x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 September 2017

Jools Holland to James Blunt: the Dubai International Jazz Festival

They may call it the Skywards Dubai International Jazz Festival, but the headlining acts over the first weekend were all about pop music and big bands.

James Blunt performed an emotional set at the Dubai International Jazz Festival.
James Blunt performed an emotional set at the Dubai International Jazz Festival.

They may call it the Skywards Dubai International Jazz Festival, but the headlining acts over the first weekend were all about pop ballads and big bands. On Friday night the London-born Jools Holland brought his 20-piece Rhythm and Blues Orchestra to the event's new home at Dubai Festival City.

"Hello Dubai, it's so beautiful to be here again, are you feeling good? Because we are," said Holland.

The musician, who also hosts the programme Later...With Jools Holland, sings, plays the guitar and piano, and has worked with the likes of Bono, Tom Jones and Sting throughout his career. During the evening, the band performed a mixture of old and new hits such as Enjoy Yourself, In the Evening by the Moonlight and Well Alright, as well as classics such as L.O.V.E. They also improvised by performing a song they had composed that same afternoon.

Just past midnight, after two encores and fans screaming to encourage them back on stage, the band finally bid farewell to the crowd.

On Thursday night, the British singer/songwriter James Blunt, famous for his overwrought, emotional ballads, poked fun at himself during his show.

"You can smile all you want," he joked, while preparing for the weeper Carry You Home, "but I'm still going to sing all of my miserable songs". It was an emotionally charged night for Blunt, a 37-year-old former British Army officer who served during the conflict in Kosovo in 1999. He performed before thousands of fans gathered in front of the main stage and at one point, while charging through 20 songs over a 95-minute show, he said: "Dubai, I have a secret to tell you. Me and the band have been touring for exactly one year today and tonight is our last concert and that is what makes it so special – that it's here."

Blunt displayed his talent by alternating between piano and guitar throughout the night. And he dedicated the maudlin 2005 hit Goodbye My Lover to the men in the crowd.

"So guys, it was Valentine's Day a few days ago and if it didn't go down well, I know the burden, so this song is for you," he said.

The ubiquitous You're Beautiful was sent out to Dubai, while it was during a tender rendition of the song If Time Is All I Had that the British singer showed his most vulnerable side.

"I don't usually play this to a large crowd because it's quite a personal song," he said. "After that I will sing something for all the husbands and boyfriends who have been dragged out here by their partners. But bear with me for now as I'm singing from the heart."

Blunt picked up the energy just before leaving the stage, when he jumped into the crowd to the delight of fans and the horror of security staff.

"Goodbye, Dubai, see you again soon," said Blunt, standing on top of his piano before giving one last wave to the crowd.

On Friday's main stage, the South African Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter and guitarist Jonathan Butler was joined by his band to play tunes including Be Here with You, originally a duet with Angie Stone and others from his new album So Strong. Earlier on the Jazz Garden stage, during a performance by Jimmy Thomas and Samantha Antoinette, the London-based funk singer took a few moments to remember a great American R&B singer who died last month.

"This next song At Last is a tribute to the late, great Etta James," she said.

The eight-day jazz festival continues over three stages until Friday, with performances by the American singer/songwriter Jason Mraz on Thursday night and the Brit Award-winning singer/songwriter James Morrison on Friday. For more information go to www.dubaijazzfest.com

melshoush@thenational.ae

Follow us on Twitter and keep up to date with the latest in arts and lifestyle news @LifeNationalUAE