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Saturday, February 04, 2017

New Century Ragtime Orchestra with Keith Nichols & Nick Ward @ The Caedmon Hall, Gateshead. February 3

(Review by Russell)
Welcome to the New Century Ragtime Orchestra’s twentieth annual concert in Gateshead… what an achievement! Several members of the orchestra were there at the beginning. As much as band mastermind Dave Kerr tries, he just can’t get shot of them! Seriously, the longevity of an orchestra dedicated to uncovering lesser known charts of the period (c.1890-1935) and presenting the music to an audience on a regular basis is no mean feat.
Befitting of the occasion, Keith Nichols, a long-standing friend of the orchestra, appeared as guest star, together with Brummie period percussion specialist Nick Ward. A full house at Caedmon Hall enjoyed two sets of ragtime, swing and popular song. Sweet Jennie Lee for starters, then Ellington (MC Steve Andrews joked that they might as well get Ellington out of the way!), Cole Porter’s Let’s Do It (a first vocal feature of the evening for Caroline Irwin) and I Can’t Give You Anything But Love (Baby).

Keith Nichols’ first contribution, accompanied by Nick Ward (the orchestra made a dash for the bar, not that they didn’t appreciate Nichols’ talents, they simply wanted another drink!) included Maceo Pinkard’s Sugar and a brilliant rendition of James P Johnson’s The Mule Walk.

Caroline Irwin returned to the stage with the reassembled orchestra to sing Irving Berlin’s You’d be Surprised. Steve Andrews has a penchant for gently poking fun at one or two members of the band and on this occasion he had Ms Irwin in his sights. The diminutive Irwin gave as good as she got – if you dish it out…To close an enjoyable first set Andrews himself sang Nagasaki (tongue-twisting lyrics to boot) and played with his new toy – a baritone saxophone! Someone enquired how much it was worth, Andrews replied: I’d accept two grand for it!

Numerous raffle prizes found a home, someone found the band in the bar, and soon we were into the second set. Deep Henderson, then Chattanooga Stomp (Keith Stephen, on banjo, Gavin Lee, clarinet). Irwin wanted to Get Out and Get Under the Moon following up with a new chart in the pad It Was Only a Sun Shower. Target number two: Andrews waxed lyrical about Louis Armstrong and his world famous recording of West End Blues. Looking at Graham Hardy, MC Andrews wished the bearded trumpeter all the best. Hardy stood up…Louis’ intro surely a terrifying prospect? It should be noted that G Hardy lives to tell the tale. Take a bow Graham!

Keith Nichols and Nick Ward resumed their partnership with a selection from the 1928 stage show Blackbirds of 1928 (the production made Adelaide Hall’s name). At times playing at a bewildering speed, Nichols found time, without breaking stride, to quip: You think this looks easy! A virtuoso.
Steve Andrews – baritone sax in hand – made it a trio in joining the evening’s guest stars to play Sophisticated Lady. A magical performance ensued, prefaced by typical jazz musician wit. Steve and Keith suggesting two alternative titles…Suffocated Lady in A Flat or Suffocated Lady in a flat. Spot the difference.
A marvellous evening with the New Century Ragtime Orchestra. Here’s to the next twenty years!
Russell.          

The New Century Ragtime Orchestra: Ed Cross (violin), Jim McBriarty (clarinet, alto sax, soprano sax & vocals), Alan Marshall (clarinet, alto sax & soprano sax), Gavin Lee (clarinet, tenor sax & soprano sax),Steve Andrews (MC, clarinet, baritone sax & vocals), Alex Lewis (trumpet), Graham Hardy (trumpet), Neville Hartley (trombone), Colin Haikney (piano), Keith Stephen (banjo & guitar), Phil Rutherford (sousaphone) & Caroline Irwin (vocals) + Keith Nichols (piano & vocals) & Nick Ward (drums)  

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