Will Young’s jazz offerings have been simmering amongst the listings for the last ten years, including performances at Ronnie Scott’s and The 606 Club. This summer he is sharing them with larger audiences including Hampton Court, but firstly at Cheltenham Jazz Festival.
There is a depth and soul to Young’s vocal that was first glimpsed in his cover of The Doors’ ‘Light My Fire’ back in 2002, but which has perhaps not always been honoured by the pop career that followed. At the heart of his jazz foray is a renewed commitment and indulgence to singing other people’s songs, an opportunity to explore what he described as an endless catalogue of other people’s work and explore the lyrics at the heart of them. Whilst many of his contemporaries and predecessors have instinctively delved into the Great American Songbook, Young’s inspiration instead draws from the likes of Phil Collins, The Cure, Joni Mitchell, and The Buzzcocks.
There is a soulful tenderness to Young’s voice and interpretation that cuts to the heartwrenching truth of punk anthem ‘Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)’, but it doesn’t necessarily feel richer for the interpretation. Elsewhere, a swinging shuffle drum beat and walking bassline offer the ideal transformation from pop classics into smooth swinging originals.
The second half of the gig swings harder and faster, driven perhaps in part by Young’s costume change into an outrageously golden sequined jacket to human-glitterball effect. Saxophonist Ben Castle fulfilled the role of comic counterpart in a series of increasingly candid anecdotes that shocked and delighted the audience. The squeaky clean popstar of yesteryear has been left behind and Young is now free to sing the music and lyrics that resonate most closely with him.
Despite the warmth and soul he can find in the songs of others, it was on the encore that Will Young truly beamed. We were treated to the debut of a different type of cover: one of his own songs. Triple-platinum single ‘Evergreen’ was given a jazz makeover and the missing piece of the evening’s repertoire clicked into place and validated all that went before it. Young’s grin was infectious and his vocal reached its most adventurous yet on a song that truly felt upgraded by a fresh interpretation.