by Ian Mann
August 07, 2023
Ian Mann enjoys a hugely successful start to the 2023 Brecon Jazz Festival and three very different musical performances by the Rachel Hayward Swing Quartet, Fiesta Resistance and Funkyard
BRECON JAZZ FESTIVAL 2023
‘Jazz at the Marquee’, Family Jazz & Dance Day, Brecon County Showground, Brecon, 06/08/2023.
The 2022 Brecon Jazz Festival introduced a new innovation, the Family Jazz & Dance Day held in a marquee at the Brecon County Showground.
The Brecon County Show is one of the largest agricultural shows in Mid Wales, not quite as big as the Royal Welsh, which is held in July in nearby Builth Wells, but pretty close. Brecon County Show attracts literally thousands of visitors to the town and traditionally takes place on the first Saturday in August, which for many years was the weekend immediately prior to Brecon Jazz Festival.
The Covid inspired decision to schedule Brecon Jazz Festival across multiple weekends in August offered Brecon Jazz organisers Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon to realise a long harboured ambition to work on an event in conjunction with their counterparts at the County Show.
With this in mind the Members’ Marquee at the County Show was kept up for an extra day to facilitate a ‘Family Jazz & Dance Day’ designed to attract new listeners to the music, with the emphasis very much on families and children.
The 2022 Family Jazz & Dance event took place on a blisteringly hot summer’s day and was a great success, with audiences entertained by three very different acts, the Jane Williams Band, the Will Barnes Quartet and The Numbers Racket, with rising star saxophonist Alex Clarke guesting with both the Jane Williams Band and The Numbers Racket. My account of the 2022 event, from which much of the above background information has been sourced, can be found here;
Variously subtitled ‘Jazz at The Marquee’ or ‘Jazz on a Summer’s Day’ the 2023 event took place in a larger marquee and the Festival organisers and their team were rewarded with an even bigger turnout than last year with around three hundred people attending the event. The weather was surprisingly pleasant, with no rainfall and with temperatures that were less oppressive than in 2022. With a number of on site food and drink concessions it all made for a very welcoming family day out with numerous children and dogs on site, enjoying the relaxed informal atmosphere, and of course the music. The antics of some of the kids and canines were a source of entertainment in themselves.
The programme also included art and craft and dance workshops for the children, with many emerging from the arts and crafts area proudly brandishing their brightly coloured creations.
The music programme featured three very different acts from the South Wales area playing sounds drawing on various jazz genres. The Rachel Hayward Swing Quartet played traditional jazz featuring the songs of the 1920s and 30s, Fiesta Resistance performed the Latin music of Cuba and Puerto Rico, while Funkyard lived up to their name by drawing on American funk and soul traditions. The music of all three bands was eminently accessible and highly danceable and all three acts enjoyed a terrific reception from the appreciative audience at the Marquee.
RACHEL HAYWARD SWING QUARTET
Rachel Hayward – banjo, acoustic guitar, Zoe Lambeth – alto sax, clarinet, vocals, Dave Deakin – trombone, vocals, Tony Sharp – double bass
The first band to appear were the Rachel Hayward Swing Quartet, led by banjoist / guitarist Rachel Hayward but fronted by Zoe Lambeth (reeds, vocals) and Dave Deakin (trombone, vocals), with the line up completed by bassist Tony Sharp.
Hayward, who also plays vibraphone, is a stalwart of the trad jazz scene in Wales and beyond and some years ago I saw her perform as part of a trio led by the late trombonist and multi-instrumentalist Paul Munnery. She has also worked with saxophonist Sammy Rimington and with the all female Hotsy Totsy Band as well as leading her own group, Rachel’s Dream. Hayward has also been involved with the organisation of the Bude and Upton upon Severn Jazz Festivals.
Hayward’s Swing Quartet focusses on the songs of the 1920s and 30s and delivers them in a broadly traditional New Orleans style, albeit with nods to the jazz developments from their chosen era that were taking place in New York and Chicago.
I’ll admit that Trad isn’t my favourite jazz genre, but as with that Munnery gig many years ago I again found myself very much enjoying a performance featuring the playing of Rachel Hayward. This was highly accessible music and every song in the quartet’s set was familiar to me, as they probably were to most members of the audience.
