Nothing validates the social construction of celebrity more than the efforts by those who have been elevated to such a status to utilise it for a worthy cause. Increasingly, it seems, such individuals are more than prepared to repay (some might say atone for) the strange esteem bestowed upon them by their communities however they can. Take Bono for instance who, when not receiving international honours for services to mellow rock music and sunglasses, campaigns extensively against poverty. Stephen Fry, as has been much noted of late, plays patron to a number of mental health charities. All worthy causes worth supporting, and when they do discover a favoured cause they are far from shy about throwing their considerable social influence behind it. This has certainly proved the case with Mr Fry’s renowned colleague, Hugh Laurie, who is in the throes of his one-man crusade to restore the international reputation of the genre of Blues. If his recent performance at Edinburgh’s Playhouse is anything to go by, the campaign is off to a rollicking start.
The proceedings commenced with Laurie, the terse smile with which viewers of House are all too familiar playing across his distinguished features, sloping onto the stage to cacophonous applause. Evidently comfortable in the Playhouse’s intimate atmosphere, he delivered a wry opening speech which alluded to, “about half an hour of hits followed by a two hour Q & A session, rounding everything off with a rousing rendition of God Save the Queen.” The audience’s comedic expectations satisfied, it was now time for the supporting act, in the form of the tousle-haired Bruno Major, to fulfil his obligations, which he did so with fervour and panache. It must be quite the nerve-demolishing experience to open for as popular a figure as Laurie, yet Major seemed to take such pressures in his stride, forging an easy rapport with the onlookers through his heartfelt lyrics and mellifluous music. His delicately rippling voice was that of a naturalistic, ardent Bruno Mars, and his musical style was reminiscent of the golden age of the singer-songwriter; simple yet with a powerfully moving candour. In between entrancing pieces such as Old Man and Fair Weather Friend, he engaged the audience with laconic anecdotes and observations that spoke of a self-deprecating humour and a certain bashful charm. Major gave an account of himself that confirmed Laurie’s high opinion of him as a true up-and-coming star; he certainly deserves to be one.
After a substantial interval, it was time for the main attraction to make his musical mark. Calling on the assistance of a medley of musicians known as the Copper Bottom Band, Laurie delivered a surfeit of soul with moreish helpings of sheer, unadulterated passion. The performers exuded an ecstasy that is peculiar to the art of crafting a harmonious melody, and this enrapturement seemed to seep from the stage and envelop the audience in its electrifying embrace. The rough, forceful quality that pervaded Laurie’s voice lent the music an unusual aspect, weaving a steel thread around more silver tinklings and adding what can only be described as a mesmerizing tuneful dissonance. This is music in its purest form; it is un-distilled joie de vivre incarnated in every lyric, note and beat. To paraphrase Wilde, as far as Laurie and his piano are concerned, sentiment is his forte. In fact, the last time someone derived this much unabashed pleasure from an instrument, he had a jolly ridiculous hairstyle and decidedly Germanic tendencies. During those fleeting moments when Laurie was able to wrench himself away from the Blues, his showmanship was positively laudable. With an avuncular affability that belied the still youthful twinkle in his eye, he deftly blended an amiable sense of humour with musical adroitness, wittily pondering whether adopting a moniker similar to that of Willie ‘Drive ‘Em Down’ Hall’s might not make him sound like an out-of-control Stobart vehicle. When this revered comic-cum-musician finally left the stage, it was to a standing ovation, something which surely speaks volumes as to the quality of his act.
This is, in short, a most remarkable reinvention for such a high-profile icon of British popular culture, and one that becomes him just as well as any of the various roles he has undertaken in the past. The only criticism that could possibly be levelled at this otherwise thoroughly enjoyable performance is that it is just a tad too long; but that is surely a small price to pay for such top-notch entertainment. Four out of Five Stars.
More information on this tour can be found here.