When I first heard Steve Winwood’s voice, I thought it was a great voice; distinctive flexible and powerful but I didn’t think it was the sort of voice that would last.
In a different way, I thought Andy Fairweather Lowe’s voice was risky too. I didn’t think he was ever going to carry on singing wide-eyed and leglessly into his fifties and sixties. Frankly, in my judgement, his vocal chords wouldn’t take it.
But it just shows what a rubbish judge of voice I am. Andy FL is still going strong and touring – he even contribute to Kate Bush’s recent album – and Steve Winwood, now approaching his mid sixties, opened Cheltenham Jazz Festival with a stonking gig the other evening demonstrating that his vocal chords are still very much in the best of shapes.
With a four-piece band of exceptional musicians, he sat at the Hammond organ and launched into full-throated version of the 60’s hit “I’m a Man” which almost lifted the Big Top in Montpellier Gardens.
The crowd looked as though it was in dire need of something to provoke foot-tapping and head nodding – anything to keep the circulation going on a very chilly May evening with myriad draughts flowing through the tent.
Nothing reminds you more that you are now of the Older Generation than going to a music gig featuring a star of the sixties or seventies. I blogged some time ago about a surprise trip to the NEC, Birmingham, organised by Capt Sensible. We walked to the venue from the car park in the midst of a whole cohort of pensioners in leather jackets and women with unsuitably crepey cleavages. I had a terrible fear that we might be seeing Showaddywaddy strutting their ancient stuff and I’d have to pretend to be grateful. It turned out to be the sublime James Taylor, who, while looking his age, sung like he was still in his thirties. Close your eyes, you can close your eyes it’s all right, he sang. And it was. It was like it was when he was totally desirable with long caramel brown hair and I could sing Carly Simon songs quite well so I imagined in some fabulously wild dreams, that I’d make quite a decent substitute.
But back to the Jazz Fest, where the audience weren’t sporting quite so much leather and there were no crepey cleavages. This audience was mostly clad in sensible outdoor wear – more Berghaus than Biba; downfilled jackets and raincoats and anoraks. There was only one glimmering suggestion of glamour – a skinny tall model-girl in painted-on jeans and teeny not-warm-at-all jacket on the arm of a dashingly-good-looking dark-haired chap who might have been an off-duty Army officer. Probably one of Steve W’s daughters.
Who cares about clothes though? I was wearing my shaggy sheep-like jacket and jeans. My “off-down-the-shops” ensemble was only saved by a nice necklace and earrings, so I really can’t talk. I should instead recognise that with the exception of those out on the pull, we have all reached an age where it’s too tempting to sacrifice stylishness for the alluring benefits of comfort and warmth.
We arrived unusually early because I thought it was 8.15pm and it was 8.30 start, which gave ample opportunity for people-watching. I made a mental note to repeat that, but there were disadvantages; no time for a visit to a bar. I hissed to Capt Sensible “I could do with a drink” in case he felt like being a diamond geezer and venturing abroad in search of far-away treasures and journeying back with a double g&t but all he said was “I could do with a flask of tea.” I suppose I have to be grateful he didn’t bring a small picnic table.
So I watched the sound-desk team which included an excellent chap with a big beard, a bit of a corporation and one of those American tweedy caps with a button in the middle, which of course he kept on. The key to ageing, if you’re any kind of musician at all, is to don cool or distinctive headwear.
There was a late start because it took a while to get everyone in.
Capt Sensible was a bit cross “Why are all these people LATE?!” I hestitated to comment that the reason we don’t normally notice latecomers is that we ARE those people. Well, ok, not actually late but we have often miraculously slid into our seats just as the curtain is rising or the honoured guest is being decorously escorted on to the stage.
I remember actually running down a deserted corridor of the Town Hall, a bit tight for time (the audience were already seated) and seeing a guy in a dark suit at the far door. I went straight up to him and breathlessly enquired “Can I get to D5 through here?”
“I’m afraid I don’t know,” he said and it dawned on me I was talking to Alistair McGowan, er, he who I had come to see on stage. He was waiting to be called on. In best News of the World style, I made my excuses and went in through a different door, avoiding the attention of the entire audience which burst into applause as McGowan entered.
The Steve Winwood gig was a treat in three respects; firstly because he’s been a Patron of the Festivals for donkey’s years and I’d always wondered why he hadn’t given us a tune, secondly because the gig was on the eve of his major tour of the United States and thirdly because we were in the presence of musical greatness. This Birmingham boy joined the Spencer Davis Group in the 60’s when he was only 14 – Keep on Running, I’m a Man etc – went on to Traffic (Capt Sensible’s favourite band) and went solo via the supergroup Blind Faith. He has retained considerable kudos by recording hit songs – on which he played all the instruments – at his manor house in deepest Glos Cotswolds and recording and doing gigs with Eric Clapton.
So the set included his own compositions – Fly from his 2008 album Nine Lives was particularly lovely – Blind Faith and some Traffic tracks including, as a tribute to the Queen’s Jubilee, which he said he’d miss because he’d be in the USA, Traffic’s ‘Pearly Queen.’ Higher Love was another hit which was all his own work. My only disappointment was the lack of ‘Valerie‘ which the amazing Eric Prydz used for his hit “Call On Me.”
The demand for an encore was deafening and insistent and the response was spot on – Traffic’s Dear Mr Fantasy followed by ‘Gimme Some Lovin’‘ which had the ramped-up audience on its feet. Having totally forgotten the chilly draughts they were feeling like teenagers again. A great evening.
Steve Winwood’s voice features on this Eric Prydz track. The video, featuring an exercise class, was v popular.