It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that James Burton changed the face of modern music over his staggering seventy-one-year career. Having appeared on five and a half thousand recordings, adding his six-string magic to some of the biggest names in the business, the Louisiana-born musician is one of the most respected and revered players on the planet. Supporting his charity, The James Burton Foundation, the great and the good from the scene gathered at London’s grand Palladium to play along with the legendary figure and pay tribute to a body of work that few, if any, can match.
James Burton and Friends – For One Night Only
London Palladium – 4 June 2023
Photography: Graham Boynton
Words: Paul Monkhouse
MC’d by Cerys Matthews, the evening harked back to the old Night Of A Thousand Stars shows that graced these very boards, such was the weight of talent here. With a fulsome and heartfelt introduction to the man himself by Brian May, the Queen guitarist saying that it was Burton who made him want to pick up the guitar in the first place, the show kicked off with a rambunctious and joyful romp through the country rock of Dale Hawkins hit Susie Q.
Accompanied throughout by the big band of Leo Green, the sound was huge and full of thrilling life but never to the cost of the instruments, with individual fretwork heard in perfect clarity.
Putting down his guitar, May grabbed the opportunity to fulfil a lifelong ambition to sing along with Burton on Hello Mary Lou, stating that for the first time during any solo, “the guitar spoke…that changed rock forever.”
Joining the fun, another legend, Albert Lee, proved exactly why he’s considered ‘the guitarist’s guitarist’ on That’s Alright Mama and the following Blue Suede Shoes, sung with feel by Darrel Higham, both a nod to the eight-year stint that Burton served as Elvis Presley’s lead guitar player.
Ripping it up with young guns Arielle and Toby Lee, the years just ebbed away, this mix of old hands and fresh talent consumed in a love for what they were playing and with Green’s smoking hot band providing backing, it was edging into collective euphoria amongst all those gathered in the grand and cavernous hall.
Following a rollicking double hit of Ray Charles belter You Better Leave My Woman Alone and Great Balls Of Fire, very warmly received Monkee Micky Dolenz brought a sense of fun with I’m A Believer, Alternative Title and Daydream Believer.
The last man standing of the Prefab Four, Dolenz took a little while to warm up, but the energy and love pouring from the crowd kicked things up a notch, and he soon found his feet as lusty singalongs ensued.
Steve Wariner added a sublime medley of Glen Campbell songs into the mix, and an unusually smiling Van Morrison, accompanied by Ronnie Wood, knocked a barnstorming Worried Man’s Blues out of the park at the end of a soulful section.
Adrenaline rushes and moments of beauty came in equal measure, an incendiary 25 or 6 to 4 with former Chicago vocalist and bass player Jason Scheff threatened to tear the roof of the place and John Oates singing a fifty-year-old She’s Gone a thing of real beauty.
Veterans like Tommy Emmanuel and Paul Shaffer added their own magic, their years in the business honing their skills to razor-sharp lengths and with the stomping blues of Lie To Me and a sweetly sung Love Me Tender, Lee and Arielle, respectively, showed why they were worthy enough to share the stage with legends.
With a finale of Johnny B Goode, eleven-year-old Britain’s Got Talent guitar slinger Harry Churchill showing off his already impressive chops, and a meandering blues jam causing the show to pass curfew by quite some considerable way, it was time to say goodnight.
Rightfully lauded by his peers and fans, Burton took centre stage, clearly moved by the reception as he smiled, the waves of affection a tribute to the man himself and the extraordinary back catalogue of life-changing music he helped to create.
With funds going to his charity, it couldn’t have been a better evening and one that will remain in the minds of all present for a very long time to come. Life affirming.