James Hunter Six at The New Wolsey

Were I the sort of music fan who doesn’t bother turning up for the opening act at a gig, then I would never have discovered James Hunter.   Back in 2007 I was lucky enough to get some last minute tickets to see Bryan Adams play at Wembley Arena, but it was a James Hunter album “People Gonna Talk”, that I came home with that night.

On another occasion whilst queuing to see him play in The Speigeltent during the Norwich Arts Festival, we had a conversation with the couple behind us, who asked if we’d ever seen him play live.  Following our answer, they turned to their group of friends and shouted down the queue “These people have seen him play and apparently he is quite good”!

It had been too long since I had seen James play so the opportunity to catch a live performance at the New Wolsey was too tempting to miss.  Hunter’s relaxed, self-deprecating style instantly puts his audience at ease: “I don’t think there is anyone here tonight that I don’t know personally” was quite possibly true.

Hunter’s music is a magical blend of jazz, soul, and blues – a pretty unique blend, which is what makes him stand out.   There are his wonderfully unique vocals, and that pulsating staccato sound of the saxophones egging him on, as he sometimes uses the microphone stand as a slide on the neck of his guitar.

But James is not alone in creating his sound.   Ably assisted by the five others that make up the James Hunter Six, (obviously friends) they are all relaxed, and without fuss just get on with the job of producing great music.

There was one number that went wrong for the band.  Unperturbed, James just stopped, laughed, apologised to the audience and started again.  That spoke volumes for the honesty of the man and his desire to get it right – for the sake of the music and the paying public.

The majority of the set concentrated on numbers from the new album, “Hold On”, which had only been released on the day of the show.  It can be nerve wracking introducing a new body of work, however, if the rate at which copies of the CD were being snapped up in the foyer was anything to go by, I suspect that I was not alone in enjoying these new numbers.

But what of tonight’s opening act – Martin McNeill?  A slide guitar player par excellence, Martin was the perfect man to put us in the right mood.  He finished an all too brief set with an excellent rendition of Chain of Fools.  He had spent time avoiding lecturing us on the history of his numbers during his set but it was nice to be reminded that it was Aretha Franklin who first introduced us to this Don Covay number.

I am no stranger to the New Wolsey but this was my first time there for a music night.  Hats off to Stephen Foster Promotions for choosing the theatre for this gig.  An excellent auditorium, friendly helpful staff and top class sound – Happy Birthday New Wolsey, feel free to put more music on between the plays and other performances.


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