Most of the songs were driven by Hayward’s crisp, highly rhythmic banjo playing as she worked in conjunction with Sharp’s double bass. Occasionally Hayward would switch to acoustic guitar when a less forceful rhythmic attack was required. Both Hayward and Sharp enjoyed moments in the spotlight as soloists but it was their partnership that allowed Lambeth and Deakin to shine both instrumentally and vocally.
The quartet opened with an instrumental version of “Undecided”, which included solo features for all the musicians, with Lambeth appearing on alto sax and Hayward on banjo. This acted as a good introduction to the instrumental voices of the band.
Vocals were introduced with Lambeth’s singing on “Button Up Your Overcoat”, with instrumental features from Deakin on trombone, Lambeth on clarinet and Hayward on banjo.
Lambeth returned to alto sax as Deakin took over the vocal duties for “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”, the instrumental solos coming from trombone and alto.
An intriguing slowed down instrumental arrangement of Fats Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose” saw Hayward moving to acoustic guitar, her gentle rhythms underpinning solos from Deakin on trombone, Lambeth on clarinet and Sharp on double bass.
Similarly “Comes Love”, described by Hayward as “a 1930s blues” was also played more slowly than usual and featured Lambeth’svocals alongside Deakin’s authentically bluesy muted trombone. This was an item that was particularly well received by the audience.
Deakins took over the vocal duties for a second Fats Waller tune, “Ain’t Misbehaving”, again featuring on muted trombone alongside Lambeth’s alto sax and the leader’s banjo.
“Blue Skies” was performed as an instrumental with Sharp leading off the solos on double bass, followed by Hayward on banjo, Deakins on trombone and Lambeth on clarinet.
“It Had To Be You” featured Hayward’s guitar and Deakin’s vocal, with instrumental solos from clarinet and trombone.
Hayward moved back to banjo for an instrumental rendition of the enduringly popular “Sweet Georgia Brown”, a popular choice among the audience. Solos came from the front line of trombone and clarinet, followed by features for banjo and double bass.
The last scheduled number of the set was “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby”, with Lambeth featuring on voice and alto sax, alongside further solos from Deakin on muted trombone and Hayward on banjo.
A well deserved encore featured a further Lambeth vocal on “Bei Mir Bist du Schon”, once a hit for the Andrews Sisters and a song that I’ve seen performed many times by the Bristol based combo Moscow Drug Club. Lambeth’s singing was complemented by her playing on clarinet, and also by Deakin’s trombone solo.
The audience at the Marquee had clearly enjoyed this good natured set and gave the quartet a great reception. Lambeth and Deakin had fronted the show and handled the majority of the announcements but a happy Rachel Hayward stepped up to the vocal mic to thank her colleagues and the audience at the close.
A highly enjoyable start to the day’s musical events.
Lorena Macarthy – lead vocals, percussion, Tim Morgan – double bass, Sabina Turvey – keyboards, Edward Jones – trumpet & flugelhorn, Joe Bentley – trumpet & flugelhorn, Rich Colquhoun – trumpet, flugelhorn, percussion, Nick Baron – drum kit, percussion, backing vocals, Noel Watson – congas, percussion
Describing themselves as “one of the UK’s leading Cuban style Salsa bands” Fiesta Resistance are based in Cardiff where they play regularly on the city’s jazz circuit as well as appearing at specialist Salsa dance events.
The band play Salsa classics from both Cuba and Puerto Rico in addition to a series of ingenious Salsa style arrangements of a number of pop and rock classics, the majority of these having been formulated during the Covid lockdown period.
Fronted by singer Lorena Macarthy, who also featured on maracas and other hand held percussion, the band have a bright brassy sound enlivened by the presence of no fewer than three trumpeters in its ranks. Fiesta Resistance is also a highly rhythmic ensemble with double bass, drum kit and Noel Watson’s array of congas and other percussive devices helping to drive the band, alongside Sabina Turvey’s keyboards, which combine rhythmic, melodic and textural functions. Some gigs have also seen the versatile Turvey operating as a bassist.
I didn’t catch the Spanish language titles of the Cuban and Puerto Rican pieces so this won’t be an accurate song by song account, although I did recognise all the pop and rock material that the band had adapted.
