António Alfaiate sends this superb extended report to BtP
Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings: Gary Brooker, piano/vocals; Georgie Fame, organ / vocals; Albert Lee, lead guitar / vocals; Martin Taylor, lead guitar; Terry Taylor, rhythm guitar; Bill Wyman, bass; Beverley Skeete, vocals; Janice Hoyte, vocals; Frank Mead, horns; Nick Payn, horns; Henry Spinetti, drums
A previous "confession"
My favourite "instruments" are keyboards and the male human voice. So, my favourite artists are, with only a few exceptions, either keyboard players or male singers, or, even better, musicians that are both keyboard players and singers.
The first time I had to "classify" my 10 favourite artists was a long time ago when asked to do that by a music fanzine. On the top of the list I then placed Gary Brooker/Procol Harum and Georgie Fame [see note 1 below] (the third place, by the way, was occupied by another singer/keyboard player:Alan Price) . If asked to do another similar exercise today, I would maintain those two guys as my favourite artists !
I had to start with the above "confession" in order that you could imagine what I felt when I heard for the first time in 1997 that Bill Wyman had put them together in the same band!(I’ll always be very grateful to Bill for that) . I had to see them performing together !
So, there I was on 24 June in Catford, south London, to see The Rhythm Kings live for the second time (the first was in Paris in October 1998) .
The Lewisham Theatre was completely full and I had immediately the impression that we were lucky with the audience that night. That impression was confirmed during the performance with the audience in almost religious silence during the most melodic parts of the concert and participating when invited by the musicians to do it ( a very good background chorus during Hit The Road Jack!) . It would be very interesting to have run a questionnaire to the audience asking about the motives why they had attended the show. I have the idea (or was that only wishful thinking ?) that there were more Procol than Rolling Stones fans in the theatre …
Adrian Byron Burns performing solo was the opening act. A good voice and a guitar with a broken string from the beginning was almost all I can remember from the performance. My mind was already waiting for the main act …
After a short break The Rhythm Kings entered the stage for what would be an excellent concert with the following Set List (song title followed by main vocalist):
1 Let The Good Times Roll Gary, Beverley, Georgie
2 Walking One And Only Georgie
3 Jitterbug Boogie Gary
4 Groovin’ Beverley
5 Melody Georgie, Beverley
6 Jump Jive And Wail Albert
7 Lead Me To The Water Gary
8 Anyway The Wind Blows Georgie
9 I Put A Spell On You Beverley
10 Hello Little Boy Janice
11 Hit The Road Jack Gary, Beverley
12 I’m Ready Albert
13 Mystery Train Georgie, Gary
14 Tell You A Secret Gary
15 Tear It Up Albert
1 Georgia On My Mind Georgie
2 A Whiter Shade Of Pale Gary
3 Baby Workout Beverley
4 Hole In The Wall Gary
Billy Wyman only spoke twice during the show: at the very beginning to say more or less the following "Good evening. This is a good gig for me because I was born here ..." (his mother was even in the audience) and after the first encore, Georgia On My Mind, to introduce each one of his Rhythm Kings. Besides that the introducing duties were divided between Georgie and Gary, with Gary using a lot his very special sense of humour.
Let The Good Times Roll
What a starter ! An excellent example of the band in its full potential with a very "thick" sound provided by the horns. Gary sang the first verse, Beverley the second, Georgie the third and each of the three a little bit of the next verse. The backing singing by the two girls was excellent and even Gary did a small, but very beautiful solo on his piano. This version was very similar to the one on The Bootleg Kings CD and, as Georgie explained, it was based on the arrangement by Quincy Jones that was used by Ray Charles.
Walking One And Only
In this song, originally by Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks, the combination of the lead singer-Georgie-with the two girls worked perfectly, and there were two solos, the first by Georgie on organ (was that the theme of the Woody Woodpecker cartoon in the middle of it ?) and the second by Albert Lee on guitar (very much in his "territory" in this kind of music) .
Gary kept the rhythm left from the previous song with this boogie that he sang quite well (in my opinion, this was a better version than the one sung by Mike Sanchez on the first Rhythm Kings CD) .
Georgie then called to the front stage "our principal Rhythm Queen" Beverley Skeete and the rhythm slowed down with a very beautiful version of this song that was made popular by The Young Rascals. Nick Payn played flute in this song.
After Georgie had explained that although Beverley Skeete is normally a very sweet person "sometimes she can be really bad, I mean bad with a capital F …", they sang together Melody, an original composition by Mick Jagger and Keith Richard. Melody is a song that was reborn with this version by The Rhythm Kings and is now a classic from their repertoire. There is a marvellous interaction between Georgie and Beverley when they sing this song. Georgie, who can put new lyrics in any tune when he is singing it, not only sometimes replaced "melody" by "Beverley" (with Beverley immediately answering "Oh Georgie") , but also introduced Martin Taylor in the words he sang (who made a beautiful guitar solo) , Billy Preston (who recorded the original version of this song with The Rolling Stones) , Booker T, and several others that I can’t recall. For me this was one of the highlights of the show.
