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Sunday, December 03, 2017

Baby it’s Cold INside! Alan Barnes – Jazz Christmas Carol @ Ushaw College, Fri. Dec 1

Alan Barnes (sax, clarinet and bass clarinet); Bruce Adams (trumpet); Mark Nightingale (trombone); Robert Fowler (saxes and clarinet); Karen Sharp (saxes and clarinet); David Newton (piano); Simon Thorpe (bass); Clark Tracey (drums).
(Review by Jerry)
Alan Barnes entered, resplendent with lighted candlestick, nightcap, nightshirt (looking well slept-in) and socks and slippers presumably loaned by Nora Batty! Resplendent is perhaps the wrong word but it certainly was an entrance!
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, with Paul Edis depping on piano for David Newton (stuck in traffic), set the mood and gave hints of the musical riches to come. As the applause was dying down, the pianist arrived –“a visitation from the ghost of gigs past”, according to the band-leader!

Being unfamiliar with this suite of music (I was abroad when it came to Ushaw last year) I was uncertain how the jazz would be tied into the carefully selected and dramatically read extracts from Dickens: the next few tunes set the pattern. After The Start of It we had (my favourite Christmas saying) Bah Humbug, on which Scrooge was “voiced” by some brilliant baritone sax from Karen Sharp. Marley’s Ghost ascending the stairs was represented by Clark Tracey’s drumming and a suitably spooky crescendo of sound. Marley’s attire – tights, boots, tassels and chains – drew a typical interjection from our narrator: “sounds like he’d been to Ann Summers”!
And that was the pattern – a mix of brilliant music, Dickens and one-liners from Alan Barnes who, should anyone ever steal his reeds, could make a living doing stand-up!
After A Portrait of Belle the audience were thanked for getting into the spirit of things by looking parched with the cold (Ushaw had heating problems) and later were promised a Christmas medley to include Baby it’s Cold Inside! The description of The Ghost of Christmas Present was prefaced with a warning to any vegetarians or vegans in the audience that Dickens’s prose might include references to meat….and fish….and fowl. Worse appeared to be coming as Barnes threatened to lift his night-shirt when the ghost revealed the starving children, Want and Ignorance! “That’s why they charge more for the front-row seats!” Fortunately, we were spared that and the music resumed. The apparition’s music was delightfully Caribbean in tone (yet another brilliant variation in style and mood within this suite)  a Rastafarian Jolly Green Giant until piercing trumpet (Scrooge) led up to a reading about Tiny Tim.
The music for The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come featured the rarely used bass clarinet, described by its owner as a “rejected E-pipe”! Blown into at face level, the notes, like honeyed Guinness, emerged round about Nora Batty’s stockings and lent an impressively sombre tone for us to visualise the demise of Tim and the unattended funeral of Scrooge himself. Then, in a total mood-switch, we had The End of It (the reformed Scrooge capering) followed by the closing number, God Bless Us Everyone.
We never did get Baby It’s Cold Inside, but the Christmas mood was reinforced instead by a reading of one of my favourite poems – The Oxen, by Thomas Hardy – and three seasonal favourites: Tormé’s Christmas Song, featuring Mark Nightingale’s trombone, a jazz version of We Three Kings and (somehow via Blue Monk) Santa Claus is Coming to Town Cue massive applause!
By my own admission, I am no expert, but I would say this has to rank among the best live music (ANY GENRE) I have ever seen and heard!
Jerry

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