Tuesday, 24 April 2012
GEORGIE FAME & THE BLUE FLAMES at RONNIE SCOTT’S, LONDON
Chat, make noise, do what you want, just don’t take photographs was the message from Georgie Fame as he settled behind his battered Hammond for Friday’s late show before easing into a lengthy scene-setting “Flamingo Allnighter” recalling the club he’s synonymous with, it’s owner Rik Gunnell, Speedy Acquaye, Zoot Money, parties on the Cromwell Road, purple hearts, good ganja and ladies of the night. He did a lot of reminiscing, giving the detailed history to songs and colouring them with funny impressions of a grumpy Van Morrison or Bob Dylan.
Considering the time he spends referencing the Flamingo it’s a puzzle why he stubbornly refuses offers from promoters to play a full Blue Flames Flamingo set. His song choices remain fairly constant from year to year: Ray Charles’s “Get On The Right Track Baby”; Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away”; and he can’t get away from “Yeh Yeh”, the song which finally “broke us out of the Flamingo, and out of the country”. His voice is still is good shape, probably thanks to his early decision to sing as if a land owner from banks of the Mississippi, with Jamaican housekeepers, than adopting the persona of a blues shouter more expected from a native of a Lancastrian industrial town.
Another number from that early period was “Preach and Teach”, written by Johnny Burch, whose Quartet the Flames often played alongside at the Flamingo, and was the flip side to “Yeh Yeh”. Fame spoke movingly of Burch (who died in 2006) so after the gig I mentioned to him that Monkey Snr. often saw both groups at the Flamingo (primarily to see Burch) but Georgie wasn’t remotely interested. Not at all. Okay, I’ll grant you it wasn’t the most fascinating piece of news, but one could purchase Mose Allison’s entire back catalogue for what it costs for a night at Ronnie Scott’s so it wouldn’t have hurt to be more courteous. It’s not like he was being harassed whilst out with his family or schmoozing someone else; he was alone near the exit of his own gig. The only other person nearby was a girl who dared to ask to take his photograph, to which he flapped, protested and drafted a contract to be signed in blood promising not to post to the internet. What’s his problem? In fairness though, had I teamed a black silk shirt with bright orange jeans I wouldn’t have wanted it posted either.
Back to the gig and he balanced the old with the new pretty well and his band of Guy Barker (trumpet), Alan Skidmore (tenor), Anthony Kerr (vibes), Tristan Powell (guitar), Alec Dankworth (bass) and James Powell (drums) kept things cooking at an even temperature. “Skiing Blues” though, written after an argument with a girlfriend was supposed to demonstrate it was possible to write a song about anything, but was so terrible lyrically (“I just didn’t get the drift/ When you stayed down by the lift/ And you traded your boots for shoes”) I was scoffing to myself, yet one woman openly laughed out loud. I hope they were deliberately bad, or if not, she didn’t try approaching him afterwards.
When he said they were going to do a Bob Dylan song none immediately sprang to mind, and if asked to guess I’d still be there now as the bluesy rocker “Everything Is Broken” from 1989’s Oh Mercy would’ve been long down my list. If the song choice was surprising, it was nothing compared to Georgie adding his own audience participation refrain of “It’s all fucked up!” Fame’s talent has always been to interrupt other people’s songs in his own style and “Everything Is Broken” proved it’s a talent he’s not completely lost. Shame he’s a bit of an arse.