Friday 12 April 2013

Jonathan Bird - Big Band Bandits

Frankie Connelly
The Grey Horse in Kingston, London is close to many of our hearts but not even the most loving fan could say it was the epicentre of the Jazz world. Last Tuesday (09/04/2013) though it was chosen to be the launching pad for an epic adventure by the Jonathan Bird Big Band.

They waded into murky waters as they cast off their moorings with a strangely faltering tune, the trombones of Jonathan Bird, David Horden, Alison Henry and Edward March working against the tide, desperate to clear the harbour walls and avoid the under-tow.

Tuesday nights at the Grey Horse is a regular hang-out for musicians who are addicted to the Big Band drug. Often the players are thrown together at the last minute, receiving the jazz equivalent of a pirate's black spot, a phone call to deputise. I spoke to Frank Uhl the drummer for the evening, a German raider arriving via Paris' Dante Agostini Drum School, who had been similarly press-ganged. "I got the call last night", he told me "I haven't been in Big Band action for a while. I can't wait to immerse myself once more in the big sound."

Frank Uhl -Drums
Of course there is a regular skeleton crew, these are battle weary individuals, scarred from years of Jonathan Bird voyages. I recognised both strongmen Giles Straw and James Lowe who fired regular trumpet broadsides throughout the evening, peppering the band and audience with their jokes and crisp audio volleys.

Giles Straw - Trumpet
Things got a bit brighter as Richard Luck (keys) and Bob Mckay (Saxophone)steered us clear of the breakwater and into latin waters, taking us on a course through Chick Corea's La Fiesta!

Tonight they had a stowaway aboard, who to everyone's surprise revealed his presence for the third, fourth and Fifth tune of the evening. Frankie Connelly was the vocal interlude that put the wind into the Big Band's sails, raising the speed and enjoyment of the evening.
Cee Lo Green's 'Forget You' was a particularly strong gust!

Jonathan Bird - Trombone
Jonathan Bird took regular visits to the Grey Horse's quarterdeck to direct his charges. New tunes had been arranged and he kept a careful eye on some new recruits, like Daniel Grussell on saxophone.

Bob McKay - Saxophone
There was of course some old salty sea dogs, veterans of the big band genre, like Bob McKay who has the taint of a swashbuckling Captain Birdseye in appearance. He didn't rock the boat in the slightest, even with his TV credentials. The last time I saw McKay was on BBC's Songs Of Praise no less.

The Big Band is like a ship's crew, everyone is an equal, no room for prima donnas here. I spotted the multi-talented Holley Gray in a corner, cramped for room but still dedicated to the cause. Gray's ample eyebrows bobbed up and down as though in rough seas, desperately trying to keep pace with his sight-reading.
Holley Gray - Bass
Again he had cast off his new found celebrity to be here, not only a recent appearance on ITV's This Morning under his belt but an excellent score for the recently aired gritty British urban drama, Zebra Crossing.

Aaron Liddard - Alto
Every pirate crew needs some fancy cutlass action and the saxophones of Aaron Liddard and Piers Green didn't disappoint. To be honest, neither has ever disappointed me when I've seen them live. Green was particularly fluent on Bill Chase's 'Get it On' and unlike his recent appearance at the London Jazz Festival (Bill Mudge Quartet) he kept his muscles firmly under wraps, much to the disappointment of the ladies in the audience.

Piers Green - alto
The fillies were seriously under the spell though of the long lashed Leo Appleyard. I'm sure many a damsels ship has run aground on his shores. Recently I saw a poster on Facebook that warned female attendees at a wedding to watch out for his mesmeric charms.

Leo Appleyard - Guitar
Even though the night came to an end with raucous rendition of the 'Family Guy' theme, this was not the end of the journey. Much of the night's work was in preparation for their imminent voyage to New Delhi where Jonathan Bird will be unleashing his Big Band for the first time on India's shores.

It was hard to imagine some of these pasty individuals transported from the black hole of Kingston to the rampant heat of New Delhi but Bob McKay gave everyone a glimpse into the future. Rising to his feet he announced that this time next week he would be sitting beside the pool in his Speedos with cool drink in hand. The mental image of Captain Birdseye in his budgie smugglers haunted me for my journey home. Let just hope that India is ready for this latest colonial invasion.

Richard Luck - Keys

James Lowe - Trumpet

Andy Gibson - Trumpet

Daniel Grussell - Saxophone

David Horden - Trombone

Graham Minstram - Bari

Edward March - Trombone

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