Larmer Tree Gardens, Dorset
Wednesday 16th July 2014
1 hour 55 minutes
Band: drums, two guitars, bass guitar, keyboards, accordion / harmonica, saxophone, trumpet, trombone
See: TOPPERMOST for my Top Ten Tom Jones selection (LINKED)
Mama Told Me Not To Come
Why Don’t You Love Me?
Raise A Ruckus Tonight
Didn’t It Rain
Bad As Me
I’ll Never Fall In Love Again
Tower of Song
Better Go Home (Throw That Blade Away}
Shake A Hand
Crazy ‘Bout An Automobile / Reelin’ & Rockin’
Green Green Grass of Home
It’s Not Unusual
You CanLeave Your Hat On
If I Only Knew
I Wish You Would
They say it was the fastest-selling Larmer Tree event ever, and its biggest crowd. Also that a special lighting rig had to be added to the existing lights on the band shell. Certainly the lights were spectacular throughout with back projection and beams slicing across the audience. It started on time, with Tom Jones backed by just bass, guitar and drums for the opening Burning Hell by John Lee Hooker(from 2010s Praise and Blame) and projected archive photos being replaced by burning flames. It set out the stall for the evening with a focus on rock.
The big, big surprise for me was that I’d expected the intimate, older voice of the recent albums Praise and Blame and Spirit In The Room. I see now that was acted to fit in with the whole Leonard Cohen or Rick Rubin / Johnny Cash vibe. Sir Tom is in full voice at full power and range throughout. The band filled out for Mama Told Me Not To Come the great Randy Newman song that he covered with The Stereophonics on Reload (2000)… I always voted for Eric Burdon’s completely out-of-it version, the Randy Newman original, or Three Dog Night, but with a raucous horn section, Tom’s version knocked me off my feet live. Then we were into Sexbomb, another from Reload, and the show was motoring nicely.
He explained that they were about to do a selection from the forthcoming album, which appears to be an exploration of country and western roads. It started with Tomorrow Night, which he gave full voice to. The song dates back to 1939, and has been covered by Lonnie Johnson (US#1 in 1948), LaVern Baker, Jerry Lee Lewis and (incongruously) Bob Dylan on What Good Am I? The title track of that album was covered by Tom Jones on Praise and Blame but tonight he took Tomorrow Night back to its flat out ballad singer origins. The next one from the forthcoming album was Hank Williams Why Don’t You Love Me Tonight proving that his band could really play country. The third was a rousing Raise A Ruckus Tonight a jug band / skiffle traditional classic. So the new album is digging deep in the roots, but in the country direction that gave Tom Jones some of his biggest hits. It’s a brave move to do three new ones in a row, but it worked for me. I’ll buy the album.
The mood didn’t drift far for the gospel standard Didn’t It Rain, also on Praise and Blame. This has been recorded by everyone, including Sister Rosetta Tharpe in 1948 and Mahalia Jackson in the 50s. The Band did a version too. It fitted chronologically with the three from the new album. Don’t Knock was by The Staple Singers, again from Praise and Blame. At this point, I was thrilled to be hearing Tom Jones in such great voice, and with such a tight rocking band. We never got fully introduced to the band either, only first names, ‘Henry on trumpet,’ ‘Trevor on trombone.’ . The “full name” intros were reserved for his drummer / Musical Director, Gary Wallis, and Robbie McIntosh on guitar. Incidentally, the first Larmer Tree show we went to, years ago, featured a solo spot by Robbie McIntosh. He did backing vocals on this show. I missed the trio of backing singers on older YouTube shows. As with recent concerts, the (very large) drum kit was set up extreme stage left, NOT in the middle.
The intro to Bad As Me from Spirit In The Room was a bit odd, “Tom Waits is crazy, but he writes good songs.” Hmm. Thanks a lot, Tom! He continued with Howling Wolf’s Evil, the 2012 single, recorded with Jack White at Third Man in Nashville. The original single features in my Toppermost selection. Here it was extremely powerful, “heavy” even, accentuated by criss-crossing lights, beaming out from the stage. It outrocked any major band you care to name too, and the horns came in late but effectively. We switched dramatically to two acoustic guitars and accordion to introduce Delilah. Thousands sang along, word perfect, it was gloriously over-the-top and for both of us, this is the point where the show peaked, in that I don’t feel it reached the heights of Evil followed by Delilah again.
I’ll Never Fall In Love Again was slightly shaky. I felt the band was attuned to rocking out, and on this one they sounded sparse replacing an orchestra. The song was co-written by Lonnie Donegan and was a #2 hit for Tom Jones in 1967, later covered by Elvis. I think it’s my preference for the superior Bacharach-David song of the same title at work.
Tower of Song is from Spirit In The Room and I’m too much of a Leonard Cohen fan to let myself go along with Tom Jones’ version unreservedly. When Leonard Cohen sings I was born with the gift of a golden voice … there is both laughter and applause. Now Tom Jones really was born with the gift of a golden voice, which he still possesses, and the lyric went unmarked by this audience. I did like the arrangement of the ending though. The song was preceded by a loud mic feedback. As you will see from the Toppermost link, I spent a summer paying out Tom’s microphone cable from behind the gold curtains of Bournemouth Winter Gardens, twice nightly, six nights a week, and I have to say he never suffered from mic feedback when I was on the job. My companion points out that I had to say this to her three times during the song, which was twice too often.
