A dark stage. A shuffle from behind the curtain. The sound of mobile phones being desperately silenced. And then the moment of truth- the stage lights rising to reveal Ian Shaw seated at the piano, launching into his first medley of songs.
Then, in a mellow tone, Ian introduces us to Gill Manly – or “Gilly”, as he affectionately calls her. She is a vision in blue, cheekily coordinating the red-rimmed glasses, matching lipstick and pendant, and an outrageous ring that would probably be visible from the other side of the Thames.
Both Ian and Gill are born entertainers, and are similar both in their vocal range and their style. They delivered a show that was hilarious and heart-breaking; engaging and intriguing. Ian’s mouth-trumpet – complete with wah mute – was accompanied by his left hand. Gill’s voice rang around the walls, her microphone moving with her as if it were another limb.
All too often, I hear singers who simply haven’t given enough thought to their own interpretation of a song, or how they might wrap their own strengths around the song . For me, this isn’t jazz, and it isn’t interesting. So thank goodness for Gill and Ian! Gill isn’t restricted by lyrics. She conveys their message by selecting the right balance of extra lyrics/syllables to create a flowing melodic line, while remaining true to the harmony and meaning of the song. Ian’s vocals are fearless, and his connection with the piano means that he can take a song to a new level every 8 bars.
Gill’s gutsy and poignant version of “Little Girl Blue” is exactly how I think Rodgers and Hart would have imagined it being sung, but couldn’t write in on the lead-sheet. “A Song For You” was the vest version I’ve heard.
Then something magical happened. Ian Shaw unleashed his raw, aching voice for an emotional “Everything Must Change.” I defy anyone to listen to this man without a lump in the throat. It was so deeply satisfying; I wanted to hear it again and again. Utterly gripping. Something connected in that song – it happened to Ian and it spread through the audience, pricking up hairs and welling up eyes.
For me, while the show was slick and incredibly entertaining, I wanted to hear more of the two singers together. They took turns to sing songs, and didn’t interact a lot with each other’s voices, which I found left a slightly disjointed feeling. A glorious “Heaven help us all” with spine-tingling harmonies satisfied my desire for the duet. I would have liked to have heard more like that.
Overall it was a terrific show. Their rapport couldn’t be faulted. The delivery was charming, the vocals outstanding. And the relentless applause which brought them back to the stage three times said it all.
Ian Shaw will appear with Eileen Hunter at Jazz FM’s Bloomsbury Set on Saturday May 22nd.