Dave Woodhall catches a veteran musician reworking some of his finest moments.
The Hare & Hounds is a great venue but it’s a sod when the rain’s lashing down and you have to park three streets away. That brief moan aside, this was a night for connoisseurs of vintage jazz, funk, blues, call it what you like.
Norman and his band amble on stage and launch into arguably the best-known song he’s been involved with, Rhythm Stick. This is followed by Billericay Dickie, another Ian Dury number, accordion and piano allowing for a music-hall treatment Dury would have approved of.
We get a smattering of solo work, with his band laying down some classic funk and jazz, plus a bit more from the Blockheads back catalogue and the musically autobiographical Norman, featuring Relax and the Clash’s Magnificent Seven, on which he also played.
Of course, another great musician is at the back of everyone’s mind and a mention of Wilko Johnson’s improved health brings the loudest cheer of the evening as the band move into Wilko’s Everybody’s Carrying a Gun.
The Leadbelly standard When I Was a Cowboy finishes off the set proper but there’s still time for a joyously-reworked Roxette and a sax-heavy finale courtesy of Gilad Atzmon, who in a band of seasoned musicians has stood out all night.
It may sound odd to hear so many classic songs played without a guitar in arrangements that were closer to jazz than traditional rock and blues, but such quality transcends genres, and in any case the Blockheads were always, as one member of the audience put it, “the best British funk band ever.”
Bass players are supposed to stay in the background but that’s never been Norman’s style. He makes a wet night in Kings Heath seem like Glastonbury, clearly enjoying being up front for a change and long may he entertain such appreciative audiences.
And long may support act the Standard Lamps continue to play their infectious brand of rockabilly’n’blues. Whatever Norman might make you think, groups of guitars definitely aren’t on their way out.