As I queued at the security bag search at Scarborough’s Open Air Theatre, I found myself wondering whether they’d noticed any unusual trends in people’s bags that evening given how strongly associated Tom Jones is with the throwing of underwear. But I quickly dismissed the idea given that he’s now 82-years-old and people that age are generally thought to have left their sex bomb days well behind. How wrong I was.
Support for Sir Tom came in the form of the band Germein – three super-cool sisters from Australia who coaxed the sun from behind clouds and brought smiles to people’s faces with their accomplished bouncy pop, delivered with infectious enthusiasm.
A short pause and then the man himself took to the stage. The crowd’s reception was everything you’d expect for a music legend whose career has, to date, spanned nearly 60 years and who was named last year as the oldest person in the UK to have a number one album (Surrounded By Time). The cheers and whistles went on and on, and I watched as a woman next to me burst into tears (and continued to sob for the entire gig) and a chap nearby waved his curly Tom Jones wig with abandon. The shouts were quickly punctuated by gasps as the audience saw the hot-blooded legend hobble onto the stage with a walking stick and open his set with the song, I’m Growing Old. This was not quite what we’d anticipated. However, a couple of songs in (plus reassurance from Jones that the stick was only to get him through until his second hip replacement) and the twinkling eyes and extraordinary voice were casting as much of a spell as ever. At this point, knickers became airborne.
Following the two opening numbers, the show took the form of a mini-retrospective as we were treated to a string of Tom’s early hits, such as What’s New, Pussycat?, It’s Not Unusual and The Green, Green Grass of Home, all accompanied heartily by a swaying crowd. Between each song, we were regaled with stories about his past and the people in it, such greats as Dusty Springfield (“a dear friend”) and Cat Stevens, who apparently picked up his nickname from What’s New, Pussycat?. These tiny insights confirmed that we were in the presence of music royalty, if confirmation were needed.
The slow slide into his hit, Sex Bomb, had the audience simmering with excitement and a pair of neon green thongs appeared in the crowd, wielded by a couple of extremely glamorous silver-haired ladies whose dancing quickly became unsuitable for under-18s.
There were so many standout songs during the evening but Tower of Song by Leonard Cohen, was unforgettable; so full of resonance, with lines such as ‘my friends are gone and my hair is grey….I was born with the gift of a golden voice’. Indeed, it is hard to describe the magic of Tom Jones’s voice. It has every bit of the power that is audible in his early recordings and its tone, so rich and deep with emotion, is nothing short of remarkable. I won’t repeat what the lady behind me said it did to her, but it was certainly powerful.
Delilah was hot on the heels of Tower of Song, with a fresh new time signature and some wailing guitar riffs, as well as the now standard addition of an audience sing-a-long.
You Can Leave Your Hat On was suitably slow and raunchy, much to the audience’s rapture. Meanwhile, the cover of Prince’s Kiss was another highlight and easily as funky as the original. A lovely moment came at the end of this song when Jones broke into an a cappella version of Scarborough Fair which the audience were only too delighted to join in with.
By the end of the evening, the sobbing lady next to me was still crying and had progressed to wearing her pants on her head, the man had lost his wig, and we were all a little bit/very much in love with Tom Jones, who is clearly a long way from leaving his sex bomb years behind. Bravo to you, Tom – I’ll make sure I pop to M&S before your next concert.
Photos by Cuffe and Taylor