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The Welsh Rugby Union may have removed the popular anthem Delilah from the playlist at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium on the grounds that it glorifies the abuse of women, but the decision doesn’t seem to have made much of an impression on locals. The night air of Cardiff resounded to the sound of tens of thousands roaring its refrain at the top of their voices, as Sir Tom Jones led a lusty rendition of his 1968 hit. “She stood there laughing,” growled the Welsh superstar, and the entire audience gathered beneath Cardiff Castle roared “Ha! Ha! Ha!” with manic delight. “I felt the knife in my hand, and she laughed no more,” concluded Jones, miming a stabbing movement to drive the point home.
“You can’t stop us singing Delilah!” declared Jones. “They may stop the choir from singing it, but they haven’t stopped the crowd. Keep on singing it! And I’ll keep on singing it too!” The Welsh audience obliged, still singing its irresistible chorus (“Why, why, why … Delilah!”) long after the show was over, shuffling towards exits and out into the city night.
But we are not here to discuss the rights and wrongs of performing murder ballads at public events, or to speculate on how the hand-wringers at the WRU will react when Taylor Swift plays the Principality Stadium next year and tens of thousands of young Swifties join in with her own homicidal revenge song, No Body, No Crime. We are here to celebrate one of the greatest singers in British popular music, still out on the road at 83 and giving it everything he’s got. Which is plenty.
Jones is a little creaky these days, walking to the centre of the stage as if stiffly tiptoeing across hot coals. His hair and beard are snowy white, his face lined, and he looks more like a mischievous old uncle than the barrel chested lothario of yore. But he’s still got everything that really counts: a huge voice, a real feeling for songcraft, and a burning delight at still being on stage singing for an audience.
With a versatile, rootsy five piece band, many of his songs now turn on issues of age and mortality, the themes that bound his superb 2021 collection Surrounded By Time. “I’m the oldest singer ever to get to number one,” he declared with visible relish. He introduced a cover of Willie Nelson’s Across the Borderline with a story about performing at the country singer-songwriter’s birthday celebrations in April. “Willie’s 90 now,” said Jones. “So I’ve got something to look forward to!” Jones’s reading of the song was stark, empathetic and utterly mesmerising. Jones the Voice still has it. But Jones the Pop Star still has it too.
The old warrior has found clever ways to integrate the cheesy hits of his past into his deeper, rootsier contemporary style, performing It’s Not Unusual and What’s New Pussycat like folk singalongs, driven by accordion and percussion. He cheekily broke down 2000 smash Sex Bomb with a slow, passionate opening, delivered a blues rocking take on Randy Newman’s You Can Leave Your Hat On and opened up his chest for a funky blast of Prince’s Kiss. The years seemed to fall away onstage, as if Sir Tom was getting younger and more virile with every song. “It’s good to be home!” he declared, on the first of three shows at Cardiff Castle. “It’s been a great night. And there’ll be many more to come!” I’m pretty sure Delilah will still be on the setlist too. No need to ask why, why, why?
Touring until August 6; tomjones.com