by Ian Mann
September 08, 2017
Ian Mann on the final, family friendly day of the Festival with performances by Samba Galez, Budapest Ragtime Band, Chris Moreton, Kitty & The Purramours and the Red Stripe Band.
Photograph of Neil Drinkwater of the Red Stripe Band sourced from the Black Mountain Jazz website http://www.blackmountainjazz.co.uk
JAZZ ALLEY & BOOGIE PARTY
SUNDAY AT WALL2WALL JAZZ FESTIVAL, ABERGAVENNY, 03/09/2017.
The final day of the wall2wall Jazz Festival has settled into a well established format. Today was the third annual edition of “Jazz Alley”, the family friendly event held in Abergavenny’s impressive Market Hall featuring free musical performances, food stalls and a licensed bar.
Jazz Alley has proved to be a popular event with the people of Abergavenny and even an unseasonably cold and wet September day didn’t deter the crowd and audience numbers were actually up on the previous year.
Jazz Alley featured enjoyable performances from Samba Galez, The Budapest Ragtime Band, Chris Moreton and Kitty & the Purramours before the venue was cleared at 6.00 pm in readiness for the evening’s “Boogie Party”, a modestly priced ticketed event featuring the music and showmanship of the Red Stripe Band, back by popular demand following their successful performance in the same time slot in 2016.
Before turning my attention to the Red Stripe Band I’ll take a quick look at the free performances by the four acts featured at Jazz Alley. Although very different in musical style all four bands were readily accessible and highly energetic with the focus very much on entertainment of the kind that virtually everybody could relate to. The emphasis was on fun rather than profundity.
Formed in 1990, initially as a youth project, Samba Galez is a community band from Cardiff boasting over ninety members. Many of these made the short trip to Abergavenny for today’s performance.
Samba Galez play around forty gigs a year including festivals, parades, sporting events and even village fêtes and hold regular samba workshops. Led by Simon Preston their musical remit has expanded to include Brazilian, Afro-Cuban and reggae rhythms and even traditional Welsh folk tunes. They have also recorded two albums, including a live set from Cardiff’s Clwb Ifor Bach.
I’ve seen the band previously at Brecon Jazz Festival and when I arrived at the Market Hall in the afternoon they were already in full swing as they got this year’s Jazz Alley event off to a rousing start.
The first thing that strikes one about the massed ranks of Samba Galez is just how loud they can be with their veritable battery of percussion instruments, including some enormous, and seriously impressive, parade drums.
In their colourful and well designed band uniform of red T shirts featuring the band motif they are visually arresting too, especially when choreographer Sallie MacLennan (wasn’t she a character in a Pogues song?) puts the group’s dancers through their paces.
Loud, brash, colourful and vibrant - performances by Samba Galez are always great fun, for the band and audiences alike. Today was to be no exception with Samba Galez enjoying a warm reception from the Jazz Alley crowd.
BUDAPEST RAGTIME BAND
Next to take to the stage were the seven piece Budapest Ragtime Band led by bassist Ferenc Gayer. The band are regular and popular visitors to the UK and have toured all over the country.
The line up also includes Tibor Antal (violin), Ferenc Stein (keyboard), Balint Kiss (trombone), Sandor Csarics (trumpet), Janos Weszely (drums) and Laszlo Forgacs aka Papa Flight on lead vocals and pocket trumpet.
The group’s repertoire features staples from the ragtime and Dixieland jazz eras but has also expanded to include Dixie style arrangements of popular classical and operatic works. To some it might all be a bit too much of a novelty but these gentlemen can play (and sing) and they are also great entertainers, and as such were perfectly suited to a family event such as this. Energy and good humour characterise their performances, with a variety of props being deployed to often hilarious effect.
Most of the songs were well known favourites and included “Sunny Side Of The Street”, “Dark Town Strutters Ball”, “The Sheikh Of Araby” “Blueberry Hill” “When You’re Smiling” “Ain’t Misbehavin’” ,“Bill Bailey” and the closing “Wonderful World”.
