Swingin' in the Rain | Foden’s Band at Gawsworth Hall
Foden’s Band and Matt Ford Salute to Sinatra and the Swing Legends
It’s not very often I get to attend concerts I’m not playing in, these days, so attending the ‘Salute to Sinatra and the Swing Legends’ concert, starring the Foden’s Band and their guest vocalist, Matt Ford, was a real treat. The concert was held in on 9th July, in the grounds of the stunning Gawsworth Hall, Macclesfield. To be quite honest, when you put it on paper, the event sounded like a microcosm of traditional British culture; a brass band performing in an English Country garden. Even the weather was living up to the British stereotype with grey skies and thunderous showers that almost brought an end to the evening’s proceedings before they had even started. Just your typical British summer weather. However, the show must go on and that it did, with the audience donning their raincoats and clutching their brollies in defiance of the shoddy weather, to sit and listen to spectacular sounds produced by the Foden’s Band and Matt Ford. It was well worth getting a little bit soggy, let me tell you!
Has Anyone Got An Ark?
When we arrived in the beautiful grounds of Gawsworth Hall, the area was in the middle of, what can only be described, as a BIBLICAL downpour, complete with thunder and lightning. This concert took place on the same weekend as the concerts I played with the Rainford Band (it’s just taken me an age to get round to writing this one - sorry!), so we’d kind of got used to the stormy conditions by this point. For most ensembles, a bit of rain wouldn’t be an issue - but as we British banders know, for some reason we always end up playing outside at some point during the Summer period. This is despite the fact that we live in a country where the weather in Summer can hold the features of any other season of the year - glorious sunshine, torrential downpours, cold temperatures, gale-force winds - sometimes all in one day! Today’s performance venue was outside. As the rain cascaded from the heavens and the thunder sounded like me attempting to play percussion, the audience patiently waited in their cars for further instruction - all of us hoping that the Great British weather would provide us with a dry window long enough for the concert to start.
As myself and my other half were sitting in the car debating whether we were going to fit both of us and our chairs underneath the golf brolly we had in the boot and realising that, stupidly, neither of us had brought a waterproof, our conversation was paused by the sound of a chord in the distance. The rain was still tap-dancing on the car roof. We both looked at each other with an expression that said: “That sounds like…”, followed by raised eyebrows, as we both realised that the concert had started…and we were sitting in the car…missing the concert…a concert that a very dear friend of ours and Foden’s Second Trombonist, Matt Shaw, was covering the Principal trombone seat, which was one of the reasons we were here to watch in the first place. There was a frantic scramble to get out of the car, fight the chairs and the brolly free from the depths of the boot and jog down the path to the stage. As we rounded the corner, I could hear the dulcet tones of a jazzy trombone solo crooning over the hedge which separated us from the stage, and I started to panic. It’s not often I’ll run to see a trombone solo (joking, obviously, stop sharpening your slides - it’s enough of a weapon as it is), but these were exceptional circumstances and, thankfully, we managed to catch the last of Matt’s solo, as we picked our way among the drenched, but dedicated, audience members to join our other dear friend, Natalie (who is also Matt’s wife), and his parents.
I tell you what, you know the calibre of an ensemble when such a big group of people are willing to turn the grounds of a stately home into a garden of multicoloured brollies, risking life and soggy bottoms, to hear you play! The Brolly Botanical Garden Brigade made the right choice - the music was incredible. So let’s talk about that shall we?
Swing, Swing, Swing
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard Matt Ford perform, having watched him with the Foden’s Band at a previous concert, and with the John Wilson Orchestra, but it has been an awfully long time since I last heard his dulcet tones. He’s an incredible performer, Foden’s are…well they’re Foden’s - look ‘outstanding’ up in the dictionary and you’ll see their logo - so, naturally it was an extraordinary afternoon of music. After a couple of tunes the sun himself put his hat on and came out for a listen.
As you can guess from the concert theme, we were treated to a range of swing hits from Sinatra to Matt Monro and a little bit of Barry Manilow. Now, I will talk about some of the more serious songs in a little bit, but I need to tell you about our Copacabana experience. You remember a lady by the name of Lola? She was a showgirl, with yellow-feathers in her hair and a dress cut down there? Ringing any bells? She would merengue and do the cha, cha? Anyway, we found her! She had been watching the concert, just to the side of our little party, before she announced herself when the band started the intro to the familiar tropical disco hit, discarding her brolly and demonstrating her, aforementioned, cha-cha with fiery enthusiasm. It was fabulous to see people enjoying brass band music, having fun and a bit of a shimmy. Long-time readers of the blog will know that myself and Natalie have been partial to a little bit of a brass band boogie - Hootenanny at a certain Whit Friday, was a particularly good performance - if you know, you know. Anyway, moving on.
If I had to highlight my favourite of Matt Ford’s performances during the concert, it had to be his rendition of ‘Do Nothin’ Til You Hear From Me. It’s a jazz standard with music written by Duke Ellington and lyrics by Bob Russell. It started life as an instrumental in 1940, written to highlight Ellington’s lead trumpeter, Cootie Williams, with Russell’s lyrics being added in 1944. It’s been covered by a range of artists including, all the well-known swing legends from Nat King Cole to Ella Fitzgerald to the likes of Phil Collins and Robbie Williams. However, it was an arrangement performed by Andy Williams in the 80s (if memory serves) that inspired this particular arrangement created by the Foden’s Band Principal Trombonist and all-round incredible musician, John Barber, who had arranged the band’s accompaniment to Matt’s performances and was also covering keys during the performance. I’d never heard this version before and it was an absolute stunner.
Alongside Matt’s songs, Foden’s slotted in a few instrumental items within the programme, which were fantastic. Now, you’re going to call me biased for my highlight from these sections of the concert, but I don’t care. Melanie Whyle’s performance of Black Orpheus - a stunning, sultry Flugel solo arrangement from the pen of Reid Gilje - was delightfully suave. Although the original theme this arrangement is based on is from a Portuguese movie of the same name - a contemporary retelling of the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice - it wouldn’t be out of place in the soundtrack to a Bond movie. Just lush.
There aren’t many things in life worth having to walk around in soggy denim shorts (not the wisest of wardrobe decisions in rainy weather), but a concert of that standard certainly was! Joking aside, it was a true display of why Foden’s Band is one of the finest ensembles our community (and I would add, the UK) has ever produced - there’s a reason they’re never short of silverware! From the arrangements to the unfathomable amount of talent shown around the stand - just pure dedication to quality music-making that, as a player, is both motivating and inspiring to watch. Of course, Matt Ford’s vocals, as well as his showmanship and humour was incredibly entertaining - he managed to charm the sun from behind the clouds and coaxed Lola, the showgirl, out of hiding for a little boogie - reminiscent of her old days in the Copacabana. Well, you know what they say - music and passion were always in fashion…I’ll see myself out.