Live review

Simon Spillett Big Band at the Concorde Club, Eastleigh

Simon Spillett Big Band play the music of Tubby Hayes

(The Concorde Club, Eastleigh, Hampshire. 9 February 2022. Review by Paul Kelly)

Simon Spillett Big Band at the Concorde, Eastleigh. Photo credit: Andy Dickens

The Concorde Club in Eastleigh, just north of Southampton, is a forgotten landmark of British Jazz. It opened in 1957, the same year that Tubby Hayes formed the celebrated Jazz Couriers with Ronnie Scott, and a good two years before Ronnie Scott’s own club opened. The room has something of the same character as Ronnies too. The Concorde has run under the same management ever since opening, with a predominantly jazz programme. It was a fitting venue for Simon Spillett’s Big Band dedicated to playing Tubby Hayes’ arrangements. Post-covid the band is now building momentum with performances all over the country.

The evening kicked off with a fast paced ‘Dear Johnny B’ from Hayes’ celebrated Mexican Green album, crisply performed with Alan Barnes soloing on alto and a screaming trumpet solo from Mark Armstrong. The first set continued with the swinging ‘As Close As You Are’ with a snaking sax solo from Spillett and further solos from trumpeter Freddie Gavita and Alec Dankworth on bass. ‘Pedro’s Walk’ was a cod-Spanish flavoured piece by Ian Hamer with a fine but under mic’d tenor solo from Alex Clarke. Milt Jackson’s ‘Bluesology’ featured a piercing brass intro leading to a Rob Barron piano solo and a rich and languid alley-cat tenor solo from Robert Fowler accompanied by Pete Cater’s lightly swinging drums. ‘Soft and Supple’, which emerged from Hayes’s partnership with Ellington saxist Paul Gonsalves, featured Alex Clarke on flute and a richly warm baritone sax solo from Karen Sharp. A swiftly paced ‘Milestones’ featured a blustering and near unstoppable trombone solo from Mark Nightingale, while ‘She Insulted Me in Marrakesh’ (where did Tubby get these titles from?) was a foray into early 70s jazz funk that started with a Billy Taylor-ish brass chorale and led to a bluesy alto solo from Simon Allen. And that was just the first set.

Before each number Simon Spillett gave us a fluent and authoritative background to the pieces, talking about Tubby Hayes and the times he inhabited. Spillett is not only an outstanding tenor sax player but has grown into one of Britain’s leading authorities on the history of British Jazz. He punctuates his research and scholarship with wry humour which makes it very palatable.

The Big Band’s second set featured numbers from Ian Hamer, Jimmy Deuchar, Harry South, Victor Feldman and Tubby Hayes himself. These were stellar jazz composers and arrangers of that period, something we have perhaps forgotten as other writers and styles emerged in the 1970s and beyond. The performances featured crisp ensemble work and outstanding solos from this top quality ensemble. In particular Mark Armstrong played a filigree flugelhorn solo on Horace Silver’s ‘Peace’, Ian Bateman provided tailgate trombone on the Bond-ish ‘Russian Roulette’ and on ‘Seven Steps To Heaven’ bandleader Spillett gave us a blasting tenor solo backed by huge descending ensemble phrases. The night finished with a fast paced ‘Sonnymoon For Two’ with a roaring tenor battle between Alex Clarke and Robert Fowler, youth versus experience.

Simon Spillett’s Big Band has all the ingredients for an excellent jazz evening; great charts, superb players and a show informed by deftly imparted expert knowledge. The music itself is not pushing any boundaries in the manner of say, a Maria Schneider. This is repertoire jazz, very well chosen and very well delivered. But if that seems a put down, the classical music world has been trading off repertoire for the last 250 years and has done quite well in the process. Our British Jazz repertoire also needs celebrating and this band does it to a tee.

Simon Spillett Big Band at the 2021 Herts Jazz Festival. Photo credit Mike O’Brien

LINK: Simon Spillett Live Appearances

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