HAVING achieved first TV success then stardom by refusing to be typecast, in shows including Jeeves and Wooster, Blackadder and of course House, Hugh Laurie’s latest role is arguably his most surprising yet – and on paper perhaps the most fraught with hazards, reputation-wise.
Yet his re-invention as an exponent of New Orleans blues, on last year’s Let Them Talk album, has been greeted with near-unanimous praise – thanks partly to Laurie’s pre-emptive full acknowledgement of its unlikeliness, but also to the genuine expertise and love he brings to the music.
Coming on with a dram in hand and kissing the stage, in “an act of devotion to the land of my forefathers”, may be a sure-fire way to get a Glasgow audience on-side, but it was also of a piece with Laurie’s relaxed, attitude-free bonhomie throughout, signifying less a vanity project than the happy fulfilment of a lifetime’s wish.
Flanked by half-a-dozen top New Orleans session musicians, collectively dubbed the Copper Bottom Band, Laurie presided mainly at the piano, delivering a full two-hour set of vintage Big Easy-style fare, including such classics as St James Infirmary, John Henry, Professor Longhair’s Tipitina, and others by the likes of Leadbelly, Jelly Roll Morton and James Booker.
His range of vocal accents, from weathered gravelly growl to lounge-crooner smoothness, may have seemed actorly in their characterisation but were no less effective for that, and while a sludgy sound mix rather obscured the band’s wealth of chops, the show nonetheless scored high for musical calibre and feel-good entertainment.