Tom Jones gave a longish explanation to Better Go Home (Throw That Blade Away) a Sanford Clark song from 1960. Sanford Clark was fond of singing from the jailbird point of view. It fits the whole Delilah / Green Green Grass of Home ambience too. I wondered if it is on the forthcoming album. The mood changed for a rousing Shake A Hand getting the audience rocking again. That’s also harking back to 1953 when it was a major hit for Faye Adams, and it’s one Elvis covered too. It reminded me of an Eric Clapton interview where he said as you get older you get attracted to the early songs that turned you onto music. The flat out rock continued with the Ry Cooder song Crazy ‘Bout An Automobile, which blended into Chuck Berry’s Reelin’ and Rockin’ before sliding back into the Ry Cooder song … but done louder, tougher and harder than Ry’s version.
spectacular lighting plot: Tom is in there!
So we’re into the hits. Green Green Grass of Home was beautifully taken, with the backing toned right down and the voice soaring. It made me think I’d have liked a couple more where the band was wound down to Leonard Cohen levels rather than really loud. We adjusted our position in the crowd several times but ended up about twenty people back from the front, to our left of the stage (stage right). At this point I could feel the bass drum and bass guitar … twenty people back … physically shifting the air round my legs. Your intrepid reviewer ventured forward with a camera to a gap left of the stage and discovered why there was a gap … the bass speakers were there behind a thin cane fence and nearly deafened me in the optimum camera position. I tried again with a wad of paper hankie in my left ear, took four shots, then forgetting I had nothing in my right ear turned round 180 degrees and got full blast. The photos were all too shaky anyway … whether it was my hand or the bass cabinet physically moving the camera is a question. The band were far louder than (say) Van Morrison or Bellowhead last year. We moved around and at the back of the lawn (say 100 people back) the sound was much better … a Larmer Tree open-air characteristic for obvious reasons.
It’s Not Unusual is a song I disliked the first time I heard it and time has not changed my mind. I find it jerky, somewhat Oompah-Oompah. Here it started with accordion which was not an improvement over full orchestra. Everyone else loved it. I can’t judge. In my mic paying-out days I gritted my teeth every time I heard it.
Randy Newman’s second cover was You Can Leave Your Hat On, another major Tom Jones hit, and again done with enormous power at high volume. If I Only Knew is the 1994 single from The Lead and How To Swing It. The closer was I Wish You Would. This was a blues written by Billy Boy Arnold, but the version that Tom was channeling tonight was The Yardbirds from 1964, when Tom Jones arrived in London. Not a coincidence. Even The Yardbirds could not have competed with this for screaming rock and R&B vocals. The two outstanding songs of the night were both R&B classics, Evil and I Wish You Would. If you go back to Tom Jones On Stage an early EP, where he’s covering Little Richard, you can see a full circle.
The encores were Thunderball – great lights and singing. A bit short in the orchestra department, then Kiss where the very loud bass came into its own. He projected pictures of himself from 1988 when it was a hit … a brave move, but he certainly looks nowhere near his age. The third encore was Strange Things from Praise & Blame, the second Sister Rosetta Tharpe number in the evening. Rocked again.
It’s hard to curate a set list from hundreds of songs, especially when at least half a dozen mega-hit songs simply have to be done. I liked the fact that he stayed recent. I liked the fact that he displayed his R&B roots so strongly. I thought the band a little inflexible, definitely recruited to present the R&B / gospel / rock angle, not quite there on the big ballads. Not having seen him live since the microphone job, 45 odd years ago, I couldn’t believe that he still has that incredible voice. I was also surprised that he sounded as if the voice was fading on Spirit In The Room. He was just tapping that “songs of the third age” / “now I face the final curtain” thing that Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash, Nel Diamond, Glen Campbell mined. This Tom Jones looks as if he has at least a decade before he HAS TO sound old.
Chatter was good early on, but the constant “Oh, yeah? Oh, yeah? Oh, yeah? Alright!’ between songs was beginning to grate at the end. More talk would be good. He thought the Larmer Tree was in Wiltshire and mentioned Wiltshire ancestry … no one corrected him. It’s in Dorset (but he probably travelled through Wiltshire until the last few miles!) He got a couple of pairs of knickers thrown on the stage.
Larmer Tree ambience: main stage left, garden stage (blue lit) right
Someone has asked how I remember / note the set-list. It’s easy if setlist.com have recent shows online. You print them out in advance and tick or alter. Madrid and Barcelona, are I assume, identical shows and sequencing. Both of them note (I Want to) Come Home by Paul McCartney from Spirit in The Room, while tonight it was definitely Better Go Home by Sanford Clark at exactly that point. I assume the Madrid and Barcelona set lists are mistaken. As ever the note “cover of …” tends to be amusing. So Tomorrow Night is “Bob Dylan cover” and Mama Told Me Not to Come is “Eric Burdon & The Animals cover.”
Having the setlist at a huge gig has advantages. We moved back for the encores (noting better sound as well as the full view of the projections), and left halfway through Strange Things – we heard it all walking to the car park field, but exiting the Larmer Tree is down a single-track lane in parts, and I have sat for an hour exiting in the past. So … if there was an unprecedented fourth encore, unlike the previous 2014 shows, this is all wrong!