by Ian Mann
September 09, 2016
Ian Mann on the final day of the 2016 Wall2Wall Jazz Festival featuring performances by KoGo Project, The Singing Club, Baraka and the Red Stripe Band.
Photograph of the Red Stripe Band sourced from http://www.blackmountainjazz.co.uk
JAZZ ALLEY and BOOGIE PARTY - SUNDAY AT WALL2WALL JAZZ FESTIVAL, MARKET HALL, ABERGAVENNY, 04/09/2016.
The final day of the 2016 Wall2Wall Jazz Festival took place in Abergavenny’s impressive Market Hall, dubbed ‘Jazz Alley’ for the day.
This was a repeat of the successful strand first staged in 2015 which saw the Festival reaching out to the townspeople with a series of free live musical performances augmented by a licensed bar, a variety of food outlets and a number of other retail outlets including a record stall and a musical instrument shop. Billed as a family event Jazz Alley was a big success in 2015 and helped to bring jazz to an audience who might otherwise not get to hear it while simultaneously raising the profile of Black Mountain Jazz and Wall2Wall within the town.
2016 saw a change of format with events at the Market Hall now forming the sole focus of the Festival’s Sunday programme. In 2015 Jazz Alley had run concurrently with a series of ticketed events at BMJ’s former HQ the King’s Arms. However 2016 saw just one final ticketed event when the Market Hall hosted the final Festival event, a well attended ‘Boogie Party’ featuring the music of the Red Stripe Band. More on that later.
KoGo PROJECT, JAZZ ALLEY
The Jazz Alley event kicked off at twelve noon and I suspect that I may have missed a couple of performances before my 2.00 pm arrival. However I was just in time to enjoy the first ‘main act’ of the Jazz Alley programme, a highly enjoyable performance by the jazz/funk/soul quartet KoGo Project.
As the musicians were setting up I had the vague idea that I recognised some of them but couldn’t quite remember where I might have seen them before. Eventually I twigged that the co-leaders were husband and wife team Kate Ockenden (keyboards, vocals) and Geoff Ockenden (six string electric bass – yet another one!), from just up the road from me in Ludlow Shropshire. I’d previously seen these two playing more of a jazz standards set at one of the Saturday lunchtime ‘Jazz Cafés’ at the Courtyard Arts Centre in Hereford billed as the Kate Ockenden Band. I seem to recall that on that occasion they’d been joined by guitarist Lee Jones and local drummer John Cutler.
Trading under the KoGo Project name, an appellation derived from their initials, the Ockendens today gave full rein to their love of 70s soul, funk and fusion on what was actually their first ever gig in this incarnation. Joining them were saxophonist Chris ‘Beebe’ Aldridge, a stalwart of the Birmingham jazz scene, on both alto and tenor saxes and Julian Chambers at the drums. Despite this being the band’s live début Kogo Project has been several months in the planning and the quartet have already released their début album “Do It”.
Mixing jazz, funk and soul classics with original songs in the same vein Kogo Project were well received by a sizeable Jazz Alley crowd. I’d already made a note about Aldridge’s ‘Sanborn style alto’ even before the band tackled David’s “Full House”. As the set progressed Aldridge also proved to be equally adept on tenor.
The other comparison that I jotted down was between Geoff Ockenden and Level 42’s Mark King as Geoff launched into a thumb driven, slapped bass feature which saw him sinking to his knees in a display of unashamed showmanship. Geoff formed a funky and propulsive rhythm team with drummer Julian Chambers who laid down some commendably tight and ‘in the pocket’ grooves.
Kate Ockenden delivered soulful vocals and funky Rhodes on original songs such as “Do It” and “Give And Take”, the latter segued with Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”. However the love song “In My Heart”, performed solo by Kate and dedicated to husband Geoff seemed a little out of context with the other material which included the blue eyed soul of Michael McDonald’s “I Keep Forgetting”.
