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I approached the two Jazz Café gigs with the eager anticipation of an ardent James Hunter fan. Ticket sales for the first night at this esteemed venue may not have met expectations, but those who were there were privileged to enjoy a gig of surprising intimacy. As Mr.Hunter quipped at one point, ”I reckon we must know most of you personally”. There was certainly a genuine warmth which had nothing to do with the sweat being worked up on stage.
With Hunter’s superb vocal gymnastics going from Cooke-like smooth, through Charlesesque earthiness, to James Brown yelps and Jackie Wilson trills, this was music at its best. He can do it all with effortless ease, adeptly switching from blues to ska to soul to latin rhythms, mixing tender ballads like “Mollena” and “The Very Thought of You” with up tempo finger-poppers like “No Smoke Without Fire”.
Hunter draws heavily on the early soul and r’n’b
of his heroes, and included rip-roaring renditions of The 5 Royales’ “Baby
Don’t Do It” and “Think” in his set, but at no
point do you feel he’s a mere imitator. His music may be evocative
of a bygone era, but his repertoire is largely self-penned and shows he
has truly created a groove that is entirely his own. This is feelgood dance
music that can appeal to anyone, and as, for once, there was room to dance,
as noted by Mr.Hunter, the audience needed little encouragement.
The following night was a sellout, and the Jazz Café was heaving. Could the boys match their exuberance of the previous night? No-one need have worried. As someone who rarely misses a James Hunter gig, this is perhaps what I find most impressive; that he continues to perform, night after night, with the same boundless energy and absolute conviction. This guy clearly loves what he does and the frantically jigging, whooping audience just love watching him. Perhaps, after years of paying his dues, word is finally beginning to spread; that here is a talent to be reckoned with. It must surely have been a thrill to hear fans singing along, word perfect. These gigs were like a wonderful, exhilarating party, where life somehow felt less complicated. We were all thrilled to have been invited. Long may the party continue.