Live Review: Gil Scott Heron, Liverpool Philharmonic

Posted on 1 May 2010
By Paul Wilson
  • Share:

Gil Scott-Heron had not disappeared, despite, as he revealed here much to his amusement, reading reports to the contrary upon the release of his new acclaimed album, I’m New Here.

Strolling out on to the stage with a slight limp in his gait, stick-thin in a loose suit and beneath a grey cap, the legendary jazz poet, novelist and musician was met with the grateful cheers and enthusiastic applause of a roomful of devotees, a sell-out Liverpool crowd granted a rare opportunity to pay tribute to this cult figure.

Taking the microphone, full of nervous tics and twitches, the now 61-year-old spent the first fifteen minutes of his much-anticipated set entertaining us with comic riffs, on his rumoured vanishing act amongst other topics, all delivered in that astonishingly thick, weathered voice of his, rich with experience.

And it’s that ragged voice that lends much of the power to his latest material, although, as in prior shows on the tour, he neglected to play any of those tracks here tonight, instead offering up classics from his impressive back catalogue. Once he had seated himself at his electric piano he started up the slow groove of Blue Collar, twisting its bluesy refrain of “There ain’t no place that I ain’t been down” into a defiant and resilient “Get on up, get on up” by the song’s close.

He was soon to be joined by first a keyboard player, and then later a percussionist and a lively harmonica man, all bringing a playful energy to the stage. Never mind the fact that there were some overlong solos; these were really only regretted at the end of the show when we longed for another song or two.

What we got were many uplifting moments in a soulful set that included the damning Winter in America, a rousing Work for Peace, moving highlight Pieces of a Man, and a stretched out version of his classic The Bottle, which brought the inevitable standing ovation and demanded an encore. When it came, with its infectious hook and insistent chant of “Be safe, be free, be strong”, it was yet another affirmation of what an inspiration and a true great Gil Scott-Heron really is.

Yeah, he never disappeared. He’s been there all along.