Featured this time: Stanley Dee, Aladdin Sane, Kyle Eastwood, Indigo Sparke, Tara Lily, Matt Schofield.
Six concerts to report in this period, with something of a jazzy theme. The delights of a comfortable seat, a glass or two of wine and some high quality music. What’s not to like? Is the era of standing, watching loud bands, view usually restricted by the tall people in front of you, distracted by all the people talking rather than listening to the music, coming to an end. Is age catching up with me? Not entirely, but I think this is likely to be a year of transition towards a better quality of experience. That is exemplified by the fact that Jon G and I have decided to glamp at both the weekend festivals we are going to this year: Latitude and End of the Road. Adds to the price, improves the comfort and convenience. We’ll see if it’s worth it.
Onto the concerts, starting with a tribute act, but a very good one, who I was seeing for the third time. For some of our number it was pretty much double figures…
Stanley Dee at the Half Moon, Putney, 16 April
The day got off to a good start with West Ham coming back from 2-0 down to Arsenal after about ten minutes to draw 2-2. Arsenal missed a penalty, but we had the chances to win. A real confidence-booster for West Ham in the fight to avoid relegation; a real confidence-drainer for Arsenal in their bid to beat the remorseless Man City to the Premier League title.
Straight after that, over to Putney for a very nice pre-concert meal at the Holy Cow Indian restaurant on the Upper Richmond Road – highly recommended. We were six tonight: me, Dave, Jon, Tony, Colin – he of the double figures for Stanley Dee! – and a friend of Colin’s. The crowd for Stanley Dee at the Half Moon seemed bigger and livelier than ever – they have built up a strong reputation and an enthusiastic following. The formula? Play great songs by a great band really well. And show you’re enjoying it – it catches on!
One big change to the band – a new guitarist. The previous one, who was very good, was poached by rivals Simply Dan apparently. It’s brutal in world of Steely Dan covers bands! His replacement was also very accomplished technically, which you have to be, playing Steely Dan, especially some of those early guitar-driven rockers like My Old School, Reeling in the Years and Bodhisattva – all of which got an airing tonight. He was playing off an iPad screen, which suggests he’s still fairly new to the world of the Dan. But he certainly seems to have mastered all the songs.
As ever, the two sets ranged across the classic Steely Dan albums – essentially the 1970s canon. And Steely Dan were imbued in jazz as well as American soft rock. Rikki Don’t Lose That Number borrows a bass line from Horace Silver’s Song for my Father; Aja classics like Black Cow and Deacon Blues gave me an entry into jazz music back in the day. All rendered impeccably tonight. And what a rousing finish: Do it Again, Kid Charlemagne, Bodhisattva and Reeling in the Years! We were buzzing. Enough for me, Jon and Colin to stick around in the pub for another hour analysing the performance and talking music generally. Got one of the last trains home, but it was worth it!
Aladdin Sane Live at the Royal Festival Hall, 21 April
This concert was part of the celebration of 50th anniversary of David Bowie’s iconic album Aladdin Sane at the Southbank Centre. Along with the concert there’s a photo exhibition on Level 1 of the RFH, called Aladdin Sane: 50 years. That’s well worth a visit – only £5 entry. I really enjoyed it; lots of photos and memorabilia of the early 70s; a selection of the work of photographer Brian Duffy, who took the photos for the album cover; and a variety of photos from that shoot as well as some earlier shots of Bowie for the Ziggy Stardust album, which weren’t used. He also took photos for The Lodger and Scary Monsters and Super Creeps albums. In the case of the latter, his work was partially painted over for the final cover, which led to a falling out between Duffy and Bowie. Those artistic differences!
I decided to go to the concert at the last minute, and bought the last available ticket online. Decent view, about half way up. The songs were performed by a variety of artists, backed by an orchestra – there was a guitarist, but he didn’t exactly do a Mick Ronson! The show was enjoyable, slick, but ultimately a bit underwhelmimg. The songs weren’t sung in the order on the album; I assume each artist was assigned – or chose – two songs, and the order was determined that allocation. The last song of the set was Jean Genie, which is understandable – the only problem was that it was performed rather feebly by the electropop singer Lynks, in one of his masks and an extravagant outfit based on the one the V&A featured in its Bowie exhibition a few years ago. A missed opportunity that, when Anna Calvi could have picked up her guitar and given us something in her trademark visceral style.
As well as those two the cast included Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters, who bounced around enthusiastically, and two modern soul singers: Tawiah, who I saw recently at the Barbican, and Roxanne Tatei, who was new to me. I’m a big admirer of Anna Calvi, but felt she was wasted somewhat, confined to singing Lady Grinning Soul and Time in a cabaret style. You could say Aladdin Sane is a fusion of cabaret and rock’n’roll; tonight’s show erred towards the cabaret and never really gave us the rock’n’roll, though Jake Shears did his best on Let’s Spend the Night Together.