The spirit of the earlier ragtime era was expressed via two of Scott Joplin’s most famous compositions, “Black & White Rag” and “Maple Leaf Rag”.
A kind of Spike Jones / Bonzo Dog Band humour came out in the group’s good humoured but musically sophisticated set of arrangements of popular classics including a sequence from Bizet’s “Carmen”, Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance” and Rossini’s “William Tell Overture”. The latter saw trumpeter Csarics apparently with an arrow through his head! Earlier in the set a “Shoe Shining Song” had seen the frontliners polishing their footwear as piano, bass and drums played on.
For all the goofing around these guys were seriously talented musicians with Antal and Stein both proving to be accomplished soloists, as did trumpeter Csarics. The diminutive Flight sung with great assurance and no little wit and also proved to be a highly competent instrumentalist on his equally diminutive pocket trumpet.
After a while the appeal of the band’s good natured trad revivalism began to fade and I wouldn’t necessarily want to listen to them at home but they were ideal for this early afternoon slot in front of a family audience. The Market Hall crowd loved them.
Locally based bluegrass musician Chris Moreton played a successful club night at BMJ in May 2017 when he opened for the FB Pocket Orchestra, themselves veterans of a previous Jazz Alley.
Invited back the guitarist/banjoist/harpist/vocalist was again accompanied by his wife Wendy on double bass. The duo often bill themselves as ‘The Moreton Roadshow’.
Unfortunately today’s shortened set was rather less successful than the earlier club appearance, mainly because of mixing desk problems with regard to Wendy’s bass, which was frequently inaudible.
Nevertheless Chris battled on regardless beginning with “California Blues” which featured guitar, harmonica and vocals – including a bout of yodelling.
Next came “San Francisco Bay Blues” followed by Paul Simon’s “The Boxer” which featured the home made “cymbal bashing machine” aka “Phantom” , a foot operated device. You can probably imagine how this fitted into the bluegrass style arrangement of this well known and popular piece.
The guitar instrumental “Limerock”, a tune from the Texas tradition was an excellent example of Moreton’s fretboard skills.
“Rock Island Line”, made famous by Lonnie Donegan, never fails to amuse and entertain and for the “Sheikh of Araby” Moreton took a leaf out of the Hungarians’ book when he rummaged in his bag and dug out an Arab headdress!
“King Of The Swingers” (from “Jungle Book”) kept the fun quotient up as Moreton delivered for a non specialist audience. The closing “Black Mountain Rag” delivered a final dose of fretboard wizardry.
The audience seemed to enjoy it all well enough but Moreton’s club appearance had been more satisfying musically and a better demonstration of his all round skills. My review of that performance can be read here;
KITTY & THE PURRAMOURS
“Miss Kitty” or “Kitty Bevan” appears to be the alias of South Wales based vocalist Bev Gough. Formerly known as the Kitty Bevan Quartet her current band has mutated into Kitty & The Purramours, a quintet containing some of South Wales’ finest jazz musicians including Jim Barber on keyboard, Glen Manby on tenor sax, Donnie Joe Sweeney on bass and vocals and Greg Evans at the drums.
The instrumentalists took to the stage first with Sweeney announcing the arrival of Kitty as the group romped through a jazzed up version of the Steve Miller pop hit “Abracadabra” with solos from Manby on tenor, Kitty on alto sax and Barber at the keyboard.
The rarely heard Billie Holiday song “Spreading Rhythm Around” followed and was suitably bouncy and rhythmic with Sweeney enjoying a double bass feature.
Kitty’s original song “Dog In My Bag”, a swinging prohibition era pastiche, attracted a number of dancers onto the floor. Members of a local dance club they looked very stylish and professional and were undeniably impressive.
I’m used to seeing Manby playing alto sax and today’s outing on tenor was a very unusual occurrence for him. So unusual in fact that he was experiencing technical problems with his instrument and could be seen at the back of the stage frantically trying to fix it. Enter Lyndon Owen, an interested spectator today who lent Manby his own tenor, saving the day yet again! The new horn was heard to good effect on a bluesy “Swing Me Daddy”.