Things kicked off with some genuine Cuban Salsa with Macarthy’s voice augmented by the sounds of trumpet soloists Colquhoun and Jones. A Puerto Rican song followed, with a title translating as “Crazy but Happy”.
The first of the pop and rock songs to get the distinctive Fiesta Resistance treatment was “Don’t Speak” by No Doubt.
A return to more hardcore Salsa material included another song, plus an instrumental that gave full rein to trumpeters Bentley and Colquhoun.
The band had already encouraged a good number of people, both adults and children, to take to the dance floor and the numbers were further encouraged by a series of Latin-ised arrangements of various pop and rock songs. “Valerie” (The Zutons, Amy Winehouse) was followed by the Eagles’ “Hotel California” and then by a slowed down arrangement of A-ha’s “Take On Me”, which featured the unusual sight of three flugelhorns working together.
A brief return to more authentic Cuban sounds followed, presaging an arrangement of David Bowie’s “Life On Mars” that incorporated both English and Spanish lyrics.
A passage of unaccompanied piano from Turvey introduced a showcase instrumental that featured high octane solos from all three trumpeters plus an extended percussion feature from the excellent Watson, who had hitherto been rather hidden from the audience at the back of the stage. It was good to see him finally ‘letting rip’.
That endlessly versatile Duke Ellington / Juan Tizol classic “Caravan” was given the Afro-Cuban treatment with Bentley the featured trumpet soloist.
An unexpected moment of repose followed, with Jones playing beautiful Miles Davis style Harmon muted trumpet on a ballad that featured a scaled down version of the group.
The ballad provided the opportunity for both the band and the occupants of the dance floor to recharge their batteries before two energetic genuine Salsa pieces brought the show to a vigorous finale.
The many dancers had particularly enjoyed this set, but the audience as a whole again gave the band a terrific reception.
On the whole I was impressed by Fiesta Resistance, whose music gathered sharpness and momentum as the set progressed. Macarthy was an engaging vocal presence and all the instrumentalists impressed with their contributions, with Baron also appearing to act as the band’s Musical Director.
I’d guess that several of these musicians have been students at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (RWCMD) in Cardiff so it came as no surprise that the standard of the musicianship was so high. Both the band and their exhilarated, and in some cases exhausted, audience seemed well satisfied with the afternoon’s proceedings.
Maddie Penfold – tenor sax, Charlie Herbert – keyboards, Elijah Jeffery – guitar, vocals, Soren Chakrabarti – alto sax, Tiggy Blackwell – trombone, Huw Llewelyn – trumpet, Amy Marsden – vocals, Sylvie Nobel – vocals, Josh Sharp – electric bass, Tom Williams – drums
Gracing the Marquee stage later in the evening were Funkyard, a ten piece band from Cardiff led by tenor saxophonist Maddie Penfold.
Comprised of students and graduates of the RWCMD the band has been together for just over a year and has already accrued something of a following on the Cardiff music scene and appears regularly at the RWCMD’s regular Friday evening Amser Jazz Time sessions. Again the standard of the musicianship is uniformly high and the band is a tight and cohesive unit centred around propulsive bass and drum grooves, punchy horns and the vocal blend of singers Marsden, Noble and Jeffery, who share the lead vocals around while also singing effective b-vs and harmonies. The guitar and keyboards combine rhythmic, melodic and textural duties with Herbert coaxing a range of sounds, mostly electric piano and organ, from his Nord Stage 3 keyboard.
The band’s love of American funk and soul is palpable and Funkyard name the formidable Tower of Power as their primary influence, with a goodly number of that band’s songs included in tonight’s set.
Funkyard came to the stage around 7.15 pm, by which time some of the families with younger children had headed for home and audience numbers had reduced from the afternoon peak, which had probably occurred when Fiesta Resistance were playing. Nevertheless the band’s infectious funk grooves encouraged a good many people to their feet and the dance floor was well populated throughout their highly accomplished set.
Funkyard kicked off with their version of Brother Strut’s “Vinyl Is My Bible” with Elijah Jeffery handling the lead vocal and providing the instrumental solo on guitar. Marsden and Nobel provided effective backing vocals with Marsden subsequently taking over the lead for Tower of Power’s “What Is Hip”, her powerful singing augmented by instrumental solos from Herbert, producing a Hammond organ sound from his Nord, and leader Penfold on tenor sax.
Sylvie Nobel took lead vocal duties on an admirably tight and funky version of Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat” with Chakrabarti providing the instrumental solo on alto and drummer Williams enjoying a brief cameo.
Marsden’s powerful vocals were again heard to good effect on “Credit”, another Tower of Power song that also included a tenor sax solo from Penfold.
The band stayed with the T of P back catalogue for “I Got To Groove”, powered by Sharp’s six string electric bass and featuring Nobel’s lead vocals and Penfold’s tenor sax.
There was more from Oakland’s finest on a rousing “Funk The Dumb Stuff” that featured all three vocalists singing the lead at various junctures. Throughout the set the songs featured the output of all three singers, and although the lead vocal might vary from song to song the blend of the three voices was always an important part of Funkyard’s music. This extended run through “Funk The Dumb Stuff” was driven by propulsive electric bass and drum grooves and also featured fiery instrumental solos from Blackwell on trombone, Llewelyn on trumpet and Chakrabarti on alto sax.
Yet more from Tower of Power with “Soul With A Capital S” with Jeffery and Nobel sharing the lead vocal, followed by “Taste Of Freedom” with Marsden fronting the blend of voices. Driven by a tight horn driven groove “Taste Of Freedom” also featured a keyboard solo from Herbert, this time adopting a classic electric piano sound.
A lengthy sequence of Tower of Power songs concluded with “You’ve Got To Funkifize”, a piece that lived up its title and included instrumental features for Chakrabarti on alto and Llewelyn on trumpet.
The run of Tof P material was punctuated by “Cuddly Toy”, a song from the catalogue of Beverley Knight sung by Amy Marsden.
Back to Oakland for T of P’s “Only So Much Oil In The Ground”, song from that group’s 1975 album “Urban Renewal”, whose environmental message seems even more pertinent today. Nobel sang the lead vocal, with Penfold featuring on tenor sax.
I’m not sure how familiar most of the audience were with Tower of Power’s back catalogue, but surely everyone must have known Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”, which acted as the springboard for solos from virtually all of the band’s instrumentalists, with Llewellyn going first on trumpet, followed by Blackwell on trombone, Chakrabarti on alto, Penfold on tenor, Sharp on electric bass and Herbert on electric piano.
Jeffery was to feature on guitar and vocal on “Well Run Dry”, a song by the American band Phat Funktion, originally from Madison, Wisconsin.
British ‘acid jazz’ was represented with a version of the Incognito hit “Always There”, itself a cover of a Ronnie Laws tune. Introduced by Herbert’s keyboards and featuring Nobel’s vocals this was another song that most of the audience were familiar with and it represented an exciting conclusion to Funkyard’s set.
The numerous dancers were in no mood to sit down just yet, although the group did reduce the energy levels a little with a deserved encore of Stevie Wonder’s “As”, with Jeffery taking the lead vocal.
Although they’d played to a smaller crowd than the earlier acts Funkyard seemed very satisfied with their night’s work. The enthusiasm of the audience members that had remained was palpable and the dance floor was crowded throughout a highly charged and hugely funky set. The singing and playing was extremely accomplished and collectively Funkyard were a credit to themselves and to the RWCMD.
My thanks to Maddie Penfold for speaking with me after the show and for emailing me a set list and full details of Funkyard’s personnel, both which have helped enormously in the writing of this section of the review. For more on Funkyard check out https://www.facebook.com/funkyard.band and Instagram account @funkyard.band
BJF’s 2023 Family Jazz & Dance Day was another tremendous success and this collaboration with Brecon County Show looks set to become a much loved annual event. Good weather, a relaxed family atmosphere and three enjoyable musical performances, all of them very different, helped to make this a day to remember. All the bands were very well received and although Funkyard played to a smaller crowd they were probably the pick of the three in purely musical terms. A great afternoon that was enjoyed by many people of all ages – and some dogs too!
Congratulations to Lynne, Roger and team for such a successful event, which represented a terrific curtain raiser for the main Festival weekend, which will kick off on Friday August 11th. Full details at http://www.breconjazz.org
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