Gregory Porter & Band at the Royal Albert Hall for Bluesfest 2013

Date: Wednesday 30th October 2013

When I first heard about Bluesfest 2013 one aspect which surprised me was the late night shows which started at ten in the evening and ended at around midnight. ‘From just a logistical point that is going to be a challenge. Never mind everything else’ I thought. But I was curious to see the late shows in action so I travelled from Surrey with my friend Kieran to see Gregory Porter & his Band make their Royal Albert Hall debut. I first became aware of Gregory Porter through the British Jazz artist Jamie Cullum (one of Gregory’s many supporters) and his BBC Radio 2 programme but I had never seen him live. His debut album ‘Water’ released in 2010 received a nomination for ‘Best Jazz Vocal’ album at the 53rd Grammy Awards which set the ball rolling for his music career.

By 2012 he was a force to be reckoned with, having gained another Grammy nomination this time in the ‘Best Traditional R&B Performance’ category for his second album ‘Be Good’ not to mention the album’s European success which saw him obtain The Edison Award (The Dutch Equivalent of a Grammy).

At exactly ten thirty, a five-piece band walked onto the stage to the sound of a roaring sold out Royal Albert Hall.  The drummer and double bass player created a beat that was similar to an incoming train as Porter appeared in a pristine white suit and his trademark black hat to an electric atmosphere.

‘Thank you so much! He bellowed to rapturous applause. The pianist tickled the ivories for ‘No Love Dying’ from his newly released third album ‘Liquid Spirit’ as the audience immediately engaged with him as they sang ‘No love dying here’ back to him during some audience participation. The drummer’s subtle brushes and the well-received saxophone solo transported me to a smoky New York jazz club as Gregory’s silky tones filled the Hall.

As the band went straight into the title track of the third album, the historic music venue had become a Gospel church whilst Gregory began ‘Scatting’ with such elegance. As he was raised by his church minister mother, it was no surprise that his music had features of lively church music. However, he did not ‘preach’ to the audience, he just crooned.

‘Hey Laura’, ‘Workin’ and ‘Real Good Hands’ (which he dedicated to a couple in the audience), were not songs but rather ‘human’ stories set to music.

‘1960 What? 1960 Who?’ told the story of the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement and the racial persecution that many black Americans had suffered during that time. Referencing the burning of buildings and the assassination of Martin Luther King, the drummer created the sound of bullets on his snare drum.

Once they had finished their set, the entire band received a standing ovation. It was a brief but extremely satisfying show.

By Glenn Sargeant 

Thanks to Pete, Kieran and Joe