vocals sounded pitch perfect at all times, with her ear-piercing high notes receiving riotous cheers from the crowd.

This was a true showcase of musical excellence. The show was not simply artists playing music for the crowd, and was more a celebration of the arts and those that have mastered their craft.

Jools Holland has brought together some of the best musicians on Earth to do what they do best - play music, and entertain the masses.

And it's something I hope they continue to do for decades to come.

Rebecca Sayce

By Rebecca Sayce

Entertainment journalist for Express & Star and Shropshire Star. Contact me:


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