If a building really carries social history within its walls, there can be few greater examples in Lancashire than Blackpool’s Empress Ballroom.
The ornate decoration throughout the Winter Gardens tells its own stories, and there’s no disguising the magic of that feted ballroom within, particularly with a mighty band in there.
And while the Big Band era may well be long behind us, but there was a real flavour of those heady days when Jools Holland and his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra came to town.
As the man himself said during our recent interview ahead of this date, “When you have a place where people have gathered and enjoyed themselves over the years, even when they’re not there a certain resonance stays.
“I think that’s happened in Blackpool, particularly at the Empress Ballroom. All those that saw big bands there and enjoyed themselves – something of that stays in the room, even when all the people have gone.”
I’ll go as far as to say I think the ghosts of yesteryear would have heartily approved of Jools’ personal spin on blues, swing and more at this venue on Wednesday, June 24th.
The former Squeeze keyboard player and accomplished pianist led his 17–piece ensemble on a summer’s night to remember, and that’s not just because the event was being filmed for later broadcast this coming month.
Apparently, 14,000 applied for tickets, and it was clear that the 800 or so punters downstairs, below my gallery lookout, were chuffed to be there.
The venue was amplified for a recording, so the sound wasn’t quite right for us up in the gods at times.
But you’ll hear no complaints from this witness, and I’m itching to see how it all comes over when the BBC finished product arrives on our screens in a few weeks’ time.
If it wasn’t enough to see Jools’ splendid band take us through a wondrous set of standards from the likes of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong, there were truly memorable guest spots too.
As well as the power of ‘Drum King’ Gilson Lavis, bass hero Dave Swift, behatted guitar guru Mark Flanagan and Jools’ brother Christopher’s added keys, we had a whole host of quality sax, trombone and trumpet heaven to savour.
And at the heart of it all was the boogie-woogie bandleader himself, off his stool as much as on it, playing with one hand or two but always tinkling like a trooper, to superb effect.
Not only that, but the ever-affable South-East Londoner can still belt out a great tune from his own larynx too, no mean feat considering the vocal talent around him.
There were genuinely heart-rending moments with those voices, the high standards never dropping from the moment first guest singer Mabel Ray took to the stage.
I found myself transported amid the band sound and Louise Marshall’s gorgeous treatment of the Sam Brown-co-written Valentine Moon, bringing genuine goose bumps in those surroundings.
Meanwhile, Marc Almond did great credit to Edith Piaf’s If You Love Me (Really Love Me), surely not the easiest of songs to nail in one take.
As powerful as Marc’s performance was, Rumer somehow made her contribution – tackling Arlen and Mercer’s Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive – seem effortless, yet with every bit as much class.
This being a Jools night meant another big voice was on its way, and I’m not sure that Ruby Turner could ever disappoint, her four songs here leaving us on a spiritual as well as an emotional high.
Her version of 1938 jazz standard I’ll Be Seeing You was just perfect, and who could resist Ruby‘s call to gospel on sister Rosetta Tharpe’s Up Above My Head? Not this grateful scribe, I can tell you.
This being a TV production, there were a couple of tweaks needed later on, not least with the admirably-quirky Lucy Worsley’s pieces to camera hampered by technical problems first time around.
But that only gave us the chance to stay in such exalted company a little longer, on an evening that will forever remain in the memory banks.
In short, make sure you catch the related BBC2 documentary on July 25 and the BBC4 concert the following day. In fact, Enjoy Yourself, for this truly was a magical affair.
For the recent writewyattuk interview with Jools Holland, published on June 11th, head here.
And for all the latest from Jools Holland, including his forthcoming dates, check out his website here.
Do you want a photographer to attend some of these events with you ?
I may know one.
Sounds good to me, David. And if anyone is after an event photographer in and around the North-West, this fella comes highly recommended.