I managed to make it up to the Phil in time to catch almost all of the support act, Edgar Jones, who was performing solo. Although I have his first solo album (Soothing Music For Stray Cats), and much of his work with local garage legends The Stairs, I recognised hardly any of the tracks he played, so any names contained in this review come from skilful Googling.
The first song I heard was “More Than You’ve Ever Had”, actually off the album of his I have, which was followed by a mix of downbeat acoustic tunes enlivened by his self-deprecating between-song comments. “Acting My Age” featured some curious guitar strumming and jazz age-style vocals, while he sang tender songs dedicated to his wife and new-born child. He ended with a couple of new tunes – “Wait!”, due to be released on The Coral’s Skeleton Key label, and “Hard Act To Follow”, which he said he’d hope to be. I was pleased to have seen him in the flesh for the first time, but none of his songs particularly grabbed me, though he certainly seemed like a good bloke.
In between acts I sampled the new bar, which looks great but had forgotten one crucial aspect of a good bar – being able to actually get a pint. The best that was on offer was a (reassuringly overpriced) bottle of Estrella, but the place was mobbed, so I’m sure they’re not too bothered by moaners like me. The Phil’s bar used to be a decent place to get a pint of something from Liverpool Organic, if not always during an actual gig… Perhaps they are missing the influence of their former ‘Executive Director (Liverpool Philharmonic Hall & Events)’ in more than just what acts are getting booked (and whatever other duties he undertook, surely many and varied! Hi, Simon…).
Dr John’s band came out before the man himself, with his musical director Sarah Morrow somewhat cheesily asking the crowd, “does anybody need a doctor?” as they played the instrumental “The Dr Is In”. She reminded me a bit of ex-Brookie actress Claire Sweeney, while the rest of the band was made up of Hammond organ, (somewhat overly-thudding) drums and bass, with the Doctor at the piano.
The first song proper delved back to 1972’s Dr. John’s Gumbo for “Iko Iko”, originally by The Dixie Cups. “Shoo Fly, Don’t Bother Me” was followed by a number dedicated to bluesman Earl King. The first trombone solo came during the traditional “St. James Infirmary”. I can certainly now cross trombone solos off my list of things-I’ve-never-seen-at-a-gig.
A lengthy instrumental intro led into Cole Porter’s “Love For Sale” before the first number off 1968’s essential debut Gris-Gris, the immortal “I Walk On Guilded Splinters” (as covered by Paul Weller), with a drum solo and extended jam at the end. Then came “Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya” from the same album, so he was hitting my sweet spots fairly early on in proceedings.
“Right Place Wrong Time” from 1973’s In The Right Place was followed by “Let The Good Times Roll” from the previous year, with the Doctor taking a guitar solo, as well as a Hammond solo from the woman on keys.
Finally we made it to some tracks off his wonderful tribute album to Louis Armstrong from last year, Ske-Dat-De-Dat – The Spirit Of Satch. He played three numbers in total from this, “What A Wonderful World”, “That’s My Home” and then “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child”, interspersed during the rest of the set.
The show ended with the glorious “Mess Around” (made famous by Ray Charles and also covered by The Animals) and “Such A Night”, with its clarion call of “if I don’t do it, somebody else will”. The Doctor then left the stage with the rest of the band carrying on for a couple more minutes.
He looks in less than perfect health (at the age of 74), using two canes in order to get around the stage, so it was no surprise that he didn’t return for more. It wasn’t a stunning show, but it was enjoyable, and I’m definitely pleased to have seen Dr. John; he wasn’t at the top of my ‘bucket list’ of must-see acts (Leonard Cohen is probably the top of that at the moment, if only considering the possible rather than the merely theoretical like The Beatles, Tim Buckley or The Jam) but I’ve enjoyed his records on and off over the years. In fact, I’d heartily recommend both the Satch tribute album, and his two previous records, 2010’s Tribal and Locked Down from two years later.
In honour of Dr. John’s soulful influences I wore my yellow Stax Records tee-shirt. I didn’t get to spot many other tees in the crowd, but ones I did see included The Who’s Quadrophenia, Festival Number 6 and Mole Jazz Records.
Here are some highlights from the set list: