Rod Stewart with Jools Holland: a jaded dollop of album promotion? An unmitigated joy, more like

Rod Stewart and Jools Holland
Rod Stewart and Jools Holland - Jonas Mohr 2024

Such are the wiles of contemporary record-business strategy that, at 79, the illustrious Sir Roderick Stewart found himself onstage at 6pm on a Monday, entertaining the first of four packed houses across two nights at Pryzm nightclub in Kingston upon Thames, to promote his latest long-player.

As per its title, Swing Fever, romps through 13 standards largely from the pre-rock’n’roll big-band era, with Jools Holland, long-standing compere of BBC Two’s Later, and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra providing clamorous backing and extraordinarily racey tempos for two leading gentlemen of pensionable age. Think Robbie Williams’s Swing When You’re Winning, with a thousand volts shot through it.

On this occasion, however, one wondered whether financial imperatives would dictate that Holland give his 18-piece orchestra time off, and he and Stewart would appear as a piano-bar duo. Not a bit of it: the stage was soon crammed with brass players, glamorous backing singers and various other instrumentalists – at least five unseen wind players, back right, were practically stationed in the dressing room.

This horn-heavy army soon struck up a high-tempo take on Count Basie’s Boogie Woogie, and anticipation soared as Holland, 66, pounded the ivories on none-more-home turf.

Then on swanned Stewart, like it was Hyde Park, his hair a miracle of engineering, all highlights and swirling uplift, his pairing of pink lamé jacket and black pin-striped drains refracting swing-era gadiness through Rod The Mod’s mid-’Sixties peacockism. He admitted to being “f---ing nervous” debuting fresh repertoire, and stagily gulped down a glass of red. His casual warmth, however, soon lit up the room, as he effortlessly crooned over all those saxophones on Nat King Cole’s Almost Like Being in Love, and, if you closed your eyes on the evening’s clientele, many in anoraks and work attire, you could picture how this sassy, energetic music would have got the Cotton Club jumping in 1930s Harlem.

This, however, was no dry historical re-enactment. Ain’t Misbehavin’ was rendered with a jump-up ska feel, diverting into a crazy doo-wop break mid-way through – not exactly following Fats Waller’s example.

Between numbers, Holland read out pre-submitted audience questions. Would they be touring this material? There are apparently no immediate plans, as Stewart prepares for co-headline US stadium shows with Billy Joel, but he replied, “I’d love to do it, if the album’s a success”. Asked whom he’d like to duet with, he laughed. “Well, all of them are dead, like Sam Cooke, Muddy Waters… But maybe Dua Lipa?” A pause. “Is that her name?” Now, with mock embarrassment: “God, I wish I was dead!”

After gamely signing CDs on Holland’s piano, they were off again on an exuberant railroad-blues stab at Jimmy Forrest’s Night Train, yet momentarily the pace subsided, as Holland tickled the keys and Stewart reverted to his late-career balladic style for a smoochy Have I Told You Lately by Van Morrison – cue everyone’s phone aloft, in video mode. The 45-minute set concluded at full pelt with Louis Prima’s Oh Marie, leaving exuberant energy buzzing through the crowd.

Artists often troop through these promotional engagements with ‘ker-ching’ in their eyes. This lot, who’d have every reason to be jaded, gave everything, bringing unmitigated joy.