Sunday 15h October 2017
The Strictly Smokin’ Big Band at Hoochie Coochie is a guarantee of top quality entertainment. Add a ‘big name’ guest to the event and you’ve got the makings of a memorable occasion. This Sunday afternoon gig – doors four o’clock, band on stage five thirty – attracted a large crowd, many of whom know a good thing when they hear it. Michael Lamb’s dynamic big band knocks spots off most with its ensemble work, the sections packed with accomplished soloists and the cherry on the top in the form of vocalists Alice Grace and F’reez. The bonus on this gig? Due to the standard of the Strictly Smokin’ Big Band’s musicianship, it was possible to secure the services of a musician of the calibre of Mr Joe Stilgoe.
Lounge suits the order of the day, the Strictly Smokin’ roared into action with Mexicali Nose. Buddy Rich’s Big Swing Face album continues to provide rich pickings (no pun intended) for the big bands of today and the guys in the SSBB helped themselves. Vocalist F’reez turned up the heat on Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley’s Things Are Getting Better with MD Michael Lamb leading from the front.
Vocalist Ms Alice Grace took to the stage in a shimmering evening gown to open with Honeysuckle Rose. The fabulous Ms Grace scatted like never before as the band went into overdrive. Absolutely brilliant! Adding Maroon 5’s Sunday Morning to the pad could be considered to be a masterstroke. Grace’s voice dovetailed perfectly with drummer Guy Swinton’s sensitive brushwork and a Michael Lamb trumpet solo topped it off.
The SSBB’s saxophone section stood up to play in unison on a regular feature for F’reez – I’m Just a Shy Guy – with American ex-pat trumpeter Pete Tanton in the solo spotlight. Full marks all round. Hoochie Coochie’s Sunday crowd is of the sociable kind, out to have a good time, cocktails shaken then stirred, to be savoured, but they know when they’re hearing something special and to hear the fabulous Alice Grace sing Lush Life was one of those moments when all present held a collective breath; the flutes of Keith Robinson and Laurie Rangecroft, Jamie Toms’ considered tenor solo, the sensitive piano accompaniment of Graham Don – a truly a magical moment.
F’reez returned to show us he was That Kind of Guy with David Barnes’ trombone solo over a New Orleans’ snare drum rhythm of which Dr John would approve. On Purple Porpoise Parkway (comp. Tom Kubis) closed out the first set (the first of three) with the band on a vamp, the tenor saxophone of Paul Gowland making itself heard, then being joined by Steve Summers’ soprano saxophone for a good-natured joust before being taken home by bass ’bone man John Flood.
I’m dudin’ up my shirt front sang the main man. The ‘main man’ being Mr Joe Stilgoe. Irving Berlin, Fred and Ginger, Top Hat…who could ask for anything more? Joe Stilgoe sat at the second of two Nord keyboards telling an adoring crowd that we were Puttin’ on the Ritz name-checking as he was doing so not Gary Cooper but Bradley Cooper and finding time to reference a Kardashian. Yes, an impressive opening to Joe Stilgoe’s first (and the SSBB’s second) set of the afternoon! Stilgoe did what many artists have a habit of doing…making last-minute changes to an agreed running order! This didn’t phase the SSBB one bit. Stilgoe featured several tunes from New Songs for Old Souls.
The pianist-singer’s easy-going manner connected with an on-side crowd. How to Fall in Love had a familiar ring to it. A companion with ears sang Goody, Goody. Yes, Johnny Mercer’s lyrics would fit alright! The band shared the limelight with Stilgoe on Rainbows in My Tea Cup. Yes, Stilgoe the composer featured but so too Kieran Parnaby (trombone), Steve Summers playing soprano and an in harmony reeds section which, on this number only, included Matthew Forster on bass clarinet. It can be reported that Matt has recently returned to Tyneside having made his living elsewhere for a good few years. Matt – bass clarinet and tenor saxophone – will prove an excellent addition to the local scene. Stilgoe came up with a killer piano intro to Nothing’s Changed with a finger-snapping crowd for accompaniment. This second set whizzed by, a third would soon be upon us.
Hoochie Coochie was buzzing, Warren on the tanned and lovely Ipanema decks. A ‘hello’ to all and sundry, the joint was busy. On a day like this where else would a jazz fan want to be? The Hoochie Coochie bar staff were on the ball, beers efficiently dispensed across a bar top canopy of cocktails.
Set three, two or three cocktails later, the dancers were enticed onto the floor. Stilgoe and the band hit the ground running on I Like This One and kept up the momentum on Nobody Cares Like Me, a further cut from New Songs for Old Souls. The composer was perfectly content to hear the boys in the band make a contribution to this and other numbers; Keith Robinson and Laurie Rangecroft on flutes and Steve Summers and Jamie Toms wielding liquorice sticks. Callum Au’s arrangement for big band of Jeepers Creepers featured the patient Graham Don. Mr D played a blinder prompting a clearly impressed Stilgoe to declare: I don’t know why I’ve been booked for this gig! Stilgoe’s Roll stirred up an exotic funky gumbo featuring Stilgoe, piano, brief solos from across the band and it’s hats off to the trumpet section for nailing it (as they did all night) – Messrs Lamb, Tanton, Tom Hill and Dick Stacey.
Stilgoe sang Cole Porter’s In the Still of the Night accompanying himself at the piano. The silence was remarkable. It was a couple of hours and several cocktails into the gig and had anyone been so clumsy as to drop the proverbial pin it would have been a crashing interruption. A highlight, no question about it. The Hoochie Coochie audience wanted more. Stilgoe sang Sunny and everyone went home happy. Mark it down as another Strictly Smokin’ Hoochie Coochie winner. – Russell Corbett, Be Bop Spoken Here