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Becki Biggins Quartet

It’s A Man’s World

by Ian Mann

December 14, 2022


An enjoyable souvenir of Biggins’ live shows .Recorded during lockdown the whole album represents an outstanding team effort.

Becki Biggins

“It’s A Man’s World”

(Self Released)

Becki Biggins – vocals, clarinet, John-Paul Gard – organ, Ben Waghorn – saxophones & flute
Andy Tween – drums & percussion
plus guest musicians; Mike Davis – flugelhorn, Bryan Corbett – trumpet

Originally from Shrewsbury Becki Biggins began singing with a local youth big band before studying tenor saxophone at Leeds College of Music. She later returned to singing, collaborating on a series of ‘smooth jazz’ recordings with musician, DJ and producer Paul Hardcastle.

She also released a more orthodox jazz album “The + VE” which features pianist and arranger Laurie Holloway and his trio with Dave Olney on bass and Harold Fisher at the drums. She has also worked regularly with pianist and musical educator Malcolm Edmonstone.

An accomplished big band singer she also performs regularly with the Jonathan Wyatt Big Band and has guested with the Monmouth Big Band and with the Chepstow Community Big Band.

Now based in Gloucestershire and the mother of two sons Biggins was ‘off the scene’ for a while but started returning to the ‘musical front line’ in 2018. It was at that year’s Wall2Wall Jazz Festival that I saw her perform for the first time, singing and playing tenor sax at the Festival Dinner in the company of pianist Guy Shotton and his trio featuring Nick Kacal (double bass) and Alex Goodyear (drums).

Around this time she released “The D I Y  EP”, a home recording on which she sang and played everything herself. The instrumentation includes saxes and other woodwinds, keyboards and various household implements. It represents an enjoyably quirky listen and features four Biggins originals, including co-writes with Malcolm Edmonstone and Joe Stilgoe, plus covers of Brian Wilson’s “God Only Knows” and Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”.

The success of Biggins’ ‘Dinner gig’ saw her returning to Abergavenny in 2019 to play at one of Black Mountain Jazz’s regular club nights. This featured her regular Bristol based quartet comprised of organist John-Paul Gard, saxophonist / flautist Ben Waghorn and drummer Andy Tween, all of whom appear on this recording. This was one of the first of the quartet’s “It’s A Man’s World” shows and an excellent and vivacious performance is reviewed here;

Biggins first conceived the idea of the “It’s A Man’s World” show more than ten years ago but only now, with the formation of this quartet, has she been able to put it into practice. The basic concept is that Biggins will sing songs historically sung by men, written by men, or written about men but sing them from the perspective of a modern, feminist woman, reclaiming them if you will. It’s also inspired by the Sarah Vaughan album of the same name, first released in 1967.

The current project has its roots in a series of duo performances that Biggins played at various Bristol restaurants in the company of organist John-Paul Gard. It was Gard who suggested putting a full, permanent band together, first recruiting saxophonist Ben Waghorn and later drummer Andy Tween, both leading figures on the Bristol music scene.

The quartet continued to tour the “Man’s World” project during the summer of 2019 and were due to visit the studio to record in April 2020. That never happened, for obvious Covid related reasons, but Biggins and her band were not to be deterred, recording their parts remotely with engineer / producer Tween eventually mixing them seamlessly together. Gard is responsible for the majority of the arrangements and the whole album represents an outstanding team effort.

Biggins describes the recording process thus;
“First JP recorded his parts, then Andy, then myself, then Ben , then Mike and finally Bryan. So here it is, an album of songs written, inspired and made famous by men sung by a woman who feels comfortable enough in her own skin to celebrate them – recorded during lockdown and handed to you now that all this shit is finally over”.

The lockdown period saw Biggins performing at the 2020 Virtual Wall2Wall Jazz Festival alongside fellow vocalists Debs Hancock and Victoria Klewin plus the Guy Shotton Trio in a celebration of the life and music of Peggy Lee. Filmed in Abergavenny and streamed to the world “Remembering Peggy Lee” is reviewed here;

Turning again to the “Man’s World” album which kicks off the original “You Should Be Married By Now”, co-written by Biggins and Malcolm Edmonstone, with the latter also undertaking the arranging duties. A different version of the song appears on the DIY EP.  It’s written from the perspective of a thirty something woman in a stable heterosexual relationship who is still harassed by friends and family who trot out ‘that phrase’ with dreary regularity. Witty lyrics are complemented by a suitably playful arrangement featuring organ, baritone sax and drums.
It’s a song that has become something of a favourite at Biggins’ live shows but her voice is bit too far back in the mix here and the pointedness of the lyrical content is somewhat blunted.

