“I’ve got a very important question for you,” Paul Janeway said three songs into the gig. “It will determine the rest of your evening. Are you ready… for a trumpet solo?” The crowd’s response was affirmative. Of course it was. And this was only the beginning.
I first encountered St Paul and the Broken Bones while watching a North Sea Jazz registration last year. Always a lover of soul and funk, I was struck by the emotional power of the songs and the band’s innovative use of brass and keys. When they visited Norwich as part of their 2018 UK tour I was quick to book my ticket.
Having bought said ticket well in advance I was ill-prepared for the heat that pestered the city on the day of the actual gig. At that point Norwich had been sweltering for weeks and a hosepipe ban was on the cards. Dressed in my flimsiest black lace dress – I’m a firm believer in dressing up for the occasion, even if it’s set to occur in what looks like an oversized biker bar – I turned up in time to see the roadies do their usual roadie things with tape and microphones and suspicious-looking pieces of paper while looking as if some unfathomable disaster is about to strike.
Just after nine PM St Paul and the Broken Bones’ eight band members climbed the wonky steps to the stage. Dressed in tight suits, they were dripping with sweat before they had even touched their instruments. Janeway, meanwhile, was the only band member who was not wearing shoes because, as he told the audience, one of them had been stolen during a gig in London.
This setback did not hinder his performance. Janeway seems incapable of standing still for more than a second at the time. Throughout the gig he was bouncing across the stage like a cross between James Brown and Michael Jackson, at one point even balancing a guitar stand on his head. Why, I have no idea. Who cares, anyway. Call it enthusiasm.
St Paul and the Broken Bones, mind, are not a party band. The best moments of the show occurred during the ballads, particularly Broken Bones and Pocket Change and Grass Is Greener. Janeway’s voice is WHOAH and the band’s command of their instruments is PHWOAR. It sounds like a cliché when I call the show moving, but it was just that. Perhaps my reflective mood played some part in this. In any case, this gig was one of the most emotional ones I’ve ever witnessed.
I don’t go to a lot of gigs – I dislike heat, sweat, expensive tickets and people in general – but this one was worth the discomfort. More than a week after the experience I’m still musing about the band’s groove and Janeway’s voice. In particular, I’m awestruck by their combined ability to force the crowd to shut up and enjoy the ride. Surprisingly few people insisted on filming the gig, a rarity these days, and any band that accomplishes such a feat deserves a much bigger audience.
Image Tookapic via Pexels