MAYBE it is the rejuvenating effect of a new girlfriend, the pride of having a son on stage playing alongside him, or that he just possesses the elixir of life.
But Steve Norman is enjoying his music more than for a long time, judging by his finale performance at PizzaExpress Jazz in London’s Holborn on Sunday evening (May 27) after a three night set.
It was as if we were caught for the most time in a time warp for two and a half hours as Norman played his way through a repertoire that included songs from Elvis Presley, David Bowie, the Beatles and of course Spandau Ballet. There were even a few new tunes to suggest that he has lost none of his zest for song-writing and that a partnership (on and off stage) with Sabrina Winter could bear some interesting musical fruit.
Although Norman was still throwing off the effects of a cold given to him by Winter, it did not inhibit his dulcet tones. Nor did it impact on his masterly saxophone playing which were the highlights of a night comprising many highs. With his charm, cheek, good looks and wit, he could do no wrong before an audience that was female-dominated, doting, internationally diverse and included his mother Sheila and daughter Lara (a chef at the Ritz Hotel) who sat at the side of the stage in adoration. The audience would have had him playing all night if last trains and licensing laws had not got in the way. Love everywhere. True love.
Starting with John Lennon’s Across The Universe which showcased the guitar playing skills of giant Paul Cuddeford, Norman was quick to acknowledge his love of David Bowie with a version of All the Young Dudes, a song first made famous by Mott The Hoople.
It was then time to quaff his hat in the direction of Elvis Presley with Mystery Train before delivering a tender version of Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together. Raw and emotional.
With son Jaco joining Norman, Winter, Cuddeford and drummer Joe Bongo Becket on stage to play bass guitar, the first Spandau Ballet song was delivered: Chant Number 1: I Don’t Need This Pressure On. It was the first unveiling of Norman’s extraordinary saxophone skills although it did not stop him temporarily joining Becket to play bongo drums. When Norman plays the tenor sax, it is as if it is an extension of his soul. Mega goose bump making.
With further homage to Bowie via Absolute Beginners – Norman admitting that Spandau Ballet would never have existed had it not been for Bowie – an Iggy Pop song (The Passenger) was played which again showcased Norman’s saxophonic genius. The first set ended with the audience in a state of mutual ecstasy as Norman’s saxophone lit up True.
The second set kicked off with yet another demonstration of saxophone mastery (soprano this time) – a solo of Neptune’s Apprentice which he wrote last year for a swimming event that took place in Rome.
There was then a temporary diversion for audience questions as Winter roamed with her microphone. We learnt that the first song that Norman ever bought was Double Barrel (Dave and Ansell Collins) and that Norman’s mastery of the saxophone stemmed from ‘singing into it’ – a point alluded to in an interview he did for Close-Up Culture. He also recounted playing sax last summer with the godfather of punk Iggy Pop.
A beautiful duet with Winter followed – Where The Wild Roses Grow – as did a new song If Looks Could Kill. Spandau Ballet’s Gold (including magnificent guitar from Cuddeford) and the Beatles’ Come Together brought the show to an almighty climax.
Norman’s musical talent has no bounds. He also surrounds himself with talented individuals – Becket could extract a sound out of any inanimate object – and those he loves (Winter) or holds dear to his heart (Cuddeford and Becket).
But what stands him apart is his humbleness and down to earth character. He is not the big time Charlie he could be. He is the lad from London’s Stepney who made good and has never forgotten where he came from. The fact that he took time out to introduce Patrick Souiljaert to the audience – author of ‘Screw It, I’ll Take The Elevator’ – speaks volumes about the individual that Norman is. Souiljaert lives with Cerebral Palsy but it has not prevented him from putting his thoughts down on paper – with great success. His first book, Stairs For Breakfast, was widely acclaimed for its positivity.
It was an emotional high in a night where Norman ruled the PizzaExpress roost.