Tom Jones – Live Review – Scarborough Open Air Theatre
By Roger Crow, July 2022
I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of gigs this summer. A couple of helpings of Duran Duran made up for years of not seeing them at all, while greats like Bryan Adams, A-ha, and Simply Red at Scarborough are some of the happiest memories of the year. But the one I was REALLY looking forward to was Tom Jones.
One of my earliest memories was a 1970s LP of Tom looking like the cat who got the cream. So when I finally got to meet him in 1996 at the Royal Variety Dress Rehearsal, getting to chat about his turn in Mars Attacks! was a dream moment.
Back to now, and following terrific Aussie girl group Germein, who are a ray of sunshine, we all wait for the main event.
The simple graphic ‘Tom Jones Surrounded by Time’ appears on the main screen, and the excitement builds.
The old man who walks out on stage at 8.30pm in late July looks frail. He has a stick, bows to the audience, and eventually reaches his spot for the evening.
The wave of empathy that washes over the packed out OAT is almost palpable. Thousands of intended hugs are mentally expressed.
And then ‘the Voice’ starts singing, and it’s one of the most emotional moments I’ve seen at any gig.
“I’m growing dimmer in the eyes. I’m growing fainter in my talk.”
If Tom’s intention was to hit the crowd with a sucker punch moment, he managed it in the first six words of ‘I’m Growing Old’.
“Could not be happier”
But that voice. I know it’s a cliche to mention the richness of Jones’s vocals, but while some great artists’ range has the depth of a puddle, Wales’s greatest living singer has tones deeper than the Mariana Trench. And the songs featured in this incredible set match that level of immersive intensity.
“I’d just like to explain why I’m sitting on this bloody stool,” remarks Tom. “Five years ago, right, I had a hip operation, and had a new hip, and it’s working like a charm now. But guess what?” he laughs. “I’ve now got to go in again and have this one done. There’s nothing else wrong with me. I’ve just got a bit of a dodgy leg. But I’m here, right. That’s the main thing, right? And more importantly, you’re here!”
The crowd could not be happier.
Tom then launches into a Bob Dylan song “with a new arrangement”. It’s more up-tempo, and though he obviously can’t dance around the stage like his phenomenal TV show This is Tom Jones, the energy is incredible.
“It’s too hot to sleep. Time is running away,” sings Tom, echoing the mood of recent weeks. Did I emphasise those vocals? If Maverick’s fighter plane could sing, it would sound like Tom.
“I know it looks like I’m moving, but I’m standing still.” So true, and no less entertaining for it.
“Now we would like to take you back to the start of my ‘cre-rording’ career,” begins Tom, stopping to correct himself. “Recording,” he laughs, and after a potted history of that breakout 1964 track, we get THAT masterpiece, which eventually was released in 1965.
‘It’s Not Unusual’, with accordion, is a retro-fitted joy.
“Heartfelt and beautiful”
The entrancing big screen behind Tom is also a visual treat, not least because of the great man’s face. It’s a joy to behold, that twinkle in the eye burning like a supernova.
Anyone feeling they would be in tears after that first song soon realises the ‘wake’ has become a party. And that track we’ve heard a thousand times is suddenly as fresh as a daisy.
Staying in ‘65, Tom introduces the timeless ‘What’s New Pussycat’, by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. It would be rude, let alone impossible, not to add the “Whoa, a whoa woh woh whoas”.
With an accordion intro, again it feels brand new. The golden aura on the big screen behind Tom makes him look like some spiritual entity, and if there is the greater force upstairs, I imagine he looks and sounds a lot like Mr Jones.
‘Windmills of Your Mind’ is of course one of the greatest movie tracks of all time, and it’s a shame TJ never added his version to either the original Thomas Crown Affair, or Pierce Brosnan’s superior remake. To see him perform it at twilight is an absolute joy, and his band do a terrific job of backing him up rather than drowning him out.
A bluesy version of ‘Sex Bomb’ suggests a smoky Louisiana bar. Then the main body of the track is up-tempo, and we’re on more familiar turf. The original version was by a man in the autumn of his career. This is by a man in the winter of that incredible life, and it’s as appropriate as it is brilliant. And that’s the thing about Tom’s career over the last few decades. I still recall playing ‘If Only I Knew’ on a loop when I bought it decades ago, and it felt ahead of its time then. In 2022 Tom feels like he’s crafting music from 100 years in the future, occasionally by echoing sounds from 100 years ago.
The star attraction gives us a little history of his friendship with Cat Stevens before launching into the foot-tapping ‘Pop Star’, and then there’s the immortal ‘Green Green Grass of Home’. It’s as heartfelt and beautiful as ever. And throughout there’s never a false note, fluffed lyric or weak spot. The man is in his eighties and a testament to the restorative power of showbiz.
And despite the thousands of assembled fans, it’s an incredibly intimate gig, like he’d popped round your house for a cuppa and a singalong.
‘Talking Reality Television Blues’ is another of those hugely relevant ‘now’ songs, rather than a glorious retro track, and it could have been crafted for a man half of Tom’s age, yet feels so much more apt coming from an elder statesman of the music industry.
The intro to one of his best loved tracks is a melancholy affair, and then those familiar lyrics kick in, and we’re all singing along to ‘Delilah’. It’s probably been sung in every karaoke bar in the world, and the actual guy so many of us tried to emulate, but never came close to… and we’re singing along with him. Surreal and utterly wonderful at the same time, as is the epic ‘Lazarus Man’, which feels like we’ve been transported to another world. Another time.
“Are you ready?” asks Tom.
“Yeah!” yells the crowd.
“Then come owwwwnn!” he grins, and launches into ‘You Can Leave Your Hat On’. Again, it’s a bluesy version in places, and it doesn’t take much for the seated crowd to get on their feet and join in.
As darkness falls, the funky chords of ‘Kiss’ waft over the masses, and Tom encourages us that we “don’t have to be beautiful to turn him owwwnnn!” Prince would have been proud.
By the finale, and a little boogie woogie, it turns out to be incredibly poignant. “God bless you all!” remarks Tom as he potters off stage.
It’s a fun, incredibly moving night, and another of those bucket list acts ticked off. Perhaps THE ultimate entertainer whose vocals are the stuff of legend. There. In Scarborough. Wow.
Sir Tom Jones. One of the greatest knights of my life.
images: Cuffe & Taylor