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Friday, February 16, 2018

The Rebel Yell Jazz Orchestra play 'Fellini 712' and the music of The Kenny Clarke - Francy Boland Big Band @ The Spice of Life, Soho - January 17

(Review by JC)
Some time in the mid-1970s I was sitting quietly in the back of a friend’s car when, having carefully spooled the tape tight with his biro, he slipped a cassette into the player on the dashboard and my head was nearly blown off by the huge big band sound coming out of the speakers on the rear shelf. It was one of the most fantastic sounds I had ever heard and it turned out to be the Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland Big Band. Despite my best efforts my friend, Rick, resisted all my pleas to borrow the tape. However I never forgot that moment and that sound.
That musical memory was revived recently while staying in Soho during a brief visit to London. On the wander for some live jazz within walking distance of the hotel, I checked out Ronnie Scott’s but wasn’t surprised to find it was sold out (as usual), I didn’t fancy the unknown band at Pizza Express and was just about to check out the local folk sessions (!) when I saw the sign Spice of Life above a pub door just off Cambridge Circus. The name rang a bell as the founding editor of BSH used to post very positive reviews of gigs seen there on his forays down south. ‘Any jazz tonight?’ I asked the youngish guy behind the bar. ‘No, it’s quiz night’ he replied. ‘Any questions on jazz?’ ‘Doubt it’. Just as I was thinking to myself ‘Foiled again by the curse of the pub quiz ‘, the guy said that there was something on the following night and went into the back to check. He returned with a small piece of paper that listed the week’s sessions. The first thing I noticed was a band featuring Vasilis Xenopoulos on saxophone at lunch time the following day, very nice but lunch time was out and anyway we are fortunate that he visits the North East on a regular basis. But it was the evening session that really caught my eye - the Rebel Yell Jazz Orchestra playing the music of the Kenny Clarke- Francy Boland Big Band, including a 40-minute composition called Fellini 712.  Great, that was the jazz sorted!
Heading down to the basement of the Spice of Life the following evening and opening the door to the gig was a Proustian moment as the band was in full flow and I was back in that car in Dublin over 40 years ago. The very loud sound yet perfectly balanced sound was exactly how I remembered it. The basement bar was jammed with seats at a premium so leaning on the bar was order of the day. The band did a couple more numbers before the break with some excellent solos, then it was time for Fellini 712. Apparently the original big band were invited to perform in Rome in 1968 and Francy Boland was inspired by an affinity for the director Frederico Fellini and the 'dolce vita' in the eternal city to write this piece which is in three parts, named after the hotel they stayed in (Villa Radieuse), the location of the studio they performed in ('Tween Dusk and Dawn in Via Urbania) and a cafe popular among artists and musicians (Rosati at Popolo Square). The band-leader said that the piece had not been played live for 50 years so this was a special occasion.
As a rule I am not really drawn to longer moody, atmospheric pieces in jazz but this was different. Using all the resources of the big band with plenty of full volume stuff as well as lighter lyrical sections and giving the opportunity for the fine solo musicians in the band to strut their stuff, this was a totally engaging experience. There was a variety of evocative sounds of Rome from the noisy horn-honking of cars and silencer-free Lambrettas choking the streets to quiet strolls through moonlit piazzas past gentle fountains. A memorable event. The band finished with a couple more turn-it-up-to-11 pieces by the KCFB band just in case anybody thought they were getting too arty-farty - no chance! Later, I discovered that Tony Coe, one of the members of the original big band who had played on the recording 50 years was present at the session - a nice connection.
At the end I had to ask one of the trumpet players who I think was the band leader if the title Fellini 712 was a take on his film 8 1/2 to which he replied (I think in all seriousness) that in fact 712 was the distance in kilometres from Rome to the French border - well, there you go, you learn something every gig. As an addendum, I also had a nice chat with the guy on the door who I thought I heard drop into the conversation that he was 81 1/2 (or was that 812?) but also told me, when I mentioned I was from Dublin, that he had visited there in 1968 and attended a gig that has mythical status in Irish jazz history - Keith Jarrett at the Fox Inn. To give you an idea of how unlikely it was that such a gig could take place in a country Dublin pub, it is as about as plausible as the 91 year-old legendary founder of the Newport Jazz Festival, George Wein, turning up for a Sunday night session at the Black Bull in Blaydon. Now, who could imagine that happening?
Anyway, the Spice of Life is a great jazz venue and all for a tenner! Well worth a visit.
JC
Trumpets: John Eacott, Huw Evans, David Nelson, Jamie Parry.
Trombones: Roy Young, Jonathan Parker, John Taylor, Hywel Walters.
Reeds: Steve Darlington, Jane Darlington, Aldevis Tibaldi, Antoine Sazio, William Symington.
Rhythm Section: Juliet Morton, Roger Harding, Jason Reay.
Guest Soloist/Conductor: Frank Griffith.

3 comments :

stevebfc said...

Great review. Used to be a regular down there about 10 years ago glad to see it is still thriving.

Russell said...

Great review JC. Oh, to hear the band on Tyneside!

Johnny Parker said...

So good reading this. Brought it all back. Roy Young was unable to play lead trombone, Andrew Butcher filled in. (I was sat next to him. JP)

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