Bernhoft - London, Ronnie Scott's - 12th September 2010 Print E-mail
Written by Russ P   
Sunday, 19 September 2010 05:01

Bernhoft_ronnie_scots_webHard Rock Hell, Slugfest, Download, Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club...Ronnie Scott's? How did I get here? How has it come to this? More to the point how come Bernhoft is playing here tonight? The same Jarle Bernhoft who, as an intense and animated skinhead provided the focal point for Norwegian turbo-rockers Span.


Well, true to his prophetic words in 'Don't Think The Way They Do' Bernhoft has thought differently - and with a tweak here, a tweak there, and still possessing that same brilliant voice - Bernhoft's sidewinding path has led him here tonight. It's not as crazy as it sounds as upon entering the establishment I see that the mighty voice that is Terry Reid has just finished a mini-residency here and is a familiar face around these parts.


But it sure is a new and a one-off experience for me too. There's also a strict no photography rule (hence Andy P's artist's impression) which is a bit of a pain in the ass but completely understandable what with the close-knit tables and the venue's waiting staff coming and going. I get to pay the server 31p to bring me each drink. Not happy. But I buck up and am genuinely impressed when I see how they deal with their multiple orders, tot up prices, bring back change all on separate journeys to separate people. OK they can keep my 31p. Why I didn't go to the bar myself through is a mystery to me.


But what am I blathering on about - the servers are not the support act - they're not entertainment - Bernhoft is. Although it's not even as simple as this at a jazz club. Because 'headline' act Natalie Williams and her Soul Family take to the stage first. It's only later, mid-set that Natalie takes a break and then proudly introduces Bernhoft to the seated guests.


I've been pre-warned that this is going to be a short set tonight so there's no surprise when Bernhoft commences in the same fashion that he did at The Regal Room a few nights ago before cutting straight to his final numbers.


Things are different tonight though. I'm curious as to how this very different - you could say more conservative crowd - are going to warm to Bernhoft tonight. I still see him as a rock 'n' roller - he still has an intensity about him and his performances have a rawness where you just sense that he's flying by the seat of his pants and anything could happen. So how will he go down in an environment where the clientele are presumably fans of precision, structure and improvisation?


This time around Bernhoft starts with a story about a prostitute the size of Dolph Lundgren with a deep manly voice to match. It gets the audience laughing and Bernhoft dives into 'Streetlights'. It's somewhat of a false start when he realises that the connection to his 'drum' guitar isn't quite delivering the output that he's expecting. But he's cool about it and takes it in his stride. He resets his connections and gets the beat down and the rest is plain sailing. In absolutely no time at all the audience is visibly moved and into it. They notice everything. The funky riffs, the changes in guitar arrangement, the way that he tugs and slaps the strings of his guitar for maximum percussive effect. Everything. The hoots and hollers throughout the song are evidence enough. And when Bernhoft flips his guitar towards his mouth it's not to play à la Jimi Hendrix but to sing into the guitar's hollow body and into the guitar's pickup where he loops and layers his vocals until he has a virtual row of backing singers behind him. It's with the audience's deeply appreciative reaction to this that it suddenly dawns on me that this is 21st century improvisation right here and it's not so far removed from the spirit of jazz after all. And so it's in the middle of this song that the crowd are furiously clapping with some of them on their feet giving a standing ovation before he's even finished his first song. Wow. It's a magnificent sight to behold. This turbo-rock 'n' roll commando has really launched a stealth attack here. He could leave the stage now and his work would be done.


After urging the audience to buy his CDs, as he's flying back to Oslo the next day and he needs to jettison the weight, he launches into new track 'Choices'. This time he loops the guitar first before throwing in some percussion slapped out from the body of the guitar. He wrings out emotion from his voice like other soul singers wring out sweat from their handkerchiefs: "Why don't you shout out my name, why won't you look me in the eye no more?" He's really pouring it all out tonight - emptying it all out until there's nothing left to give.


And so he skips to the end of his usual set with 'So Many Faces' and pumps out some upright bass from his guitar as he slides from one note to the other. The unusual intro builds with rising chords not unlike Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' but the counterpoint of the bass and the laid back vocals lends the track a whole different flavour - more Marvin Gaye than Michael Jackson. The audience are enlisted to help out with the backing and willingly agree.


Bernhoft closes with the 21st century universal spiritual 'A Bad Place To Reside' and implores us to: "get your hands up praise who you wanna praise, ain't nobody's business but your own." And with that the crowd give Bernhoft a rapturous send off.


But what's this? There's a hidden bonus track right here in the flesh. The Soul Family return and Bernhoft, backed by full band - brass, backing vocalists - the works, performs Van Morrison's 'Tupelo Honey'. I can't believe my luck - a full band I tells ya! Bernhoft gives a performance worthy of the greats - Sam Cooke, Al Green, Otis Redding - never going through the motions but rather going through the emotions from head to toe, from cracked mids to smooth falsetto highs. Both audience and Bernhoft enjoy every single second of it - make that three - the band are loving every single second of it too. And so Bernhoft gets his second ovation. And rightly so. He may have all but departed for his hometown of Oslo but he's left behind him an indelible impression that is sure to be the shape of things to come for him here in the UK.


Kudos to Andy P for the artist's impression.