Sir Tom Jones opened his Henley Festival set with I’m Growing Old, accompanied by just a pianist. The song is from Surrounded By Time, his 41st studio album that he released last April. At the song’s conclusion, he asked the audience: “Everybody feeling all right?” To a response of great cheers, he added, “We’re going to have a good night!”
Next up was a cover of Bob Dylan’s Not Dark Yet in a new arrangement, Jones told us. It was a rocking new arrangement as well, well received by the capacity crowd.
“Thank you very much. It’s great to be here in Henley-on-Thames. I know the place very well. I’ve got family here and this afternoon I’ve been to see my great-grandson for the first time! He’s only this big,” indicating a babe-in-arms. He continued, “They tell me the Henley Festival is 40 years old – that’s half my age!”
He may well be 80 years old but even after two numbers it was very apparent that Sir Tom’s voice is as strong and powerful as ever. The opener was a slow almost soul-like song but Not Dark Yet highlights Sir Tom can still sing pop and R&B with the best of them.
“Now I’m going to take you back right to the start. At the end of 1964 I recorded this song, we released it in January 1965 and on March 1st it was number one. On St David’s Day!” Whereupon the classic brass riff that opens It’s Not Unusual rang out across the stage to massive cheers and an audience rising as one to dance – and sing – along.
“The next record we recorded in 1965 was a song written by Burt Bacharach (and Hal David, who he forgot to mention), from a movie with the same name as the song.” Then we’re straight into What’s New Pussycat? to more cheers from the crowd, and an even louder sing-along than before.
Before the next song, Sir Tom told us it was written in the 60s and the best version was by Dusty Springfield, “a very dear friend of mine who is buried in Henley.” First heard in the film The Thomas Crown Affair back in 1968, Sir Tom recorded The Windmills Of Your Mind on the recent Surrounded By Time album.
Just before starting the song, he then told us that the aforementioned album debuted at number one in the United Kingdom charts, making him the oldest male to earn a number one UK album, something of which he was very proud. His version of Windmills… tonight stood up well to Dusty’s.
Next up, Sir Tom tricked us with a slow and smouldering start to a song that really hit a funky groove before changing gear and getting the audience back on their feet for a great rocking version of one of his biggest hits, Sex Bomb. Inevitably, there was an audience sing-a-along as well!
“All right then. This next one was written by a friend of mine, Cat Stevens. I liked and recorded it”, Sir Tom told us. It was Pop Star, again recorded for Surrounded by Time. This song was the first of a few songs that saw the crowd’s mood quieten down a bit as Sir Tom sang some more low key tunes.
First up was the country song Green, Green Grass of Home, which was huge hit for Sir Tom, spending seven weeks at number one when released in 1966. It was another song that demonstrated tonight that Jones’ voice has lost none of its power.
“I love Bob Dylan and I’ve recorded lots of his songs”, Sir Tom told before singing One More Cup of Coffee. Next up was I Won’t Crumble With You If You Fall, a lament inspired by his late wife Linda. Tower of Song by Leonard Cohen followed: “I think he wrote the song for me”, Sir Tom said at its close.
With a sudden switch in mood however, the crowd is back on its feet, all singing along to the riotous and rousing Delilah. Unfortunately, the slow-paced Lazarus Man brings the mood down again, before a slow, rocking and funky version of You Can Leave Your Hat On does raise the tempo. Whilst probably not as well known as some of his hits, If I Only Knew keeps people on their feet before Sir Tom introduces what turns out to be the last song of the main set.
“Composed, written and recorded by the genius Prince,” is all he needs to say before launching into a great version of Kiss that has the audience dancing and singing wildly with abandon. “Henley, we love you. God Bless”, and with that Sir Tom exits stage left.
After many, many loud calls for ‘more’, Sir Tom and his band re-appear to close the evening with the introspective ballad One Hell of a Life, followed by No Hole in My Head and the closer, “a rock’n’roll rhythmy-blues thing with boogey-woogey on the side”, Strange Things Happening Every Day.
Sir Tom then brought his band members centre stage and introduced them one by one, to cheers from the audience. “Thank you Henley, we’ve had a ball. I intend carrying on performing for a few years yet, so you soon.” And with that, Sir Tom Jones walks off the stage to tumultuous applause and cheers. A legend of the UK music scene, his voice seemingly intact after all these years, long may he continue to entertain as he did on the Festival stage tonight.
Photo: Adam Sorenson