Straight, for the soul

CAN Poor White Trash play rhythm `n' blues? You better believe it, brothers and sisters, because these ain't no sorry assed honkies…

CAN Poor White Trash play rhythm `n' blues? You better believe it, brothers and sisters, because these ain't no sorry assed honkies, but a brassy, beaty soul machine led by the biggest, blackest, funniest comedian around. And if you don't believe it, just boogie on down to the Olympia tonight, and watch Lenny Henry shake his money maker in the name of soul.

Lenny Henry is, of course, no stranger to the world of rock `n' roll, having parodied many musical styles from reggae to easy listening. His most famous "musical" character, Theophiplus P. Wildebeest, is a hilarious pastiche of Barry White, Tom Jones and Isaac Hayes, and when Lenny slips into Theo mode, he gets the ladies swooning into their bowls of Alpen.

When Lenny performs tonight with his band, however, he's going to be playing it straight and instead of taking the piss, he's out to pump some sweat. It's a night of classic soul music in the tradition of The Commitments, with plenty of balls, but not so much oul' bollix. Poor White Trash & The Little Big Horns (to give the band its full title) was formed earlier this year by Lenny and fellow comedians Hugh Laurie and Ade Edmonsdon, with a floating line up of top session musicians to beef up the soul beat. The band regularly gets together in an informal "Thursday night music club" setting, where Lenny apparently sings til his tonsils drop out.

Joining Lenny in tonight's line up are the aforementioned Hugh Laurie - putting his Footlights experience to good use on the old joanna - Alan Limbrick and Ken Bowley on guitar, Sophie Elton (Ben Elton's wife) on bass, Phil Smith on sax, John Thirkell on trumpet, Ian Markin on drums, and Kate McKenzie and Sade Adejumo on backing vocals. Ade Edmondson can't be here tonight, so we won't see a performance from the star of Bottom.


Of course, the idea of Lenny Henry appearing on stage and not telling jokes may be off putting, and the selection of standards like Knock On Wood, Mustang Sally and Soul Man might seem old hat in these post Commitments times, but the combination of Big Len, the Olympia at midnight, and a large and enthusiastic Dublin crowd holds comedic possibilities of its own. Being well adept at dispatching hecklers at his comedy shows, Lenny could work up a whole new set of retorts for the rock `n' roll boors, and I for one can't wait to hear what the big man will answer when some wag shouts, "Play something funny!"

CRUCIAL comedian and strong soul singer these are just two facets to the multi talented laugh machine that is Lenny Henry. Maybe next time around, he will adopt his Gareth Blackstock persona, put on his chefs hat, and give Dublin epicures a master class in cookery. With a few good jokes thrown in, of course.

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is an Irish Times journalist