Jump Jive And Wail
After the previous high moment of the show nothing better than a "relaxing" song. Albert Lee (Mr Engineer, as Georgie called him) sang quite efficiently this Louis Prima tune . I really enjoyed Georgie back-singing "I got to go" / "I wanna know".
Lead Me To The Water
Gary announced then that they would like to do one song "for anybody out there that might have got thirsty" and he sang his own composition Lead Me To The Water. This version had much more horns (that accentuated the reggae atmosphere of the song) than the original studio version, and I also liked very much the interaction between Gary and the backing girls. This was for me another highlight of the show. It should have brought nice memories to Albert Lee and Henry Spinetti, bearing in mind that they had also participated in the original studio recording of the album that included this song in 1982 !
Anyway The Wind Blows
What followed was a long version of the JJ Cale song Anyway The Wind Blows that Georgie sang very well and that he dedicated to a big group of Americans attending the show.
This was also the occasion for Georgie to recall his stay in 1974 in Tulsa, Oklahoma [note 3], and to pay tribute to some great "Okies": JJ Cale, Eddie Cochran, Leon Russell, Wes Montgomery [note 4], Tommy Tripplehorn … great guitar solos by Martin Taylor and Albert Lee.
I Put A Spell On You
Georgie called again, to the front stage, Beverley Skeete to sing "a composition that has been done by many many fine artists [note 5] but she is about to outdo all of them". Well she almost did it !
Georgie played beautifully, filling the song with the warm sound of his Hammond organ, Martin Taylor did another good guitar solo and Frank Mead got the spell delivered by Beverley and did an incredible sax solo, playing with his body (and his sax !) in a very sexy way. [note 6] At the end of the song Georgie asked the audience "What about that ? What about that ?".
Hello Little Boy
Janice Hoyte sang this song, made popular by Ruth Brown, that has a fast rhythm, in a very efficient way. No solos this time, the musicians playing very tight together and seeming to enjoy themselves.
Hit The Road Jack
Another of the highlights of the show. Gary sang it marvellously with his body moving like Ray Charles doing the same song [note 6] with Beverley giving him the answers. Very good solos by Gary on piano, Georgie on organ (singing in the middle of the solo bits of Blue Moon and Fever) and Nick Payn on baritone sax. Very good response of the audience singing the refrain. I would loved this song would last for ever …
A rock’n’roll song sung by Albert Lee with Gary playing piano in the style of Jerry Lee Lewis.
Georgie asked Nick Payn to "collect your tickets" (what he did playing the harmonica) and Albert Lee to be the "chief engineer" on this train ride to Catford Bridge (the local station) . I think the audience was all aboard during this Mystery Train ride sung by Georgie and Gary together with the precious help of the guitar playing of the "chief engineer".
Tell You A Secret
Gary then showed his very British sense of humour telling several stories. First he thanked a local music shop for sponsoring him with "this fine instrument". Immediately after that he said "I used to play a piano …". He also mentioned in a very serious way that "there been some dispute in Blues Anthology books that the blues started in Lewisham …". Finally he suggested to the public that they should buy the new Rhythm Kings CD and said that he was going to sing one of its songs I’m going to be secret. After the laughs of the other members of the band, he said "Sorry, it’s Tell you a secret. I’ll tell you a secret". And he did it ! Again, in my opinion, this was a better version than the one sung by Adrian Byron Burns (yes, the opening act of that evening) on the Groovin’ CD. Nice guitar playing by Albert Lee.
Tear It Up
Then Georgie announced that "this evening there is not anything else to do but invite Albert Lee and Martin Taylor to Tear It Up ". Another classic from the repertoire of The Rhythm Kings, a true guitar-duel between the two players, challenging each other to do, each time, even better and faster solos. It ended with the two playing in the same guitar [note 6]. That was the end of the official Set List, but the best was yet to come …
Georgia On My Mind
After big applause from the audience, only Georgie and Martin Taylor returned to the stage, Georgie explaining that they had "been sent up to hold the fort. We’ll sing a song by Hoagy Carmichael, one of the greatest composers of the 20th Century"[note 7]. And he sang Georgia On My Mind [note 8] with only Martin Taylor on guitar.
Another highlight of the evening. Luckily we have now a similar version on the Bootleg Kings CD. During this song the audience was in religious silence. It was a rare moment of pure musical magic. What a singer !
He ended the song mixing it with Heading Back To Dixie (as he usually does when he sings it with The Blue Flames) and with a brief impersonation of Lee Marvin singing (I Was Born Under a) Wand’rin’ Star in the movie Paint Your Wagon.
After this song they left Bill Wyman alone on the stage, and he, before starting to call them back introducing each one of them, said a phrase that explains everything: "Now you know why I put them all together! ". From the introductions I took note of the following "qualifications" mentioned by Bill: Henry Spinetti: "a little guy with a big sound"; Terry Taylor: "a guy I know for 31 years. He help me to write songs. I love him very much and I love him even better because he is a little shorter than me "; Beverley Skeete: "the fabulous Beverley Skeete"; Georgie Fame: "I’ve always said that this guy has a smoky voice and I’ll never go out on stage without him again".
