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Sunday, 8 June 2014

Singing the blues

Manfred Mann in 1964
Sometimes you just have to admit you're wrong, I tell myself through gritted teeth, as I watch The Blues Band perform in the Victoria Theatre, Halifax. 

It's a gig I've been resisting going to for years, because the lead singer is Paul Jones and I've never liked him. He was a smug git when we were young but my sister thought he was gorgeous. Still does I expect, despite the fact that he is now 72 years old.

Jones was the lead singer with a group called Manfred Mann, who topped the UK singles charts in 1964 with a song, whose complete lyrics I'll spare you. Suffice it to say that the last verse went like this:

"Whoa-oh-oh-oh, oh yeah 
Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do"

There followed a peak of poetic expression to rival Shakespeare's and take the song to the hearts of a million girls like my sis.

"Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do, oh yeah, oh, oh yeah 
Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do."

There is only one word that does justice to these songs Paul Jones was singing in the sixties. They were shite. 

So I'd always pour scorn on my old pal Iain, whose taste in music often matches mine, when he assured me, every time we met, that The Blues Band were phenomenal and Jones the best harmonica player in the solar system.

Nothing about Jones appealed to me. His real name is Paul Pond, for heaven's sake, and he was born in Portsmouth. How could Paul Pond from Portsmouth be a blues musician?

Great blues men have names like Big Bill Broonzy, Howlin' Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson. And they weren't born in a posh port in the namby-pamby south of England. They were dragged from their mother's womb and set to work in the Mississippi cotton fields.

Then there's the fact that Brian Jones and Keith Richards invited Paul Jones to front their new band and he turned them down. He could have been lead singer with the Stones but chose instead to be a twat in tartan trews. 

Take a look at that photo up above and tell me your hand is not twitching to smack those guys round the head.

So anyway Iain took matters into his own hands, after years of failed persuasion, and bought the tickets, at which point I had no choice but to drive all the way to Halifax and sit beside him and his lovely daughter Cathy, anticipating two hours of torture.

But right from the start the show was great and the band was really tight. Even the bass player, a last minute stand-in who didn't know a few of the songs, had a real feel for the music and got relaxed enough to start bouncing around like Flea. 

Jones talked to the audience between numbers, telling a story about the next song, complaining about the empty seats or touting the CDs they were selling at the interval. It was all done in great good humour and the time flew past.

Highlights for me were Dave Kelly's guitar and voice, which has a real earthy, blues feel and the drumming of former Family man Rob Townsend, who says if he comes home from tours exhausted and gets a call to play at the local pub, he can't resist. "When I'm not playing I go to drum shops," he says. "I just love it."

And what about Paul Jones, Iain asks me, back at his Bingley house, over a glass of Glenfiddich 15 year old Solera.

"He was pretty ... adequate," I tell him.

"Adequate?" he says. "Come on. He was great. Say it."

"He was grrrgh..." I go, and my face contorts as Kryten's does when Lister is teaching him to lie, and he can't get the words out.

"Take a drink and a deep breath, and have another go," Iain says, topping up my glass. "I know you can do it."

Now I've always been a whisky sipper rather than a guzzler, but the need has never been greater. So I knock back a large one, disengage my brain and take a run at the words.

"He was great," I say. 

"Well done!" Iain tells me. "It takes a real man to admit he was totally and completely wrong."

He reaches down for a newspaper by the side of his armchair. "Now let's look at Engelbert Humperdinck dates together."

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