September 13, 1995

Joe Cocker

Filed under: Archive,Music


Festival Theatre


Murray Bramwell

It was once just a Lennon and McCartney throwaway. With a Little Help from My Friends, a Ringo song that George Formby might have written. Then, out of nowhere , came  a version that transformed it into a soul gospel classic. Joe Cocker, gas fitter from Sheffield, had discovered some serious pipes of his own and was being hailed as the rival of Ray Charles and Otis Redding.

Celebrating twenty five years in the biz and embarking on his tenth tour of Australia, Joe Cocker has never been in better fettle and fans will be delighted. His current album, Have a Little Faith, is his strongest since he became a civilised man. After the rip-offs and chaos and the patchy albums with song selections which seemed to have  landed by parachute, Joe Cocker is a leading performer in the adult-oriented charts.  Astute management and  top production values  have positioned him, as they say. He is major product. The mad dog has come in from the noonday sun.

On a circumnavigating twenty six gig tour Cocker and his seven member touring band have put together a show as assured and smartly-produced as the album. In a spray of burgundy varilights-or should that be grapella ?- Joe opens with Let The Healing Begin. Choppy drum rhythms, gliding keyboards  garnished with elegant guitar Knopflerisms. It could be Fleetwood Mac. Except, at the centre of the careful choreography, the superb sound rig and  the high-tech  magenta and baize green lighting is Joe Cocker, survivor, in classic pose – arms splayed back, chest pushed forward like a bullfinch, his grizzled features scrunched in concentration as he sings his songs of experience.

The themes are all about making it through. A little faith, simple things, shelter from the storm- with, of course, a little help… The music combines  the balm of gospel with  the grit of rhythm and blues and the voltage of rock and roll. We, he reassures us, can stand a little rain.

Without comment or introduction, Cocker powers through the classic repertoire- Feeling Alright, and a colossal version of Hitchcock Railroad,  Ken Strange thundering on piano and the back-up vocals  from Stacy Campbell and Maxine Green reaching up where Joe’s used to belong. John Hiatt’s Have a Little Faith is spacious and affecting,  Cocker’s newest greatest hit. Other signatures get an airing- Up Where We Belong,  the Grammy one, and Keep  Your Hat On,  belted out like Randy Newman had never heard of irony.

Anchored by the heavily-miked thump from drummer Jack Bruno,  Warren McRae’s  steadying bass line,  Ken Strange as the ghost of Leon, Steven Grove doubling on keyboards and yakkety-sax, and Paul Warren on skitey hot-lick guitars, the musicians provide a frame of showband virtuosity.  Too Cool is  their chance to open out, while Joe changes his shirt and lights come down for the piano and bass version of You Are So Beautiful.  The phrasing is there but Cocker, ever grainy and expressive in the middle registers, poignantly strains over “to me”. The crowd goes wild – heard melodies are  sweet but sometimes those unheard are sweeter.

“Mad Dog Survivor” The Australian, September 13, 1995, p.14.

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