It was a Sunday afternoon back in 1990 when, on a whim, I called the NEC Arena box office in Birmingham to see if they had any tickets for the sold-out Prince concert I had suddenly realised was that night. They said there was one at the side of the stage but they couldn’t promise any kind of view, I might be looking at the back of a PA speaker; I said I’d take a chance, and enjoyed a prime seat at a marvellous concert, one that I hadn’t even thought of going to a few hours earlier.
This afternoon I became aware, via a tweet, that singer Christine Tobin, with guitarist Phil Robson and double bassist Dave Whitford, was playing the last of her marathon of small village hall dates in support of her new album of Leonard Cohen songs, A Thousand Kisses Deep, just 20-something miles up the road; on another whim I jumped into the car and arrived to find that it was sold out. A little pleading and the kind ladies on the door at Breadsall Memorial Hall found a spare seat. It, too, was a marvellous concert.
The Prince one might have had a fancy stage set, a bigger band and some nifty dancing, but the Tobin one had intimacy, warmth, and an exceptionally fine set of songs. Most were from the Cohen album, to be reviewed here very soon, and they included an unexpectedly upbeat Suzanne, complete with African-tinged guitar, a chilling Story Of Isaac and a transcendent Take This Waltz. Sprinkled in with Lennie’s finest were Billie Holiday’s God Bless The Child, Joni Mitchell’s The Priest, Carole King’s Home Again and, a really pleasant surprise, Bobby Gentry’s Ode To Billie Joe.
The Prince gig may have had a bigger audience, more expensive beer and an impossible wait to get out of the car park afterwards, but Christine had a warmer, friendlier crowd, a table of CDs for sale, a raffle at the interval, and the hugely reassuring knowledge that in a little village on the edge of Derby jazz is alive and well.
And it was another reminder that some of the most memorable musical experiences I’ve had have been the ones that weren’t planned.
(This isn’t a review. I had taken a night off and was there as a fan, not as a critic, but my enthusiasm has once again got the better of me, and I couldn’t resist posting a little something.)
- Many thanks to Paula’s gang for graciously accepting two more at their table.