Friday, 6 January 2012

Ruby Turner tears it up like never before

Full force Gospel! Ruby steps up to the plate and knocks it out of the park. Always knew she would.

We’re 6 days into the New Year as I write. Above is a clip of the song I’ve been playing on repeat since it got its first Youtube outing on the 2nd. You should play it, too, right now. Play it loud.

It’s from the BBC Jools Holland New Year’s Eve special. This was the number that took the show up to midnight: Ruby Turner with the Jools Holland Rythm and Blues Orchestra laying down 'Get Away Jordan', and destroying the studio audience. 

No apologies whatsoever for taking this performance completely away from its New Year’s Eve 11.56pm broadcast context. This song deserves to be heard entirely on its own merits. Why? It's Ruby Turner, for decades one of the UK’s finest, taking it to church like I’ve never heard her before.

Take a good look at the video. Watch it a couple of times. There’s some great editing work. Lots of celebs to pick out. You can see Cyndi Lauper up there. And there’s Imelda May having a time for herself. And who’s that lady in black and silver, up on her feet doing the call and response? Well, I’ll tell you… that’s  Betty ‘Clean Up Woman’ Wright.

So, a masterful performance. Ruby took it up up though the gears from smooth and controlled to full-force hurricane. It brought the house down, and it gave me, and I am sure, thousands of others, huge pleasure to see Ruby hit that sweet spot, like we knew she always would.

We met up for a chat. I’d been waiting to see Ruby do something like this… for decades. Now she has, I wanted to know the how and why. Top of the agenda was Gospel. There was a lovely album, ‘I’m Travelling On’, that Ruby put together two years back at Bob Lamb’s old studios, now reborn as Highbury Studio in King’s Heath, Birmingham, which was Ruby’s first full-on step into Gospel. That led to experiments and developments with a very receptive and supportive Jools Holland, and the evolution of the full-on wailing big band treatment showcased on the video clip.

This has still taken its time to emerge, right? 

“It’s always been there… but Jools just gave me the platform.The thing with Gospel music, for me – I don’t know if it’s the same for Jools, it may well be – is that when it calls you, then you have to do it. It will find it’s way. It’s like water. Gospel music will find its channel.”

But you’ve always sung Gospel, Ruby… 

“I was singing it, but here I am in an industry that’s all about the commercial side, it’s all about the selling, it’s all about being popular. You and I know that Gospel music is an insular thing. People view it as a religious thing, and so barriers go up… But all you need to do it to listen to it, you don’t have to have any faith as such. On a spiritual or personal level, it can take you there… and you make of it what you wish.”

So does this represent a risk for you – and Jools? 

“If I can say so… Jools and I are singing from the same hymn sheet. He gets it, yes".

"But I guess, for many years, the (music) industry would get it too, but they wouldn’t take a chance on it… because it doesn’t sell. But (what I’m doing with Jools)… it works. It’s been working for ten years. We are still fascinated… we are excited by the music."

"We had to do work on a song. He was just on piano, and he asked me to sing a particular song, an old gospel song that he’d heard. He started to find his way round the piano, and of course I knew it, from church, back in the day in Handsworth. As I started singing, suddenly I  heard a tone – it’s almost like a ringing tone, that you can’t touch – and I had to stop. We just went… right…it’s deep. It’s too deep!”

And one thing led to another. What we saw on Hootenanny was a song they have been working on and touring with for the best part of a year. It’s road-tested, tuned to perfection. That’s why it hits like a sledgehammer. That’s why the audience in the BBC studio didn’t stand a chance. That’s how Ruby and Jools got to that place.

And there it is, yet again. Another example of musicians taking their own path because it feels right. Another reason to be proud of the creativity of our musicians. You know what I want to hear now? More. Deep soul, gospel, torch. It’s all there. I can’t wait.

Good God almighty :-)

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