Review: Joe Bataan & Push @ Ronnie Scott’s (London, 16th October 2015)

Just a few weeks ahead of his 73rd birthday, the King Of Latin Soul, Joe Bataan, played a packed out Ronnie Scott’s, treating the patrons to a large portion of his back catalogue, ably supported by one of the UK’s leading funk and soul outfits, Push.

From the highly funky opening Aftershower Funk, it was clear that this was not going to be just another gig at Ronnie’s, with people sitting at their tables, gently nodding their head or tapping their feet. Bataan rejoiced in telling us how old he was and that if he was going to work so hard on stage, we were going to have to shake something in return. “I still feel 25!” exclaimed Joe, as he led the band into The Good Ole Days, a title that essentially summed up what the night was all about. Nostalgia and a trip down memory lane.

Bataan regaled the audience with his personal story, starting out in the tough streets of East Harlem, New York and how he came to music after serving time in a correctional facility for car theft. After performing Subway Joe and Special Girl, with the audience revelling in their role as a clapping choir and dancing in the aisles, Bataan shared another story, a very personal story of how he had almost died twenty years ago, after a diabetic attack. “I went into a coma” he said. “Then, something amazing happened and a big hand reached down to me. The Big Bossman (sic) prays for us all and he wants me to sing this for you”.

Bataan then instructed the audience to light up their cell phones, creating a super bright room, before singing The Lord’s Prayer in his own, inimitable style.

Having started his musical career in the 1960s, Bataan had absorbed one particular trend from that era, namely that of the medley. As Push’s trumpet player, Dominic Glover, told me, “we just don’t know what’s coming next half the time”.

The entire set comprised of one segue after another and by the time we were treated to a rousing rendition of The Bottle, the audience had been on their feet and dancing for nearly an hour. Drunken clapping barely detracted from the funk jam, led by the bass playing of Ernie McKone, as Bataan shuffled and grooved along with his wife, Yvonne, who supported him on vocals.

This was as much a show as it was a gig and Joe Bataan is most certainly a showman. He signed off by performing one of his best loved songs, Ordinary Guy, with many of the crowd singing along before raucous applause accompanied his exit from the stage.

Joe Bataan and his music has stood the test of time. Having disappeared from the scene for a number of years throughout the 1980s and much of the 1990s, he made a return to touring and he has not stopped since. Infectious, joyous music and an indefatigable energy all adds up to a thoroughly enjoyable gig. There’s nothing ordinary about this guy.