Many years ago I was walking down Tottenham Court Road in London when I was approached by a man. He took something from his pocket and showed it to me. It was a Metropolitan Police warrant card. He was a detective. He was very pleasant and asked if I had half an hour to spare. They were having an identity parade in the station just down the road and they needed men of a certain type to participate. I should say that at this stage of my life I had long hair and dressed as one would expect a trendy photographer in the music business to dress.
When I got to the police station (bear with me please) I was shown into a room with the eight or ten other guys who were to provide the line-up. There was no one like me. There were middle-aged business men in suits, guys who looked like builders, fat ones, thin ones, tall ones and short ones of all ages. When the suspect was brought in he had a shaved head, cauliflower ear, a broken nose and a bag over his shoulder marked swag – but I digress. We were an unlikely bunch, as are St Paul and the Broken Bones. We didn’t look much like criminals; they don’t look much like a rock stars.
I don’t get out much so I must confess to not being familiar with St Paul & Co but when I saw this concert coming up I checked them out and was really enthralled by the eight piece band with its odd name and eccentric singer.
Not your conventional frontman, Paul Janeway has the looks of someone who got bullied at school but he has an amazing voice (think Otis Reading or Wilson Pickett) as well as a mesmeric stage presence. You can’t take your eyes off him with his off-the-shelf specs, thinning hair and not-so-slim waistline. Never still, his moves would not disgrace any rock frontman but from him they seem a little incongruous. In a funny way, although the music was completely different, they put me in mind of the great Sha Na Na. Even the instruments were eccentric. The trumpet, tenor sax and trombone were so tarnished they looked as though they spend their off-stage moments in a garden shed.
But some context and history. In the immediate aftermath of the Beatles, beat groups, as they were then called, had a fairly predictable line up consisting of two guitars, bass and drums with the occasional keyboard thrown in. Big bands and big orchestrations were still used for the likes of Tom Jones and some groups, like Amen Corner, had a brass section. Tamla Motown used big bands but they were not part of a group. With the arrival of Blood, Sweat and Tears and the Chicago Transit Authority, later simply Chicago, in 1968 a new genre was born – big band rock‘n’roll. However, the English band Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers had created almost the same sound a couple of years earlier – check out their version of the Beatles’ song Got To Get You Into My Life.
Mr Janeway and his band are like one of those acts on Britain’s Got Talent who, when they march on stage, receive “Oh no, here we go again” looks from Simon Cowell but whose jaw then drops when they begin to sing in one of those “I didn’t expect that” moments. I know it is unfair to dwell too much on his looks and his presentation and one has to admit that if Mr Janeway was a slim-hipped, bronzed Adonis the band would be just as good, it’s just that the way he is adds an edge, an extra, compelling dimension. He dominates the stage as much as any Mick Jagger or Bruce Springsteen and you just can’t help but be completely in his thrall. At one point he went walkabout, finishing up on the top tier of the Zuiderparktheater singing with the sun-setting sky as his backdrop. There were some songs I hadn’t heard before but my favourite was still The Last Dance, a song that deserved to be at the top of any chart you care to mention. If you don’t believe me, watch the YouTube video.
I’m getting on a bit so forgive me for being well behind the curve, but I feel really pleased to have finally discovered St Paul and the Broken Bones, especially in the unlikely setting of the leafy Zuiderparktheater in The Hague. It was one of those concerts you never wanted to end. Michael Hasted 22d July 2022