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Joe Stilgoe Trio at Snape Maltings Concert Hall

Joe Stilgoe Trio

(Snape Maltings Concert Hall, 12 August 2022. Part of Summer at Snape. Live Review by Bruce Lindsay)

L-R: Tom Farmer, Joe Stilgoe, Giacomo Smith. Photo credits: TBC, Darren Bell, Tore Sætre

Joe Stilgoe walked onto the Snape Maltings concert hall stage sporting a dark blue shirt, waistcoat and floppy bow tie and a pair of spectacularly striped trousers. It was hard not to notice the ensemble, and after his opening number Stilgoe apologised for looking “like a clown who’s crashed into Liz Truss.” In the interest of political neutrality, Stilgoe dedicated his next song to Rishi Sunak: it was Randy Newman’s “Short People.” These opening few minutes set the tone for the rest of the evening: excellent musicianship, comic asides and original arrangements of an often-surprising selection of songs all coming together to form a beautifully-crafted concert performance.

Stilgoe has an uncanny ability to put together a programme of songs that few if any other contemporary performers would consider combining in a single concert: pop classics, Songbook standards, modern hits, Broadway favourites and original compositions mixed, matched and re-imagined to create the most consistently enjoyable set I’ve heard in a long, long time. The singer and pianist is very much at the centre of events, but double bassist Tom Farmer and clarinettist/tenor saxophonist Giacomo Smith are vital elements of the trio.

Stilgoe opened with “Sunny Afternoon,” written by Ray Davies and first performed by The Kinks. After his tribute to Rishi Sunak he sang Tom Lehrer’s ode (possibly) to promiscuity, “I got it from Agnes,” before Farmer joined in for Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell.” Smith arrived for “Mr Peanuts,” the first original song of the night, a Stilgoe/Smith composition about someone they often saw in various London clubs and who, Stilgoe claims, looks like he’s been “hand-drawn.” Smith, on tenor, took the lead role in a rousing “It’s Alright with Me” and contributed a fine clarinet solo to “Cabaret.”

Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi,” Stilgoe’s own “Seaside,” written for Liane Carroll, and some Songbook favourites including “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” followed. Then Farmer took centre-stage for a punchy bass solo which morphed into a duet with Stilgoe on Meghan Trainor’s “All About that Bass,” which segued into “Slap that Bass” then turned into Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You.” Stilgoe brought the evening to a close with a Fred Astaire tribute, combining “Top Hat” (featuring Stilgoe on kazoo) and “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”

The audience had been appreciative of the trio throughout the evening, so an encore was never in doubt. Stilgoe reappeared alone, to bring things full circle with another Ray Davies song, the beautiful and poignant “Waterloo Sunset.” Terry and Julie must be in their late 70s by now, but Stilgoe made it seem as if they’re still meeting at the station, every Friday night.

LINK: Summer at Snape

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