I woke in good time, indulged in two of the three “S’s” a gentleman conducts in a morning and headed down to the Hotel Bar for Breakfast: There was a good selection of cereals and a wide variety of fruit juice available alongside the cooked breakfast, naturally I went for a full English Breakfast with fried egg and buttery white toast, I must say in terms of breakfast the Swan excelled itself and the sausages were far beyond the quality of the normal B and B breakfast sausage. I washed down my breakfast with a nice pot of English Breakfast Tea and planned my journey up to the town. In previous years I have set off in more casual attire for the daytime and bought a more formal change of clothes for the evening, but this year I decided to forgo this and set off in my formal attire… which was black trousers, shirt, the Ducky tie and tweed jacket for Friday.
I called in at the local village shop to buy some flavoured water for hydration on my walk as it was a gloriously sunny day, it must be said that the Pub just off the green gave the village of Hanley Swann a proper picture post card look- if there had been a number of vintage cars parked up the picture would have been complete. I took what I thought would be a bit of a short cut down a public footpath over some fields which took me up to Hanley Castle, a place I am familiar with as I stayed there a couple of years ago. The walk from there was pretty familiar and I took the route which bought me out by the Cricket Ground and Hanley Castle school and there it is a simple walk of about 20 minutes to Upton, it total it took me about an hour and ten minutes as I was going at a leisurely pace. I arrived in plenty of time and headed to the Under the Bridge venue as the band was setting up for the first gig. I went to the coffee stand and got myself a latte, which is my usual tradition and nothing to do with there being no beer tent, and found a reasonably sensible seat in the middle aisle which would afford me able options for photos from my seat and to be able to move about without disrupting the other audience members.
The band was the Amy Roberts Quintet, Amy Roberts is a long term player at the festival and was featured in rising star feature in Jazzwise magazine a number of years ago and was a frequent guest at Jazz Club 90 when it was still hosted at the Harp in Albrighton. As you may have guessed she is a young player and has blossomed significantly over the last ten years having become a player in both the Big Chris Barber Band and the London Swing Orchestra, plus she has made an album with the Richard Exall in tribute to Alto players Johnny Hodges and Earl Bostic… she is evidently one busy little bee. I may well have missed the first number but my notes start with the Prohibition era tune “Crazy Rhythm” in which Roberts unusually chose to solo on the flute, normally this is a piece which favours the sax or clarinet so this was quite a bold statement and bought some freshness into an overplayed standard. Roberts switched back to her trusty old Clarinet for the next number which was “Sweet Lorraine” which has been covered countless times with definitive versions by both Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra (in a recording which features Coleman Hawkins on Tenor Sax) and this was a pleasant number. Since Ms Roberts doesn’t sing the vocal refrain was provided by second reedsmith Richard Exall and he did a passable job from what I recall. Personnel wise, the quintet was completed by Craig Milverton on Piano, Nick Millward on the skins and Swainger on bass (now if that it isn’t a name to suggest predestination I don’t know what is).
A sudden surge of gusts of winds caused a bit of havoc with the next number as the sheet music was blown on off the stands, resulting in the band having to use clothes pegs to keep the music in position much to their chagrin and the amusement of the audience. The piece was a fast paced Brazilian piece composed by Jacob Deberlure (sic) and was called Estate (pronounced Es-tart-ay) de Samba, in my notes I added the de Samba afterwards suggesting I mistook it for Estate which is a Latin piece that features on the Grover Washington Jr. album “All My Tomorrows”. Very wisely the band did not decided to go down the more juvenile approach of introducing the as the band “going Brazilian”, which aside from being a poor joke would no doubt cause a huge rise in cardiac cases with the rather senior audience. Unsurprisingly as it was a Brazilian, Roberts returned to the flute for this piece and Craig Milverton did an excellent job on the keys, it was certainly a complex number to perform I assure you. She switched to alto for the final two numbers which were clearly harking back to her and Exall’s “Hodge-Stic” album as they were Earl Bostic’s hit Flamingo and a Johnny Hodges number called “Below the Azures”. This was a fine set and a nice relax after my long walk but it was time for to move on, so many gigs in a compressed period of time has its down sides. I would have gone to the beer tent for my first beer of the day but since there was no beer tent I couldn’t, however as the next venue I was going to was the King’s Head it wasn’t really a problem as they have good beer there.
I think it was probably an HPA I had beer wise that I had or another beer I am well acquainted with as I didn’t mention it, something I would have mentioned had it been from the beer tent and a smaller independent brewer, anyway it was nice and I made my to the Marquee where the band was performing, the band was the Water Gypsies, which as the name implies was a Django Reinhardt inspired Gypsy Jazz setup complete with violinist. Gina Griffin was the violinist and she was a replacement for the one listed in the programme. As I entered they were playing a number possibly called “Tell the Way”, I say possibly as my note is smudged and there are multiple question marks after the name, so there we have it. ‘Prof’ Nipper Lewis lead in the next number on his Ukulele and I recognised the tune straight away, it was Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Don’t Have That Swing)” and what made it even more awesome was he played the often skipped opening verse. I tried to make a short video of the next number which was “Minor Swing” but it went a bit pair shaped so that was the end of that… I have a feeling I dropped the camera mid recording; this was followed by what I have somewhat pretentiously written as “Les Yeux Noir” which means “Dark Eyes”. Now I know Django issued a recording under the French title so I may well have been alluding to that or perhaps the band introduced it in French, not sure but I think I was just being clever-dick in my notes. I left after the following number which was another Duke Ellington, “Caravan”. In terms of the tune, the Caravan of the title refers to a middle-eastern Caravan and not the oversized lumps of metal drivers stuck behind on country lanes in the summer and Bank Holiday weekends, I am sure someone could write a tune about them, but it certainly would not be like this one. I proceeded across to the Marquee that would become Best of Youth Jazz tent for Saturday and Sunday which admittedly took a bit of finding as it was tucked away in a field behind the farm stores, surprising how you can hide a Marquee. The Best of Youth Jazz notices were up but the band performing were decidedly on the mature side, the band was called the Vitality 5 and was notable in that it was the first time I had seen a Bass Saxophone in the flesh as it were as they are as common as Rocking Horse Dung these days.
TO BE CONTINUED
If you are interested in the Amy Roberts band check out her website: www.amyrobertsjazz.co.uk