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Bebop Spoken There

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Born This Day
Louis Armstrong and Steve Andrews.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Cheltenham Jazz Festival: Swing Out Sister @ Town Hall – May 5.

(Review by Steve T)

When I first met the future Mrs T, Corrine Drewery had the second best bob in the world. Both bobs would disappear in time but the Swing Out Sister's would return and she'd get the best bob in the world, at the age of Alan Barnes. They're one of the groups we both liked, though unlike Fleetwood Mac, Genesis, Earth Wind and Fire, Roxy Music and Level 42, we actually like much the same lineup and records.

Doing lots of live jazz in recent years, I realised I missed the big popstar entrance: the fifteen-minute delay, the background music and lights on the stage, the band arrive, then the number one sister. Number two sister on vocals and percussion, a drummer, bass, guitar, trumpet and reeds and the other permanent member, with whom she writes the bulk of the songs, Andy Connell on keyboards.

I always thought the chairs should come out for this one but it was no surprise to find us on the very back row. Last year I paid for priority booking and rang at - by their admission - precisely the moment the tickets went on sale, but ended up with worse tickets than this, due to 'technical' issues at their end and was told priority booking was a lottery, so tough. As it happened this allowed us to enjoy ourselves without the glares of the majority and our corner became a magnet for like-minded people, though some tried to incite others to join in, which I didn't agree with.

I'd feared they may just do the new album and the choicest cuts from their back catalogue, but I'm reliably informed Don't Give the Game Away was the only one from the latest set. As at Sage 2 in Gateshead a few years back, they opened with their other hit Surrender and went through many of their best-loved songs from the last thirty odd years, including You on My Mind and Not Gonna Change. Their version of Barbara Acklin's Am I the Same Girl? had the ladies in the audience swaying in their seats, though they didn't reference the title track from Donald Byrd's popular jazz-funk album Places and Spaces, as on their recent reworking of it.

She told us they started out as a pop group but then got jazzy, making them too jazzy for pop but not jazzy enough for jazz, though soul fans, at least in this country, seem to still have a fondness for them. Popular around the world, and particularly in Japan, I don't know when she last went to a jazz club in this country, as she beckoned us to get rowdy on the basis that it's jazz, though only our corner responded. 

We finally got our chance to charge forward when the place erupted to Breakout. I wondered whether they question why so many people had come to see them who only appear to know or like their big hit, or whether by then they were just so relieved to get a response beyond polite applause.

And that was the end of my 2019 Cheltenham adventure. I'd have preferred to catch Yazz Ahmed, who I've seen before, and Joshua Redman, who I haven't, but was left wondering why the soul community hadn't landed on the town. Incognito did Friday night and are very popular, for reasons I don't quite understand; the soul scene still seems to hold out some hope for Gregory Porter, who did Saturday night; Sanborn was a big deal in the jazz-funk scene, which most soul fans still think was the golden age of jazz; and Swing Out Sister; with lots more to explore in-between. Cheltenham wouldn't have known what had hit them. 
Steve T  

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