The highlights for me came in the second half, with a soulful Aladdin Sane by Roxanne Tatei, backed by some lovely piano, and an unexpectedly anthemic rendition of Drive In Saturday by Tawiah. A reminder of where Radiohead drew the inspiration from for Karma Police! There was an encore of Rebel Rebel, featuring the whole ensemble. Again it didn’t really rock, but it was a nice way to end the evening.
So, I’m glad I went, but it was a bit of a 6/10 show. The photo exhibition though – a must for any Bowie aficionado. It’s on until 28 May.
Kyle Eastwood at Ronnie Scott’s, 27 April
OK, let’s get it out of the way: Kyle Eastwood is the son of actor Clint Eastwood. He is also a very fine jazz bassist and bandleader, which I didn’t know until Dave suggested going along to one of his shows at Ronnie’s. We caught the 6.30 show, which gave us time for dinner afterwards. The music was mostly from Kyle’s 2019 album, Cinematic, which features jazzy interpretations of film soundtracks. I listened to the album afterwards and liked it; but is live that this music really comes into its own – in particular, Kyle’s bass sounds, which were strong and vibrant live, but much more mixed down on the album recording. He played an electric double bass, with the bottom third scooped out. What the idea behind that is, I don’t know – maybe it just makes it lighter to bring on tour. Anyway, it sounded great, and our table was in a good position to study his playing.
He was joined by a very accomplished band: Andrew McCormack on piano, Quentin Collins on trumpet, Brandon Allen on sax and Chris Higginbottom on drums. All British, I think, working with him while he is over here. I didn’t know this beforehand, and could have sworn that when they were playing a version of Taxi Driver, the trumpet and sax players were straight out of Little Italy, New York. They really had a feel for the tone of the music. I loved their duetting throughout the show; another highlight was some pretty wild improvisation during a rendition of the Bond theme tune, Skyfall. Kyle mentioned his father a couple of times, but only in the context of the music – one piece was a take on an early Clint Eastwood film, The Eiger Sanction. The most fun was when they launched into the theme from The Pink Panther. Who doesn’t love that tune?
This was music of the highest quality and the hour and a quarter whizzed by. I think we would all have enjoyed more. But there was another show at 8.30. The six of us went off to a very good Italian restaurant called Bocca di Lupo on Archer Street in Soho. Not been there before, but will definitely return. Lovely regional dishes, and a very interesting wine list. Pretty noisy on a packed Friday evening, but, hey, this is the heart of London. Good food, good wine and good music – what more do you need?
Indigo Sparke at the Slaughtered Lamb, Clerkenwell, 28 April
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that Indigo Sparke is one of my favourite singers at the moment. She’s Australian, but based in New York. Her last album, Hysteria, was my No1 in 2022, while its predecessor, her debut Echo, made No2 in 2021. It’s classic indie-folk, singer-songwriter music, but performed with a subtle power. The instrumentation is sparse, but the melodies are rich, the emotion is strong. She’s just done a few dates in the UK supporting Weyes Blood, and took the opportunity to play this solo show at the Slaughtered Lamb. It’s a pub in Clerkenwell, just north of Farringdon. It’s a lively pub, with a music space downstairs. Holds around 150, I think. I’ve been there once before, to see Faye Webster in 2018. It’s a nice place to enjoy an acoustic show.
I went along to the gig with my friend Shane. We got there quite early and had a couple of beers outside on the street, as it was a bit noisy inside. Then down to the basement, where we managed to nab a couple of stools to sit on, with some help from a member of staff. There’s some scattered seating near the small stage, but mostly people stand. There was support from a singer called Joanna Warren, also New York-based, and a friend of Indigo. She crept on around 8 o’clock and began singing unaccompanied. She had the voice to pull it off. The rest of her show was with acoustic guitar. She apologised if her finger-picking wasn’t up to standard, as she’d broken a thumbnail, and couldn’t glue another one on – not something I realised anyone ever did! In fact her playing sounded pretty good. She had some nice tunes – anguished ballads in a similar vein to Indigo. Near the end she played a song which involved her screaming all of a sudden. Rather disconcerting after we had all settled into a mellow vibe!
Indigo came on around 9.15. Again unannounced. Picked up her guitar and started to play. The first song was the wonderful Colourblind, from Echo; but the majority of the set was taken from Hysteria. She was in fine voice – when I last saw her, in Bristol, she had flu, and had to play a fairly short set. The songs were beautifully played and sung – I’ve listened to them so much that there were endless special moments for me. All my favourites from Hysteria were there: Sad Is Love, Burn, Real, Why Do You Lie? Carnival, from Echo was another highlight. Oddly, she doesn’t play Pressure in my Chest, which was one of the lead singles from Hysteria. Maybe that’s one where she feels it needs a full band to do it justice. There was a new song called Opulent Blue, which sounded good. She introduced the songs with good humour and some engaging stories. So it was a bit surprising that she ended with Everything Everything, which is a lovely atmospheric tune from Echo, but rather downbeat – all about the world dying. And with that she was off, to get over to the merch table. That’s where you make your money, in this difficult age for up and coming performers.
