Live reviews

Big Band Supertramp, Heavy Lemo and Gods of Apollo at the 2019 Manchester Jazz Festival

John Helliwell of Big Band Supertramp Photo Credit and © William Ellis
Frank Griffith attended three very diverse concerts on the Friday (24 May) of the 2019 Manchester Jazz Festival. He writes: A particular highlight for this listener was the debut of “Big Band Supertramp featuring John Helliwell and The Big Supertramp Band “. Their 90-minute performance at the Royal Northern Music College Theatre was a delight indeed, at the packed venue. Todmorden-born saxophonist and clarinettist, Helliwell, joined the iconic British band Supertramp in 1973 and has remained ever since, despite several hiatuses in the band’s activity. The 20-piece orchestra consisted of many UK jazz stalwarts including trumpeters Richard Iles and Steve Waterman, trombonist John Barber, and saxophonists, Andy Scott, Mike Hall and Rob Buckland. The rhythm section was driven and powered by Matt Steele on piano, Ollie Collins on bass , guitarist, Billy Buckley and Steve Gilbert on drums; all names new to me but all impressive in their creativitity in interpreting The Tramp’s songs. If this wasn’t enough, the addition of percussionist, Josh Savage, behind an arsenal of mallet-driven tuned percussion, timpani and handheld tinkly things brought about a welcome and effective texture to the proceedings.
Big Band Supertramp Photo Credit and © William Ellis
Helliwell darted equally between alto and tenor saxes as well as clarinet, playing on well known Supertramp songs such as Brunch, Thirsty Work, Dreamer, Breakfast in America, Crime of The Century and the encore, It’s Always Raining – all of which were well known to the section of the audience “of a certain age” who clearly responded with appreciation at these well-known songs from their slightly younger “daze”. In addition, John’s humorous “anecdotery” in addressing the audience was welcome and went a long way to bringing the crowd together on recalling this important and innovative band in British rock during the 1970s and ’80s. I very much enjoyed his frequent clarinet breaks, elocuting song themes with a deep but somewhat rustic tonal quality often in the chalumeau (lower) range of the horn. Echoes of Acker Bilk and Pee Wee Russell amongst the more vibrant and percussive textures of the Supertramping (but not trampling) arrangements was a welcome and unique combination indeed. The arrangements were penned by the likes of Andy Scott, Gary Carpenter, Clarke Rundell and Rob Buckland, among others, all of whom are long-time collaborators and friends of Helliwell. An astonishing debut of this great new band and concept. Let it flourish with wild abandon, please. Heavy Lemo performed two sets at the outdoor St Anns Stage between 5-7pm, featuring the rapid-fire rappings of Liverpudlian, James Lyon. At no point was I able to actually ascertain what he was saying/singing but that clearly was not an issue as the four-piece combo supporting him was on it, big time. Playing 1970s-like Herbie Hancock funk grooves with engaging harmonic sequences they were left to their own devices in their frequent solo excursions. Keyboardist Misha Gray‘s solos were particularly engaging, laced with his angular and challenging jazz vocabulary. Guitarist Andy Morgan also shone with his steely-toned and sinewy solo turns.
Gods of Apollo Photo courtesy of Rob Cope
Soprano saxist and composer, Rob Cope‘s project, Gods of Apollo – “a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing” – was an impressive endeavour indeed. Held at the Royal Exchange Studio in St Ann’s Square this intimate, darkened space was ideal in creating a “space-ious” atmospere if you like. The concept being to combine freely improvised music with the NASA archives to create a film score like tableau for the listener. I very much enjoyed Cope’s exacting a variety of sounds and colours from his soprano sax as well as pianist Elliot Galvin‘s rich tapestry of rhapsodic and counterpoint improvisations to the overall effect. The MJF continues through until the end of play on Monday 27 May.

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