We also heard Shakatak’s “Invitations”, it turns out that keyboard player Bill Sharp is a personal friend of the Ockendens, plus the Average White Band’s “Pick Up The Pieces” which concluded an energetic and highly enjoyable set which saw some people getting to their feet to dance. The band’s Facebook page pronounces them to be well pleased with this inaugural gig and rightly so. The standard of playing was excellent throughout and their infectious mix of jazz, funk and soul drew a highly positive reaction from the Festival audience.
THE SINGING CLUB
The next performers to take to the floor were the massed, white clad, hordes of the Singing Club, an amalgamation of four community choirs from Monmouthshire and the Forest of Dean conducted from the keyboard by a former opera singer operating under the single name of Karl.
There were so many singers, both male and female, that I couldn’t count them all but they must have numbered in excess of fifty - although I was later informed that some of the Singing Club’s gigs have featured more than a hundred participants.
Among the members of the choir was jazz vocalist Debs Hancock, an increasingly in demand performer who had played two small group concerts as part of the festival the previous day. Despite carving out an increasingly successful solo career as a jazz singer Hancock credits the choir with helping her to find her voice and remains fiercely loyal to the institution that gave her her start.
With so many performers it’s not surprising that the choir make a big sound and their voices filled the Market Hall with song as they delivered a good humoured show that warmed the hearts of their audience. No previous singing experience or innate musical skill is needed to join the choir, it’s a true community project, but some of the more musically gifted members of the choir also provided instrumental cameos. Among these we heard a harmonica driven “The Green, Green Grass Of Home” , kazoos on “Bring Me Sunshine” and massed percussion, including saucepans (natch) on the opening “Sospan Fach”.
The rest of the programme included the rousing sea shanty “South Australia” the gospel tune “O Happy Day” sung in the Welsh language, and an arrangement of “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”. Initially the latter seemed something of an unlikely choice but then I seemed to remember that Procol Harum performed alongside the Swingle Singers on one of the songs from their “Grand Hotel” album.
We also heard a couple of choir staples in Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me” and Labi Siffre’s “Something Inside So Strong”, which closed the set.
Karl presented the performance with a diffident charm and it would take a real churl not to respond to the sheer joy and enthusiasm radiated by the massed performers. Hancock and her friends sang with gusto and no little skill and their efforts were warmly appreciated by both the audience and members of the band Baraka who were setting up behind them. All in all a pleasing and unexpectedly enjoyable event.
Based in Bristol Baraka is a mixed race ‘world music’ band that performs in a variety of musical styles stemming from the African diaspora. The band is fronted by Ghanaian percussionist and vocalist Ben Baddoo and the group also features his countryman Chris Cobbson on guitar. The Caribbean is represented by bassist/vocalist Royston Gage from Dominica who is joined in the rhythm section by Trinidadian drummer Tony Bailey. The Irishman Brendan Whitmore acts as the band’s spokesman and adds a jazz and blues element on a range of saxophones plus flute and harmonica. They have recorded two albums to date, “Poor Man” and “Arms Around Me”, from which I assume the majority of their material was sourced.
Baraka describe their music as “a high energy mix of Hi-Life, Township, Soca, Calypso and Reggae” and it’s hard to disagree with their self appraisal. Like the Kogo Project they also managed to tempt a small group of dancers onto the floor, this time via African and Caribbean grooves. Vocal duties were shared between Badoo and Gage, the latter taking over for reggae flavoured songs such as “Roots” and “Arms Around Me”, the latter not a love song as the title might suggest but a sharp piece of social commentary lambasting the global arms trade.
I rather enjoyed Baraka’s colourful, insightful and highly rhythmic music. There seems to be something of a plethora of this type of band in Bristol, Jazz Alley 2015 had featured the similarly inclined Mankala, a nine piece band featuring two vocalists with its membership drawn from all corners of the globe. I also recall enjoying the music of the Bristol Afrobeat Collective at the Sheep Music Festival in Presteigne a few years back. Let’s hope that the Sunday afternoon ‘world music’ slot remains a Wall2Wall fixture in the years to come.
