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Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Top Ten... Songs for Hallowe'en

What do you sing for a gig around Hallowe'en?  A couple of years ago, I was performing with the Mark Armstrong Big Band on Hallowe'en weekend, and we managed to find quite a few numbers to fit the occassion: That Old Devil Called Love, That Old Black Magic, Spooky and Bewitched.  Here's my top ten of Hallowe'en-related tunes.

1. Spooky
A brilliant song made famous by singer Dusty Springfield, but starting off life as an instrumental by Mike Sharp.

2. Superstition
The first Stevie Wonder song I ever heard!  It wasn't until I was 17 that I first listened to Stevie Wonder - I had to learn this song for a jazz/funk band I had been asked to sing with (before showing any interest in jazz). And thank goodness I did!  The start of my jazz career.

3. Moondance

4. Bewitched
This is one of the first jazz standards I learnt for the Lancaster University Big Band - only the third big band I had ever sung with.  I remember being really struck by a Frank Sinatra version at first.

5. That Old Black Magic
One of my favourite big band tunes to sing.  I have recorded this with the Minden Band of the Queen's Division - on the CD Qunitessence.  Listen or buy it here:

6. That Ole Devil called love
Sung here by Carol Sloane.

7. Witchcraft
First written by Cy Coleman as an instrumental for the revue "Take Five," lyrics were added in 1957 by Carolyn Leigh to make a hit for Frank Sinatra.

8. Thriller
The ultimate Hallowe'en video.

9. A ghost of a chance
(1932) Victor Young, Ned Washington and Bing Crosby.

10. Devil May Care
Again, I make it onto my own top 10!  This great Bob Dorough is the fourth track on my first album.  I was lucky enough to perform it as a duet with Ian Shaw.  Above is a live version from the Imperial Wharf Jazz Festival 2010.  Listen to the album version, or buy it here:

October gigs: Norwich, Leigh-on-Sea, Manchester

So far the tour has taken us far and wide.  But none so far as Norwich, a solid 3-hour drive.  After I had booked the gig, I realised that it was further from London than Wales, so we were in for a mammoth journey there and back.  Lucky then, that we had been booked to play at a terrific jazz club.  To be honest, I hadn't been sure what to expect when we walked in because it was a typical country pub - low ceilings and comfy seating, but not quite conducive to a great jazz acoustic.  I needn't have worried though, because towards the back of the pub there was a high-ceilinged area with upright piano and a PA set up, lighting and atmospheric seating.  Perfect!
Proud to be playing at The Green Man

The following Tuesday we journeyed to Leigh on Sea, to play at Annie's Jazz.  Another pub gig, another weekly jazz night and another free event, this was just as good an atmosphere as the Norwich gig, although not quite so good acoustically owing to being crammed under a low-ceilinged alcove (Tom's bass barely missing scraping the beams).  Still, a very enjoyable gig, and Leigh on Sea will definitely be a place to revisit, probably in daylight next time!

Squashed but happy at Annie's Jazz
 The week ended with a second visit to Club 43 - a jazz supper club held at the Radisson Edwardian hotel in Manchester.  Always a popular event, Club 43 runs a monthly gig which pays tribute to the heydays of jazz in Manchester where the jazz greats used to take to Club 43 (previously across the road from the current hotel) to jam into the night.

The only similarity now is the name, and possibly the attentive audience.  Again, facing difficulties with funding, I booked a half local, half London-based group.  Rick, my pianist, joined us there from a previous gig in Bishop Auckland, and Dave Walsh and Gavin Barras made up the North West contingent.  With no time for rehearsal (punters were let into the room at 7pm although the gig didn't start til 8:30 so we had to be off the stage by then), the boys sight-read quite a few of my nigh-impossible arrangements.  Brilliant!  They did a fine job, and I'm looking forward to more gigs in the North West over the next few weeks.

The backdrop at Club 43 portrays jazz greats who would
frequent the club in the 50s and 60s.

October gigs: Newcastle, Nottingham, Stratford-upon-Avon

Performing at The Customs House, South Shields.
Photo by Lance Liddle

We had a full-on weekend planned for late-October, starting off with a journey up the A1 to Newcastle.  The A1 is a surprisingly pleasant road, but quite slow, so our enjoyable amble meant that we didn't have quite as much time to rehearse as we had wanted to when we reached the theatre.  Never mind, I got to take this brilliant picture of our pork pies when driving past Melton Mowbray!

Our destination was The Customs House, a theatre complex at the edge of the Tyne river in South Shields.  We arrived after dark - such a shame, as I'm sure the venue and surrounding areas must look great in the daylight.  In fact, throughout this tour I have lamented the fact that our gigs start later than the sun sets, meaning that we are travelling to so many interesting places, but don't actually get to see any of them.  Serves me right for planning an autumn tour!

The gig went really well, and our stand-in bass player Paul Susans did a fab job.  Read the review here:

On Saturday we had a rare night off, and decided to stay up in the North East as it was better than driving all the way back to London, only to drive back to Nottingham for our Sunday lunchtime gig.  So, after taking a lengthy walk on South Shields beach, we chilled out at Rick's parents' house, talking about home brew, jazz and the X Factor.

