Tonight’s support act is a guy called Thabo.  I assumed from his accent that he was American but when I checked out his website after the show I discovered that he was born in Zimbabwe and lives in…Huddersfield.  Thabo’s songs are intelligent, tuneful and incredibly engaging.  By the end of the first song he has the audience in the palm of his hand, much to his evident surprise and delight.  He explains that when he opens shows he is usually only singing to the sound man and the security, as everyone else is still in the bar.  Right now the hall is three quarters full and everyone here is giving him their full attention.  On the evidence of tonight’s show, Thabo is a man to watch out for and I hope the next time I see him he will be headlining in his own right.

The Great American Songbook – that loose collection of songs written between the 1930’s and 1950’s by songwriters and lyricists such as Hoagy Carmichael, Cole Porter, Sammy Cahn and Irving Berlin, mostly for stage and film – have become something of a rite of passage for singers over years.  Vocalists as varied as Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Rod Stewart and Robbie Williams have all tried their hand at interpreting these standards.  Some have measured up; Nelson’s Stardust album is a career highlight, while others, I’m looking at you Robbie, have been found wanting.  These are not songs for young men, they require the experience of a life lived and lessons learned.  Tonight, Seal is ten days short of his 55th birthday and evidently feels that the time is right to take these songs out on the road.

The ten piece band settles easily into Luck Be A Lady. Seal delivers the song song deftly enough but it seems to serve as more of a warm up than anything else and it’s not until the next song, George and Ira Gershwin’s They Can’t Take That Away From Me, that Seal and the band really start to shine.  For I Put A Spell On You,The take Nina Simone’s version, rather than the Screaming Jay Hawkins original, as their template and it gives the five piece horn section a chance to show off their chops. 

Tonight is the first night of the tour and Seal seems relaxed and happy to be back in front of an audience.  When a lady to my left shouts out that she loves him, he seems genuinely touched, perhaps just slightly less so when a bloke to my right declares that he loves him too.  As we move through the set there is of course an elephant in the room that cannot be avoided, or perhaps it’s more of a mammoth.  The spectre of Frank Sinatra haunts many of these songs and none more so than I’ve Got You Under My Skin.  When Sinatra sang this for his Songs For Swingin’ Lovers album it was as a man who has given himself over utterly to another; he knows it will end badly, his turmoil is tangible but his fate is sealed.  Added to this is Milt  Bernhart’s trombone solo; eight bars of the most electrifying, hair-raising music ever committed to tape.  Wisely, Seal does not try to be Frank, but to be frank, the song’s superficial treatment tonight makes it one that would have been better avoided.  In contrast, A Very Good Year – another song that bears an indelible Sinatra stamp – is given all the gravitas it requires and is the standout song from this part of the show.

A Kiss From A Rose moves the show from the part where an audience largely in their fifties revisit the Forties to the part where an audience largely in their fifties revisit their twenties.  The horn section slip away for, I imagine a well deserved beer, leaving the rest of the band to tackle a selection of Seal’s greatest hits.  Future Love Paradise, Life On The Dancefloor, Prayer For The Dying and  Fly Like an Eagle all ensure that the audience gets to its feet and stays there and gives Seal the opportunity on a couple of occasions to jump down from t he stage and join them.  Killer brings the show to a club-like climax and the encore of Crazy sends everyone home happy.  The Great American Songbook may have given Seal a new direction to explore but it’s the hits that the audience will keep coming back for.

John Scott

Photos Ryan Johnston

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