A Whiter Shade Of Pale
After the introduction of the musicians, with them all again on stage, we heard Gary asking Bill: "Are you sure ?". Bill said yes with a movement of his head and Gary said, "Bill says he will have a break" and he starts playing beautifully A Whiter Shade Of Pale on his piano. It was a version done with a lot of sensibility, with only Gary singing and playing piano, Frank Mead on horns and Georgie Fame playing his organ in a very subtle way [note 9]. Another magical moment !
After the two highest moments of the show I felt the next song a little out of sequence. Georgie(or was it Gary ?) asked Beverley "What did Jackie Wilson say?", and after answering "Did you really wanna hear ?", she sang the Jackie Wilson song Baby Workout with a very good horn backup.
Hole In The Wall
But since it was really Saturday night the show ended with Gary singing (Saturday Night at the) Hole In The Wall, leaving the audience quite happy with the atmosphere of a great Saturday party !
Some Conclusions And Three Suggestions
It was an excellent show. Gary and Georgie were brilliant as usual, although I would loved to see a little bit more interaction between them, like, for instance, the one between Martin Taylor and Albert Lee during Tear It Up, or Georgie and Beverley during Melody, or Georgie and Martin during Georgia On My Mind. Finally, I would like to make three suggestions (or shall I say demands ?) , two to Bill and one to Gary: to Bill I would suggest the edition of a full Rhythm Kings concert on video as well as the edition of a second Bootleg Kings CD with the songs played live but not included (or included with a different singer) on the studio CDs. Please don’t forget to include:
A Whiter Shade Of Pale (Gary)
Lead Me To The Water (Gary)
Comin’ Home Baby (Georgie) (10)
Mystery Train (Georgie and Gary)
Too Late (Gary)
Tell You A Secret (Gary)
I’ll Be Satisfied (Gary)
Ooh Poo Pah Doo (Gary)
Boney Moroney (Gary)
Jitterbug Boogie (Gary)
Little Queenie (Gary)
To Gary, although I loved to see him performing with The Rhythm Kings, nothing compares to see him performing his own compositions with Procol Harum [note 11]. There is still time to organise Procol concerts in the year 2000. The fans are waiting for them!(when I told him that, after the concert, Gary said nothing, but I could felt his eyes were smiling. Maybe there is still hope…) .
(1) Is there anybody else with the same opinion? I know they have very different musical backgrounds, but I love their voices: the romantic voice of Gary and the jazzy voice of Georgie [note 2]. It’s a shame that there is no web page similar to Beyond the Pale dedicated to Georgie Fame. If someone would like to start such a page he can count on my collaboration.
(2) If you like jazz I strongly recommend his last CD A Poet In New York (Go Jazz Go 6044 2), issued last May.
(3) Georgie recorded a considerable number of songs there with American musicians for the Island label. They were supposed to be included on a LP titled Daylight, but, unfortunately, the LP was never issued and most part of those songs remain unreleased so far.
(4) Are you sure, Georgie? I think Wes was born in Indianapolis, Indiana.
(5) Including himself, Georgie Fame! Georgie sang it on his CD with The Danish Big Band Endangered Species (Music Mecca CD 1040-2, Denmark 1993) and played organ in a version sung by the great Madeline Bell on the CD Georgie Fame, Madeline Bell & The BBC Big Band City Life (RBB CD 003, UK’93) .
(6) Things like that are the reason why, after the live Bootleg Kings CD, we need now a full Rhythm Kings concert on video!
(7) I fully agree with him! If you have any doubts I suggest you try the recent reissued CD Georgie Fame, Annie Ross, Hoagy Carmichael In Hoagland (DRG CDSL 5197), where Georgie Fame and Annie Ross sing in a marvellous way some of the most famous Carmichael songs, including Georgia On My Mind.
(8) Georgie has several recordings of Georgia On My Mind. Besides the one on the CD mentioned in (7) I also recommend two other versions: a studio one on the CD Cool Cat Blues (Go Jazz vBr 2043 2), 1991, and a live version on the CD Georgie On My Mind (Jazzette BPCD-009), 1991
(9) I wonder if you know that Georgie Fame sang A Whiter Shade Of Pale during a concert at the Palais des Congrès, Strasbourg, France, on April 19th, 1991, with the Dutch Metropole Orchestra.
(10) I hope Georgie will include this song, made famous by Mel Tormé, on the new studio CD that he is recording now with The Blue Flames. After the concert Georgie told me that he recorded already 12 songs for that CD that might be issued at the end of this year.
(11) Happily, I don’t have to make a similar suggestion to Georgie Fame because he never stopped doing his "own things" in parallel. In my opinion the current formation of The Blue Flames is the best they ever had: Alan Skidmore (sax) , Guy Barker (trumpet) , Anthony Kerr (vibraphone) (you can hear him in the song Tomorrow Night on the Groovin’ CD) , Geoff Gascoyne (bass) , Tristan Powell (guitar) and James Powell (drums) .
If you can, go to see them live at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, in London, where they will be playing from the 11th until the 23rd September 2000. You will not be disappointed !