Indigo’s playing End of the Road this year – a good chance to get some wider exposure. With luck she’ll be able to bring her band over – I’d like to hear how the songs sound live with a full band. Perhaps Aaron Dessner of the National, who co-produced Hysteria and helped write some of the songs, will pop in for a guest appearance!
Tara Lily at the Boulevard Soho, 3 May
Tara Lily is a British-Bengali artist, born in Peckham, south London, who makes music that fuses jazz with soul and the sounds of South Asia and Latin America. Worldwide music. She was the first artist signed to Motown’s new British label and has made two EPs so far: 2021’s Lost in London and last year’s Last Flight Out. There’s some beautiful, soulful music on both. I especially enjoyed some of her cover versions: adding vocals to Miles Davis’ Blue in Green, and John Coltrane’s Naima; and turning Billie Holiday’s Don’t Explain into a drum and bass dance tune, with a bit of a Latin vibe. All work superbly. I first heard her on 6 Music, and immediately loved her voice; then by chance, she was on the bill at the celebration of International Women’s Day at the Barbican back in March (as was Tawiah) which I reviewed in the first of these roundups. She only played three songs that day, so I was pleased to have the chance to see her and a full band play at the Boulevard Soho.
The Boulevard is a new venue, at the bottom of Berwick Street in Soho. I’m not sure what was there before, but it may have been a less salubrious form of entertainment. It’s been refurbished very stylishly, the main space a combination of fixed seating in the round, with tables and seats below. It struck me that it could become a more modern – and cheaper – alternative to Ronnie Scott’s, perhaps for less-established artists. The gig was sold out, and the audience quite youthful and a lot more diverse than most of the concerts I go to. A pretty cool crowd in fact – with a few exceptions!
As for the music – wonderful. Tara sang and played keys in the first half of the show. The Things You Do and Hotel Amour stood out, with a Sade vibe on the latter. She was accompanied by some excellent young musicians playing sax and keys, mellifluous bass and drums that gave me a feel of Moses Boyd. That’s seriously good. In the second half she was joined by her sitar player, with an extended version of Naima one of the highlights. There were a couple of new songs, which sounded good; overall we were treated to an exhibition of cool, worldwide jazz. The band have just been touring India – to enthusiastic receptions Tara recounted – so there was a real togetherness about them. They ended with a rousing version of Don’t Explain which, in a different setting, would undoubtedly have people up and dancing. But the appreciation was fulsome.
So Tara Lily is definitely someone who I’ll be looking out for in future; and the Boulevard a venue that could become a regular haunt. A great evening’s entertainment all round.
Matt Schofield at Ronnie Scott’s, 5 May
I’d not heard of Matt Schofield before Colin, who loves his virtuoso guitarists, suggested going to see him and his band at Ronnie’s. I was expecting jazz, but in fact it was what you might call rocking blues. A sound you associate most with the late 60s and early 70s, but a timeless sound. One for the aficionados, especially on record; but live it can be – and was – enthralling.
Matt and his band – a keyboardist, who also lays down the bass lines, and a steady-as-it-goes drummer – have been touring together for over twenty years. They’ve played various clubs in Soho over the years, but this is their first time at Ronnie’s. Recognition of the level they are currently operating at – that is, a very high level. This was an engrossing show: Matt is a stunningly good guitar player. One of those times when you look admiringly at the guitarist and think, I wish I could do that! One of the things I’ve noticed about ace guitarists over the years is that they often only have the one guitar: no array of finely-calibrated instruments, no fussing about tuning and re-tuning after each song. They plug in and get on with it! Assisted by some good pedals, no doubt; but they are simply masters of their craft. Matt played a blue Fender Stratocaster if you are interested – I had real guitar envy!
At times I got a bit of Rory Gallagher from the music, and there were definitely shades of Jimi Hendrix. Not quite as wild as the great man could be, but edging into similar territory. There was a touch of funk, but mostly it was that hard-edged blues which formed the basis of the sound. A few perfunctory vocals from Matt, but this was all about letting rip on that guitar. Every conceivable sound, every part of the fretboard explored – magnificent stuff.
Back home, I tried some of his recorded output on Spotify. It was OK, but I think I’ll stick with Rory and Jimi if I fancy a burst of that rocking blues – or Led Zep, for that matter. His most recent album, Far as I Can See, dates back to 2014, which is telling. It’s all about the live performance. That’s where Matt Schofield is spellbinding.
I’ve had a couple of weeks off from gig-going since Matt Schofield – ‘tis the time for football viewing – the business end of the season. Normal service resumed next week, with Alvvays at the O2 Forum, Kentish Town. And then, on Saturday 27th. Wide Awake Festival. What a line-up that has this year! There will be a full report.
Until next time…
A joy to read this – as ever – John! It also reminded me that I haven’t heard Bowie in a really long while. Come to think of it, I’ve not been listening to much music (Well, nowhere near as much as I used to) for months now. Going back to the Bowie catalogue might perhaps get me back 🙂