BOOGIE PARTY – THE RED STRIPE BAND
The afternoon crowd dispersed during the hour and a half hiatus between the end of Jazz Alley and the beginning of the ticketed evening Boogie Party. A pleasingly large crowd of around one hundred turned up for the evening show which featured another high energy performance, this time from the London based Red Stripe Band.
Founded by pianist and vocalist Neil Drinkwater (aka ‘Red Stripe’) back in 1994 this seven piece band has recorded four albums and played hundreds of live shows, including mant prestigious festival dates, often supporting some of the biggest names in the music business.
Drinkwater has a pool of musicians upon which he can draw and the line up tonight included Cardiff based vocalist Helena May who had appeared at the 2014 Wall2Wall Festival guesting with Tony O’ Malley’s band. Red Stripe also boasts a punchy horn section featuring Lee Vivian (trumpet), John O’ Neill (tenor sax) and Erica Clarke (baritone sax). The line up was completed by bassist Costa Tancredi and drummer Ed Williams.
The Red Stripe Band’s repertoire includes boogie woogie, rock ‘n’roll and jump jive staples as well as a number of original songs written in broadly the same styles. After all these years of performing they’ve delivered a slick, energetic show which never fails to get audiences to their feet. Even I was seen to eventually venture out onto the dance floor, shamed into it by Debs Hancock who was having the time of her life dancing with some of her fellow Singing Club members.
Over the course of two sets many, many songs were played including original tunes “Be My Guest” and “She’s A Mermaid” among others. May and Drinkwater shared the lead vocals around with the former delivering a particularly powerful performance.
Instrumentally the horn section also impressed with Vivian contributing some dramatic high register trumpeting and a heavily pregnant Clarke blasting away on baritone with remarkable stamina. O’Neill blew some gutsy tenor on “Caldonia” and all three seemed to be having a ball as they goofed around while Drinkwater and May were handling the announcements. Tancredi and Williams kept a lower profile but ensured that the grooves were tight and tasty at all times.
Some of the songs played were very well known and worked very effectively in the Red Stripe style, among them Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell”, Nina Simone’s “My Baby Just Cares For Me” Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill” and Elvis Presley’s “That’s Alright” plus the instrumental “Soul Samba”, originally recorded by Booker T & The MGs and made famous by Test Match Special.
In addition to these sure fire favourites the band also had plenty of floor fillers of their own including Shake, Shake, Boom, Boom” and their signature tune “Red Stripe Boogie”, an energetic call and response piece that had the audience singing along.
At one point Drinkwater strapped on a synth-axe and joined the rest of the band as they paraded around the audience, Clarke’s rasping baritone leading the way.
This wasn’t the kind of gig that lent itself to a song by song, solo by solo analysis and I appreciate that I’ve omitted to mention several of the pieces that were played. But I guess you don’t really need me tell you how the Red Stripe Band sounded, you can probably work that out for yourselves from the above. I can’t say that Red Stripe’s brand of party music is something that I’d particularly want to listen to at home but their energetic and polished performance worked just fine in this context.
The general consensus was that this had been a great way to end what had been a very successful Festival with both the band members and their audience thoroughly enjoying this ‘Boogie Party’.
Well done to Festival organiser Mike Skilton and his team for another successful Festival, one which will hopefully return in much the same format in 2017. In the meantime I’d urge the jazz public of South Wales and the Borders to continue supporting Black Mountain Jazz’s regular Sunday night club events at the Melville Centre. Please visit http://www.blackmountainjazz.co.uk for further information.
From Debs Hancock via Facebook;
“This was a really fun final day of the wall2wall festival.
Thank you Ian Mann”.
From Mike Skilton via email;
“Thanks Ian - three great reviews.
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