Darren and I enjoy the sun
Shadow play

Sunday brought two gigs: the first at The Lion in Nottingham, where we first played during our 2010 tour and loved it.  A very interesting little pub, with good value Sunday roast, a great selection of real ales (more for my band than me), and an enthusiastic jazz crowd.  After the gig we had time to relax before heading down to Stratford-upon-Avon, to play at Stratford Jazz Club.  SJC is such a popular venue with artists that I had booked this one nearly a year in advance, and will have to wait until Spring 2013 if I want to play there again!

The club is hosted in The Chapel ("A Shrine of Entertainment")! in the upstairs floor of a pub on, appropriately for Stratford, Shakespeare Street.  The only downer to this gig was that it was at the end of the Stratford Music Week, but not included in it, so the jazz fans of the region had already had a choice of three gigs that week.  Many of them therefore chose not to come to mine, which was a shame, but difficult to avoid.  You can read a review of the evening here:'s_review_sarah-ellen-hughes_at_the_chapel.html

At The Lion

Stratford Jazz Club

October gigs: Rochester, Wellingborough, Bristol

This mini-tour started off in Rochester at the 144 Club: "The Ronnie Scott's of Medway!"  Set-up and run by the Kearsey-Lawson family, with son compering, brother drumming and mum on the door, the 144 club presents fantastic guest performers with the house band each week.

On arrival I had to make my way up a long and winding staircase, passing by posters of past gigs all around, rather like a hall of fame.  And there was me right at the top!  I'm chuffed to think that each week that passes I'll be there, pride of place next to the jazz greats of this country.
Posters of Dave O'Higgins and Sam Mayne (bizarrely on a toilet)
in the Medway Hall of Fame.

The next night, we jetted off to Wellingborough to continue the album tour at The Castle, quite a large theatre in the town centre.  We pulled up to the foyer to find it packed with people - a mix of ages but mostly the older generation: a typical jazz crowd!  This excited us somewhat until we realised that they were all there to see Rory Bremner in the main auditorium, supported by Ian Shaw!  Oh well.

Our gig turned out to be well attended too, and a very appreciative went away with 17 CDs by the end of it!  Nearly a single-gig record.

Next stop Bristol, to play at the Bebop Club.  Run by local trumpeter Andy Hague, it's an incredibly popular weekly jazz night in the back room of a pub, which attracts many of this country's top jazz names.  The only problem with this gig is that it's in Bristol on a Friday night, so once you've got out of the ridiculous traffic in London (the world and his wife are trying to escape with you) you've got to endure the M4, then get stuck in Bristol as you enter during rush hour.  As such, we had about 10 minutes to sound check before trying to find somewhere to eat to scrabble down a hasty dinner.  Solution to finding a swift meal?  An Indian restaurant just around the corner seemed the best choice so we walked in I immediately told the waiter that we had only 35 minutes so did he think we would be able to have our meal in that time.  He looked around the restaurant as if surveying the diners to infer how busy the kitchen would be, and went over to an un-made table and started to dress it for us.  Why we couldn't just sit at a ready-laid table I have no idea, but nevertheless we were in too deep by then to back out now!  Finally, at 9:01pm, we beat a hasty retreat from the restaurant and managed to make it back on stage only 6 minutes late.  During this time, the sound guy had gone looking for us and was told we were at the Indian, missed us in transit and arrived half an hour late himself!

Band curry
Setting up at the Bebop Club
After an enjoyable gig we headed off to our 4-star hotel which we had got for an absolute steal, and made the most of chilling out in Bristol.  Good times.

October gigs: Monmouth and Abergavenny

October saw my second ever tribute gig to the great Shirley Horn.  I'm really struck by this tribute theme - it gives a cohesion to the gig that could otherwise be missing, and is a great way to find out about one's idol.  I'm going to think about doing this more once the album tour is over.

This particular gig was in Monmouth, at The Queen's Head, where regular gigs are every Wednesday.  The venue quite often attracts some great touring bands, and it was a pleasure to play there.  We packed the place out and it would be great to play there again sometime.  I have a growing fondness for South Wales!  So much so that I was back there within a month, this time at The King's Arms in Abergavenny for Black Mountain Jazz.

A jazz club run by local musicians, this venue attracts top-class acts monthly and no wonder - staged in the backroom of a pub, the venue is spacious and comfortable, sporting a midi piano (cross between a mini and a grand) well-stocked bar and complimentary tapas in the interval (for the band!).  The backdrop of the stage is even the old town wall.

For this gig I had booked a mixture of local and London-based musicians, to help ease the funding difficulties that the tour was presenting.  Darren, my drummer, and I drove down on the Sunday afternoon, and met Swansea based musicians Dave Cottle (who runs the superb Swansea Jazzland) and Alun Vaughan, one of the busiest bassists in the region.  The boys coped marvelously with my arrangements which led to an incredibly enjoyable gig for me.  Read the review here:
Hopefully we'll be back in 2012 for a one-off festival so watch this space.

Crossing the Severn Bridge.
The band perform... with the old town wall in the background
(here adorned with skeletons for Halloween!)