HUGH Laurie plays the Blues. On one level, it’s about as unlikely as Bob Dylan declaring a love for Robbie Burns, or Springsteen busting out a Lulu number. Well, both of those things happened, the latter just last week at Hampden and, as Laurie rightly says, you don’t have to be from a place to love its music.
Laurie has had a longstanding love of early American music, “popular music is the greatest gift that America has given the world”, he says at one point, rating it ahead of even the cheeseburger. And now, after House made him the best paid TV actor in history and, consequently, even more famous than Stephen Fry, he is free to indulge that passion.
And, for all that evident passion and knowledge, there’s an undeniable element of indulgence here. Whether Laurie’s vocal talents on their own merit would pack out the Phoenix, never mind the Playhouse were it not for his prior fame is perhaps arguable, but the point is moot.
Laurie can certainly play, he is a fantastically winning personality and an engaging host for a thoroughly entertaining evening. In The Copper Bottom Band, he has put together an outstanding group of players and, usefully, two excellent vocalists in Jean McClain and Gaby Moreno who share some of the more challenging numbers with aplomb.
Two well-received and commercially successful albums – there is a childlike glee as he gets to say “here’s a song from our first album” – have brought a whole new audience to the music, introducing names like Leadbelly, Hogie Carmichael and Jelly Roll Martin.
Laurie is clearly enjoying himself immensely, as are the band and the enthusiastic Playhouse audience.
It is crowd-pleasing stuff; indeed crowd-flattering at times as he unveils his tartan trews (he apparently toyed with the kilt but demurred) and warmly compliments the city of Edinburgh.
He started the set inviting the audience to join in with Let The Good Times Roll, which they did, and finished well over two hours later with the crowd on their feet for the Jungle Book classic, King of the Swingers. Good fun.
Rating: * * * *