|The Big Band on stage at the end of the
Joe Stilgoe album launch
Joe Stilgoe – New Songs for Old Souls Album Launch
(Old Vic Theatre, 14th June 2015. Review by Sebastian Scotney)
The launch of singer/pianist/songwriter Joe Stilgoe‘s third studio album last night was a real show with a proper sense of occasion. Despite it being a one-off, there the abundant signs that it had been carefully devised, planned, and thought through. Working with theatre/comedy director Owen Lewis, Stilgoe had planned any number of surprises, suddenly there was Liane Carroll emerging from the back of the auditorium singing, or a full big band in the galleries was braying.
Stilgoe’s congenial wisecracking and joyous, clever punning are as much part of what happens in the breaks between the songs as they are of the word-craft in the songs themselves, and the pace and the attention level never flagged. As an improviser he also kept the feel of taking delight in the unexpected, working it into the show. It all made for a great evening and the full house at the Old Vic Theatre – where Stilgoe also happens to be performing nine times a week in an extended season of High Society – progressively raised its involvement and its cheering.
The regular members of his quartet – all do extensive backing vocals by heart too – added to the sense of assuredness and professionalism, (bassist Tom Farmer, drummer Ben Reynolds and guitarist Billy Adamson) but they also entered into, and added to the sense of a special occasion.
The album has been descibed by the label as “a masterclass in giving nostalgia a contemporary twist,” which is as much to say that Stilgoe has the great songbook in his mind,under his fingers, and wants to develop it. At one point he expressed his deep appreciation for Cole Porter (and slipped in “and you dad,” – his father was sitting a few rows behind), but there are many other echoes. Songs which if submitted to a paternity test would clearly have evidence of the bloodlines of Billy Joel, or Mack the Knife or Devil May Care. But they are catchy, they are varied, and I don’t think there was a single one which outstayed its welcome.
There was one aspect to enjoy which felt new, transformed, surprising, and that was Stilgoe giving his voice the heft and the timbre to ring out properly in a big theatre. He does everything else so well, the wordplay, the bandleading, the entertaining, the construction of the show,….but to get a lesson in vocal projection as well felt like a very welcome bonus. In the Lane/ Lerner song Too Late Now it was a rich baritone, in In the Still of the Night it was a higher tenor tessitura. Those were moments to appreciate quite how lucky we are to have such a protean talent here among us in London .
Set lists and all that stuff a bit slow in coming today. Up later