REVIEW: Prom 30. Battle of the Bands

Members of Jazzcotech and the Windsor and Pearson Big Bands, Clare Teal, James Pearson, Vula Malinga, GrantWindsor
Photo credit : BBC/ Chris Christodoulou
Prom 30. Battle of the Bands.
(Royal Albert Hall. 8th August 2014. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Last night was a special event, a battle between two fictitious big bands with their ethereal pop-up brands, the “Duke Windsor Big Band” and the “Count Pearson Big Band”, representing the Basie and Ellington leanings. The promenaders in the arena were dancing. People in the seats and the boxes were feeling the itch in their feet and wanting to get down there. As a marketing exploit, it had worked: the Royal Albert Hall was packed.

What worked best musically were the Ellington charts, in fact the contrast between the two styles brought to the fore quite how sustaining and nourishing Ellington’s music is. Mood Indigo, a feature for Howard McGill on warm, chalumeau register clarinet was one among many highlights.

But, I couldn’t help thinking, there was an unspoken elephant stalking the Royal Albert Hall last night. Yes, we may live in an age when everything is event-driven, where the pop-up economy, nowism, planned spontaneity rule. But what we heard last night was the class, the unique heritage of British big band playing at its best, and one band in particular, the nearly half-century-old BBC Big Band.

Jazzcotech Dancers. Photo credit : BBC/ Chris Christodoulou

There they all were. In Futile Frustration there was the massive warmth of Gordon Campbell‘s trombone sound recalling Don Lusher. Across the stage were two lead trumpets recalling Kenny Baker and Eddie Blair, in the burnished sounds of Mike Lovatt and  Tom Walsh. There were some quite glorious sounds coming out of those bands. Robert Fowler‘s tough tenor sound was  mightily impressive.

Gregory Porter
Photo credit : BBC/ Chris Christodoulou

There was also encouragement to be had from the fact that young players, heirs to the tradition were in evidence. Alongside Fowler was (probably?) the youngest member of the band Leo Richardson. Alongside Gordon Campbell was Callum Au. The two bass players Chris Hill and Calum Gourlay (replacing Sam Burgess) both brought vigour to their lines. The permanent structures may get dismantled, but somehow, miraculously, the big band ecology survives, the spirit remains, the flame burns quite incredibly bright.

Clare Teal. Photo credit : BBC/ Chris Christodoulou

The proceedings were hosted faultlessly, with energy, entertainment and a tongue-in-cheek script, by Clare Teal, who also sang Moon Nocturne with a beautifully sustained line, creating a moment when slow-dancing couples right across the arena connected in the half-light. Gregory Porter was also strong, and absolutely on the button, particularly in Going to Chicago Blues, when Johnny Hartmann was right there in the house. Vula Malinga had her moments, and addicts of R&B melisma won’t have had a problem.

Who won the battle? (Drum roll. Spoiler). You guessed: both. The audience was/is/will be there for jazz. An enjoyable night.

Prom 30 is on iPlayer and will be televised on BBC Four at 7pm on 17th August. 


BASIE: Rockin’ the Blues

BASIE: Every Tub

BASIE: Blue Skies (Vula Malinga)

ELLINGTON: Daybreak Express

ELLINGTON: Cotton Tail

ELLINGTON: Jump for Joy (Gregory Porter)

BASIE: 9:20 Special

BASIE: One O’clock Jump

BASIE: Moon Nocturne (Clare Teal)

ELLINGTON: Mood Indigo


ELLINGTON: Stomp Look and Listen

BASIE: Futile Frustration

BASIE: Going to Chicago Blues (Gregory Porter)

ELLINGTON: Rockin’ In Rhythm

ELLINGTON:Don’t Get Around Much Anymore (Vula Malinga)

BASIE: Jumpin’ at the Woodside

ELLINGTON: Take the A Train

BASIE & ELLINGTON: Medley Royal: It Don’t Mean a Thing, Moten Swing, Mooche, Oh Lady be Good, C Jam Blues, Flat Foot Floogie, Caravan, Tickle Toe


CLARE TEAL vocalist/presenter

James Pearson piano/leader
Mike Lovatt lead trumpet
Tom Rees Roberts trumpet 2
Freddie Gavita trumpet 3
Martin Shaw trumpet 4
Gordon Campbell lead trombone
Callum Au trombone 2
Ashley Horton trombone 3
John Higginbotham bass trombone
Colin Skinner alto saxophone 1
Sam Mayne alto saxophone 2
Leo Richardson tenor saxophone 1
Rob Fowler tenor saxophone 2
Gemma Moore baritone saxophone
Colin Oxley guitar
Calum Gourlay bass
Ed Richardson drums


Grant Windsor piano/MD
Craig Wild lead trumpet
Andy Greenwood trumpet 2
Tom Walsh trumpet 3
Guy Barker trumpet 4
Nichol Thompson lead trombone
Winston Rollins trombone 2
Andy Flaxman trombone 3
Mark Frost bass trombone
Howard McGill alto saxophone 1
Mark Crooks alto saxophone 2
Ben Castle tenor saxophone 1
James Gardiner-Bateman tenor saxophone 2
Alex Garnett baritone saxophone
Mitch Dalton guitar
Chris Hill bass
Matt Skelton drums

Categories: miscellaneous

6 replies »

  1. I'm more of a fan of Modern Jazz rather than swing/mainstream, but this was kicking in a big way. We need more of this at the proms and on BBC. Congratulations to all concerned. An extraordinary evening of exciting music!

  2. Really good gig – for me the music of the Duke trumps some pretty good stuff from the Count. Excellent British muso's getting some space on this significant stage … congratulations to all

  3. Great playing. My mind went back to Ted Heath band of the 50s.
    The tunes were Basie and Ellington, but the sounds were not quite
    there. More please BBC

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