“When you bring out a new CD you get noticed. I have read a lot of things about me this year. One was that I had disappeared. So excuse me during tonight’s performance if I go ‘poof!!’ and disappear!!”

It has been a good year for Gil Scott Heron. With I’m New Here he has pulled off a Johnny Cash style return in terms of reviews and gaining new fans. Despite some of the greying hairs and wrinkles in the crowd at Brixton Academy the majority of tonight’s high paying attendance are more familiar with his new album on XL than his watermark seventies releases.

Gil’s early set included two solo pieces, Winter In America and We Almost Lost Detroit before being joined by the rest of his band which consists of former members of his previous bands The Midnight Band and The Amnesia Express. The two earlier tracks are about as outspoken as it gets tonight. For a man in his sixties and someone who hasn’t enjoyed the plainest of sailing over the last few years he is more joyful than critics expect. “People can’t enjoy yourself if you can’t enjoy yourself!”

With such good form from Gil his older listeners would have been put off by his new, gruffer voice which has surely seen a few Marlboro’s in its time. As the night wears on it gradually turns into something closer to his halcyon days, like a vintage chair getting familiar with it’s old owner who hasn’t sat in it for a while.

As expected the band entertain throughout the set, Vernon James on flute and sax filling the role of long absent collaborator Brian Jackson. The re-imagined Home Is Where The Hatred Is and his (once?) biggest hit The Bottle are delivered with the craft of skilled tradesmen though they may have been greeted more rapturously by a better historically aware crowd. Such things aside tonight’s show proves Gil is nowhere near the winter of his career 40 years on.

Words: Omar Francis

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