Next up is the song that effectively kick started the project. Biggins’ liner notes recall the time she and Gard were playing a duo gig and were pressured by a drunken Bristolian heckler into “playing me some Elvis”. A version of “Can’t Help Falling In Love” was the result, inspiring the duo to recruit Tween and Waghorn for the project. The song appears here in a bombastic blues / gospel arrangement fuelled by organ and tenor sax, with Biggins taking control of the song in a way that is very much true to the spirit of the project.

“I’m Giving Up On You” is another Biggins original, this time arranged by Gard. It’s another song that first appeared on the “DIY EP” and was inspired by the lazy ex-husband of one of Biggins’ friends. Amusing but caustic lyrics are augmented by surging Hammond, soaring sax and Tween’s powerful drumming. Biggins gives a powerful vocal performance, her dismissal of the hapless male wholly in line with her feminist credentials.
“You Don’t Know What Love Is” is introduced by unaccompanied Hammond, subsequently joined by Biggins’ emotive vocals and then by sax and drums. Gard’s arrangement is part blues, part torch song and the performance also features him as an instrumental soloist.

Biggins’ own “I Almost Took A Lover” mines similar musical territory with a confessional lyric and instrumental solos from Gard and guest musician Mike Davis on fluent flugelhorn.

It’s unusual to hear a woman singing Jimmy Webb’s brilliant “Wichita Lineman”, but Biggins does the song justice in an arrangement that features Waghorn as a flute soloist.

“Teach Me Tonight” with its slyly lascivious lyric has been in the quartet’s repertoire for some time in an arrangement inspired by the recording by Nancy Wilson. It’s very much in keeping with the spirit of this project and a bravura vocal performance by Biggins is complemented by swirling Hammond and a smouldering sax solo from Waghorn, with Tween propelling it all along from the kit.

A slinky rendition of “Close Your Eyes” features a sultry vocal from Biggins and a Hammond powered arrangement that again features Waghorn as a flute soloist.

In addition to her knowledge of the ‘Great American Songbook’ Biggins is also a fan of more contemporary (well, relatively) singers and songwriters with Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen cited as a particular favourite. There’s nothing from Fagen on this album but we do hear “Through the Long Night”, written by Fagen’s fellow New Yorker Billy Joel. Biggins actually brings something of the feel of a jazz standard to this version, with Waghorn adding a smoky tenor sax solo Tween featuring on brushes throughout.

Meanwhile Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” is given a radical Latin style makeover with Waghorn doubling on flute and sax.

It’s back to the standards repertoire for Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark”, the song given an unusual funk style arrangement. Biggins’ breezy vocal is augmented by a tenor solo from Waghorn.

One of the inspirations behind this project was Frank Sinatra, an alpha male vocalist if ever there was one. The quartet’s repertoire has previously featured “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and “Lady is a Tramp” and it’s the latter that is included here. Of course it’s a song associated with female singers as well and Biggins delivers the lyric in the first person in an arrangement that  includes some rarely heard verses plus instrumental solos from Waghorn on tenor and Gard on the Hammond.
Gard’s keyboards are at the heart of all the arrangements but he allows himself comparatively little solo space, so it’s good to hear from him here, albeit briefly.

The album concludes with Biggins’ own “FURIOUS”,  an earthy song about bad sex. Biggins says: ‘Almost all the women I know have the same story – they meet someone, think they’re amazing and decide to get to know them better before ‘doing the deed’. They’re romantically invested, and then what happens? The sex is terrible! And how do they feel? FURIOUS!’
It’s a witty and frankly rather rude song with guest Bryan Corbett’s vocalised trumpet growls sounding suitably filthy. Biggins album notes than him for “making FURIOUS as dirty as it was intended”. And maybe it’s appropriate that the organ plays a big part in the arrangement too!

The “It’s A Man’s World” album represents an enjoyable souvenir of Biggins’ live shows but it’s in the live environment that the full force of Biggins’ confident but down to earth personality is best appreciated. She’s a great communicator.

Her show at Abergavenny in 2019 drew one of the largest audiences ever seen at a Black Mountain Jazz event, and one of the most enthusiastic too. She’s also successfully performed the “It’s A Man’s World”  show at the prestigious Pizza Express Jazz Club in London, once in 2019 and more recently at an album launch event in 2022.

“It’s A Man’s World” is available via Biggins’ Bandcamp page.

See also


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