Now back at full strength Kitty & The Purramours proceeded to canter through swinging versions of “Cheek To Cheek” and “Accentuate The Positive” plus Kitty’s flirtatious, self penned “Captain Sugar”.
I’m used to seeing these musicians playing more obviously ‘serious’ forms of jazz and bebop but they seemed to be having a ball playing in this band and there were plenty of good solos to enjoy from Manby (such a rarity to see him on tenor) and Barber plus Kitty herself on alto. However I ultimately found Gough’s contrived “Miss Kitty” persona a bit too shrill and grating. I’ve enjoyed the playing of most of these musicians more in other jazz contexts and the Purramours band isn’t necessarily one I’d wish to listen to at home.
Nevertheless these musicians are highly popular figures with South Wales jazz audiences and Gough’s “Miss Kitty” persona communicated itself well to the non specialist audience. Personal misgivings aside this was another set that was very well received.
BOOGIE PARTY – THE RED STRIPE BAND
Founded by pianist and vocalist Neil Drinkwater (aka ‘Red Stripe’) back in 1994 the seven piece Red Stripe Band has recorded four albums and played hundreds of live shows, including many prestigious festival dates, often supporting some of the biggest names in the music business.
As far as I could ascertain the line up was the same as last year with Drinkwater joined by vocalist Helena May, the horn section of Lee Vivian (trumpet), John O’ Neill (tenor sax) and Erica Clarke (baritone sax) and the rhythm team of bassist Costa Tancredi and drummer Ed Williams.
Om a particularly cold, damp and dismal night audience numbers were down on last year and it took the band considerably longer to warm up the crowd. The dance floor didn’t really become full until the second set, by which time the alcohol was probably taking hold!
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, including the infectious “My Brazilian Neighbour”, which proved to be a first half highlight.
More familiar material included “Blueberry Hill”, Nina Simone’s “My Baby Just Cares For Me” a speeded up “The Way You Look Tonight” and “Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think)”.
The second set encouraged more dancers onto the floor including some of the dance club members who’d performed during the Purramours set. Saxophonist Martha Skilton, more used to being up on stage and making others dance could be seen throwing a few shapes as she danced with friends and family. One of the lads in her group impressed with a dizzying display of break dancing! I felt tired, and very old, just watching him!
The music included familiar Red Stripe favourites such as Booker T’s “Soul Limbo”, “Route 66” and a speeded up version of the “Pink Panther Theme”. Less predictable was a version of the Lily Allen hit “Scream” - “ I bet you weren’t expecting that one”, teased May.
By now even the most recalcitrant dancers were on their feet, even me, as the band paraded around the audience while they encored with their signature tune “Red Stripe Boogie”. Even Williams had strapped on a snare drum, tenor man O’ Neill, the group’s most distinctive soloist, was the only musician left on stage.
Once again the Red Stripe Band had delivered the goods, although they’d had to work a little harder than next year. If the Jazz Alley / Boogie Party event is going to be repeated then it might be worth thinking about a change of headliner next time round.
Although the music performed today isn’t what I’d choose for home listening it works very well in the family friendly atmosphere of Jazz Alley and the Boogie Party and helps to bring wall2wall and Black Mountain Jazz into the consciousness of the townspeople of Abergavenny. It remains a highly popular event and one that looks certain to be repeated.
Meanwhile the Friday and Saturday of the Festival, the two ‘serious jazz’ days, threw up some excellent music at the Melville Centre with Ian Shaw, Gilad Atzmon and Shez Raja all delivering memorable performances. There was some great music from the various duo combinations in the bar, too.
The Friday evening review, “1917 And All That Jazz”, complete with Prohibition Bar, also worked very well and another jazz “theme evening” must surely be another possibility.
Congratulations to Mike Skilton, Debs Hancock and the rest of the BMJ / wall2wall team on another successful Festival.
blog comments powered by Disqus