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Hong Kong gigs

Fame's the name - Georgie returns to Hong Kong for gig

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 February, 2015, 11:19pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 February, 2015, 4:54pm

Time flies. It doesn't feel like almost seven years since Georgie Fame last played Hong Kong, but it is. He's back this Friday and Saturday, at the same venue, Grappa's Cellar, and with the same musicians - Eugene Pao on guitar, Paul Candelaria on bass and Anthony Fernandes on drums.

They probably won't need much rehearsal time. The four of them worked up a rapport over several stints in the 1990s at the old Jazz Club in Lan Kwai Fong, although back then Dave Packer was on hand to fill in for an entire horn section on harmonica, and to play piano when Fame stood up to sing.

Alongside his voice, the veteran British performer's first instrument is the Hammond B-3 organ - he still plays the same one he bought in 1966 - but it isn't travelling with him. As he did last time, he will be using a Yamaha stage piano which also offers good sampled organ sounds.

Fame, now 71, started out in England as a rock'n'roll pianist in the late 1950s, and backed many of the most successful of the first wave of British rock singers, as well as visiting Americans such as Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran.

The first incarnation of the band with which he made his name, the Blue Flames, was formed as a backing group for Billy Fury, but Fame's own career took off when he and the Blue Flames launched what turned out to be a three-year residency at the Flamingo Club in London's Wardour Street.

That steady gig produced the classic 1964 live album Rhythm and Blues at the Flamingo, on which Fame covered what was at the time a notably hip selection of tunes, including Jimmy Forrest's Night Train (a hit for James Brown), Nat Adderley's Work Song (with the Oscar Brown Jnr lyric), and Mose Allison's Parchman Farm.

Hit singles followed, most notably Yeh Yeh, now his signature tune.

From the mid-'70s onward, Fame's jazz and blues interests led him away from the pop charts and towards album projects, on which he explored vocalese and the art of fronting big bands. From the late '80s, he spent almost a decade as Van Morrison's musical director, and, in the '90s, was a founding member of Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings. Both of those associations are renewed periodically.

He continues to make varied and interesting solo albums, of which the two most recent are 2009's Tone-Wheels A Turnin' featuring the long-serving band he calls the Last Blue Flames, which includes both his sons, and Lost in a Lover's Dream from 2012, both on his own Three Line Whip label.

Lost in a Lover's Dream suggests an interesting new direction for Fame. It features him singing without recourse to keyboards in an intimate chamber jazz setting with just a guitarist and a bassist accompanying him.

It will be interesting to see whether he performs any of those songs that way with Pao and Candelaria, but some rousing full-band performances of a fair number of old favourites, interspersed with stories about them, can be expected. He always delivers a good show.

Meanwhile, the Lunar New Year festivities are upon us, and jazz lovers who are keen to get into the spirit of things should listen to the new CD by Singapore's Jeremy Monteiro, the first jazz album I'm aware of based on tunes associated with the festival.

The mixture of swing, Brazilian and funk styles, as applied to melodies you've been hearing in supermarket queues since shortly after Christmas, works surprisingly well, and rather like seasonal Christmas CDs, this can be cheerfully dusted off annually.

The album is called Gong Xi! and is available in record stores in Hong Kong and Singapore and at www.gongxi.jeremymonteiro.com

Take Three

Three of the best albums from Georgie Fame's five-decade career.

  • On the Right Track (2004, Raven): a 28-track summary of Fame's first seven years as a pop star, starting with Work Song from the Flamingo and concluding with Rosetta, a 1971 duo hit with Alan Price. Yeh Yeh and The Ballad of Bonnie & Clyde are included.
  • The Blues & Me (1996, Go Jazz Records): a fine blues-based set illustrating Fame's command of the genre, also notable for an all-star cast of jazz and blues musicians including Dr John and saxophonists Peter King, Ronnie Cuber, Stanley Turrentine and Phil Woods.
  • Name Droppin & Walking Wounded (1998, Go Jazz): an excellent live record, split over two CDs available individually or bundled in a slipcase, of a residency at Ronnie Scott's jazz club in London in 1995. Fame and his two sons, James on drums and Tristan on guitar, are joined by Geoff Gascoyne on bass, Anthony Kerr on vibraphone and a "horn" section comprising Guy Barker on trumpet, and Peter King and Alan Skidmore on saxophones.