Dubai Jazz Festival 2017: Tom Jones includes tribute to his late wife in opening concert

It would be condescending to declare Jones has still “got it” - but he does boast a mix of professionalism and charisma that perhaps only five decades on the road can breed.

Tom Jones on stage on opening night of Dubai Jazz Fest at Dubai Media City Amphitheatre. Victor Besa for The National
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A friend of mine recently admitted she’d been to see Tom Jones live six times — the motivation being that each concert she felt, was likely to be the singer’s last. She skipped last night’s (February 22) show however, concluding almost reluctantly that the Welsh national treasure will “be going forever”.

That same morbid, bucket list-checking impulse seemed to permeate the crowd at the Dubai Jazz Festival’s opening night — one detected a whiff of circus show wonder from the audience, who gathered to see if this 76-year-old singer could still deliver the goods.

The big question: did said friend miss out? It would be condescending to declare Jones has still “got it”. But he does boast a mix of professionalism and charisma that perhaps only five decades on the road can breed. And while there was some slight evidence of strain, Jones’s voice could manage everything he asked of it.

Leaping decades and octaves alike, this was an evening of hits and misses — and often the twee vintage chart “hits” felt pale next to newer, rawer material, more suiting Jones’s matured vocal style.

Backed by just guitar and drums, White Stripes-style, Jones began convincingly with two gutsy blues vamps — John Lee Hooker's Burning Hell and gospel traditional Run On — both covered on 2010's Praise & Blame. Next the nine-piece band joined Jones onstage for two singles from 1999's comeback album Reload — Mama Told Me Not to Come and a cringey big band-inspired take on Sex Bomb — which felt tired and road-worn by comparison.

Reaching back to his earliest, 1960's heyday, Jones appeared aware of his own quaint anachronism, grinning with seeming wild irony during the dated, disposable pop What's New Pussycat. While It's Not Unusual was sensibly played relatively straight, Delilah was given a rocking, radical reworking — a hint of mariachi emerging after a spacey, surf-guitar intro.

Other more incongruous moments included Jones's bizarre rap turn on 1994's If Only I Knew, and a misjudged encore stab at Prince's Kiss where the band were left with most of the heavy lifting.

For all the vintage swagger and spectacle, Jones’s weathered gravitas weighed heaviest at two moments when he dialled things back down.

In tribute to his wife Melinda Trenchard, who passed away just 10 months ago, Jones played a tear-stained rendition of affecting American standard Tomorrow Night — her "favourite" song from his last record, Long Lost Suitcase, — backed just by acoustic guitar and accordion, conjuring a sense of lovesick busking by the Seine.

The second was a confessional cover of the late Leonard Cohen's Tower of Song which, first put on record by Jones in 2012, sounds like it could have been written for the ageing singer.

“Well my friends are gone and my hair is grey / I ache in the places where I used to play ... I’m just paying my rent every day in the Tower of Song,” he sings. “I was born like this, I had no choice / I was born with the gift of a golden voice.”

Dubai Jazz Festival continues at Dubai Media City Amphitheatre with Mariah Carey on February 23 and Enrique Iglesias on February 24. For tickets see