Live reviews

Tom Seals Band: Picnic at the Palace

Tom Seals Band: Picnic at the Palace (Blenheim Palace 22 July. Live review by Alison Bentley) Now that outdoor gigs are allowed again, going to one felt strangely clandestine. Would Blenheim Palace be transformed into a kind of outdoor speakeasy? The audience was carefully grouped in deckchairs around tables, like islands on the grass outside the palace. The breeze carried the music over the decorative pergolas down to the distant lake.

The Tom Seals Band at Picnic at the Palace. Photo credit Simon Greene

  After several months of not gigging, the Tom Seals Band opened like a horse straight out of the starting gate, full of pent up energy. British singer-pianist Seals is still in his 20s, and had the relaxed confidence of someone who’s been playing constantly since the age of 13. The band plunged straight into their jazz-soul set with a shuffle version of Charles’ Hallelujah I Love Her So. Seals grew up listening to his grandfather’s big band, and he sang with a great sense of swing, his voice as rhythmic as a drumkit. Neatly-placed tenor notes (Harry Green) enhanced the sweet intensity of the voice. Just the Two of Us burst into superb piano gestures and a powerful backbeat (Joel Barford on drums), very Winelight-era Grover Washington. The voice had soul phrasing but a timbre with a gritty hint of contemporary singers like Lewis Capaldi and CeeLo Green. Seals moved between piano and Fender Rhodes sounds, and he used the latter to lay his solo right back into the groove. “Just the four of us, due to social distancing rules,” sang Seals- his bantering with the audience had a friendly Clare Teal-like ease. A number of his songs were drawn from singer-pianists’ songbooks. The stomping feel of These Are the Days (by Jamie Cullum) leaned heavily on Nick Bayes’ fine electric bass. Seal’s falsetto slides broke out into virtuosically-racing boogie piano and a roaring drum solo. John Cleary’s When You Get Back had a Steely Dan feel, with Harry Green doubling on guitar- some excellent funky single string riffs lifted the groove. Seal’s blues-based keyboard solo mined the blues, with Oscar Peterson-esque flourishes. Three songs became one: a freely sung vocal/piano take on Joel’s New York State of Mind became the intro to A Song for You, some Donny Hathaway phrasing pulling the ballad into a taut rock feel, then Zelada’s The Blues Remain. (The illicit thrill of an audience singing along- safely- in public…) Gregory Porter’s Hey Laura was gentler, over a restrained groove, Bayes’ nifty bass work jumping on certain beats. The mood was touching- Seals played his heart out. BB King’s Let the Good Times Roll saw sparks flying from the keys- Seals talked about how his hero Jools Holland had given advice on playing boogie woogie. Alicia Keys is known for using her classical piano style in her songs, but Seals brought jazz to her If I Ain’t Got You, with slinky Fender Rhodes and a moody guitar solo from Green. More stonking boogie from Sweet Home Chicago got people dancing (at a distance) and left us wanting more. Seals has built up quite a following online during lockdown, but It was good to feel the shared experience of a gig again- with a band that’s so full of energy, skill and love of music. Support was from the excellent blues-folk-Americana duo, Ric Sanders (violin) and Vo Fletcher (guitar/vocals.) There’s a variety of outdoor music at Blenheim through most of August. Jazz is every Sunday evening, including Tom Seals on 16 August (BOOKINGS) Tom’s first single “Black Coffee” is coming out on 1st August on Right Track Records, distributed by Universal Music.     

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