Jools Holland

The charismatic Later... star brings classic blues and jazz to the Waterfront, but Ruby Turner steals the show

The last time Jools Holland brought his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra to Northern Ireland – and it is an orchestra, with 19 musicians and singers crammed onto the stage – it was to play a wet and windy outdoor show in the grounds of Carrickfergus Castle.

Holland’s feel-good boogie-woogie got the crowd warmed up that late summer evening in 2009, but in a fully seated Waterfront Hall in Belfast it’s a different story. This venue is great for comedians, crooners and conferences – not so much for the kind of piano-led rock ‘n’ roll that demands you get up and dance.

The audience don’t quite know whether to sit, stand, clap politely or roar their appreciation. They’re up and down out of their seats with every change of tempo, and Holland’s brass players spend a lot of time at the edge of the stage trying to stir up some atmosphere. They get there eventually, with more and more people abandoning their inhibitions to bop in the aisles. Holland holds court at the piano, wearing his trademark black suit and tapping two-tone shoes that look like they came straight from the 1940s.

There are some fans of the ubiquitous bandleader’s television series dotted around the auditorium, but if they were expecting to see Holland jamming Seasick Steve numbers with Dizzee Rascal and Florence and the Machine they are out of luck. The more clued-in attendees know they’re in for an evening of classic blues and jazz, and lap up Holland’s repertoire of everything from Muddy Waters’ ‘Got My Mojo Working’ to Louis Armstrong’s ‘What a Wonderful World’.

Special guest Alison Moyet, who herself filled this hall last December, joins Holland and Co for three songs, including a storming version of John Lee Hooker’s ‘Boom Boom’, but vocally it is the magnificent Ruby Turner who steals the show. The woman’s pipes and presence are massive, and she more than deserves Holland’s introduction as ‘the queen of boogie-woogie’.

Later, pushing things over the top, the orchestra’s esteemed percussionist Gilson Lavis delivers a drum solo that rattles every filling in the house. It’s a stunning spectacle from a man nearing 60.

Throughout, Holland banters with the audience in his own unique, slightly surreal style, rambling about musical ‘time tunnels’ and the like. Never afraid to stretch himself, the piano man tinkers with an electric guitar on a couple of tunes, as well as shaking a tambourine and slamming his Steinway lid in time with the beat. Even after what must be hundreds of gigs, he seems as transfixed by his fellow musicians as we are.

Earlier, Jools’s brother, Christopher Holland, the organist in the Rhythm and Blues Orchestra, had warmed up the sell-out crowd with a set of proficient if uninspiring solo piano compositions. The talented junior Holland has his own pedigree, having worked with the likes of Squeeze, Paul Weller and the Stereophonics, but it’s clear that big brother got most of the charisma in this family.