Miss N

Hugh Laurie Sings the Blues

When I first heard House star Hugh Laurie was a singer on top of being a great actor and comedian, I was somewhat surprised. He himself admits he’s broken a cardinal rule of art, music and career paths: “actors are supposed to act, musicians are supposed to (make) music. That’s how it works. You don’t buy fish from a dentist, or ask a plumber for financial advice, so why listen to an actor’s music?”

Last night gave me a reason why.

I was invited to attend a special show where Hugh and a nine-piece band would be performing some of the songs off his debut album, Let Them Talk. So special, it would be filmed live in New Orleans, a site of such musical ancestry and the place that inspired many of the classic songs on the album.

The venue, called Latrobe’s on Royal Street in the French Quarter, is the perfect setting for Hugh to celebrate the New Orleans blues songs he has recorded on his debut album. He arrives a few moments after we do, chatting briefly to people before going behind a curtain to prepare. There are a handful of us, about 25, seated in the room of this much-loved venue built by an architect – Hugh will soon proudly tell us – who is also from Yorkshire.

He saunters in cheerily, and makes his way to the Steinway & Sons piano, to perform songs that he has come to hold dear to his heart. Every now and then, he brings in horns supremo Allen Toussaint, who gently, yet masterfully conducts the horn section of the band. Each time Allen comes in and goes out again, Hugh stands and bows to thank him for joining him in the recording.

It’s a recording for broadcast, so camera angles need to be changed and lights need to be adjusted. Each time the sound engineer comes out to fix something, Hugh calls him the WOM – “not a well-oiled machine, but a well-oiled man!”

At one stage, he brings out a small brown guitar, telling us it’s from the 1930s and he loves it so much that he wants to cover it in cream and eat it. Hugh talks about his old piano teacher Mrs Hare, before dedicating Swanee River to her, and tells us how she cut short his formal training because she refused to teach him this very ditty.

Let Them Talk

Hugh also brings out special guests: “I now call to the stage, no wait, this isn’t a stage…it’s a floor. No actually, a rug. I now call to the rug the wonderful Irma Thomas.” The New Orleans singer gloriously croons alongside him. “Just how excited can you get?” Hugh asks us, before Sir Tom Jones comes out and they, together with Irma, dive into Baby, Please Make A Change (originally done by Mississippi Sheiks). The comraderie between the two – as singers – is evident as they banter about song lyrics and Tom gives Hugh a knowing nod during the song.

Hugh Laurie, Tom Jones, Irma Thomas

Hugh also name-checks pianist Professor Longhair and before he plays Tipitina tells us: “This song means a great deal to me, and if I can, I want to make it mean a great deal to you.”

That’s what tonight – and the album – is all about. Making music lovers appreciate the blues all over again. And that’s doctor’s orders!

Hugh Laurie, Nadia Neophytou
Hugh Laurie’s album, Let Them Talk, is due to be released in South Africa and Europe in May and. He will be performing a few shows in Europe during April and May. More details here.

P.S  I thoroughly enjoyed Sir Tom Jones joining in the fun and contributing his  deep vocals to the track he sang. As always, he was full of good words about South Africa, when I chatted to him afterwards. The only thing that upset him, he said, was that he missed seeing the World Cup in action because he left SA after performing in Cape Town and at Sun City just before kick-off, and so he had to watch it all on TV!

Tom Jones, Nadia Neophytou

15 comments

  1. Awesome Nadia, sounds like a special evening! Apart from Lost, House is the only other series I watch, and Hugh makes the show. There are often episodes where he plays the piano, but I would never have thought he’d release his own CD. I will be looking out for it. Keep well! :)

  2. What a delightful article! Sounds like a perfect evening of chamber music – a collection of fine musicians performing in the comfort of a cozy space, hoping to tell the story of the music itself.

  3. Thank you for the great article! I’ve been a fan of Hugh Laurie even before he was known worldwide because of House, and I knew what a music talent he is (the music numbers in A Bit of Fry and Laurie!), so I’m more than excited for his album.

  4. Thanks for your review and the photos! I find it sad, though, that Hugh reveres this type of music, as his voice is not suited for it, although his musicianship and abilities on the piano and guitar are superb. Being the famous actor he is, he can do as he wishes, but others should have carried the vocal duties. At some point, as he admits himself, he’s upper-class English, as as much as he might wish he were raised poor in the Deep South of the U.S., he wasn’t, and I find this vanity project to be rather laughable. Spending time with his family, rather than on his own ‘interests’, would be a more productive use of his time, given the fact that his family, particularly his wife, has suffered over the years under his ongoing infidelities.

  5. Thank you so much for this in depth look at the Hugh Laurie New Orleans special.

    I’m looking forward to his album, being a fan of his for a long time and also a fan of Blues (and New Orleans Jazz too). Combining the two could not be better for me. Loved your show pictures and behind the scene looks.

    Great that you’re from South Africa, such an amazing country. Been there for the World Cup and before too.

  6. Himmelblau should perhaps be informed that Hugh’s wife was actually present during the recording of this album and is quoted by Hugh as telling him not to do his usual thing and be appologetic about this album.
    So she supports him on this 100 % .

  7. Yes, I am aware of that. But that doesn’t change the fact of my statement, that she has had to deal with quite a lot during her marriage to this fascinating man, who manages to somehow blend the trait of apparent humility and self-flagellation with narcissism. At times he has likely reminded Jo of Nero, playing the fiddle while Rome burns around him. I do sincerely hope that her increased presence in the US over the past three years has improved matters for both of them.
    And, lest anyone think I am a Hugh Laurie-hater, I am most decidedly not, but I am able to see that the Emperor is not wearing any clothes, ie, the man definitely has his flaws. He is very talented, however, and I do enjoy watching his show and have pre-ordered his CD from amazon.uk.

  8. Mr. Laurie has already said he expects to be kicked around for doing this album, so it sounds to me as if he’s well aware of his hubris in daring to make it. How much more self-aware do you want him to be? As for marital problems, that’s a private matter between him and Jo and none of our business.
    I’m looking forward to receiving my copy of the CD in May. From what I’ve heard, it sounds like Hugh had a good time playin’ charts and laying down hot tracks with some incredible musicians. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve heard so far and anticipate having the entire album to savor all summer, along with my other favorite blues, rock and classical albums. Thanks for the labor of love, Mr. Laurie! It’s much appreciated.

  9. Hugh Laurie is an amazing actor and musician. I cannot understand people talking here about his personal life. First, it’s not our business, and second I really doubt anyone who posts here really knows about his life. It’s just so low, it makes me sick.
    It’s great that he has done this album and I his voice is perfect. He does an amazing job. Congratulations to him! I cannot wait to have a copy of his album.

  10. I am SOOO jealous!! I love this man!!! What an experience!!
    I am so happy for you that you are following your dreams and in doing so, achieving such great success and living so many awesome moments.
    ~xXx~

  11. I am 74 and as a kid my Mother played the Blues on piano ,I can’t say what a feeling I have by hearing Mr. Laurie play and sing . Mister Laurie THANKS a 1000 TIMES. By the way Mother was English from Canford Cliffs near Bourmonth. I now live in Spain 29690 CASARES for the last 12 Years.

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