Fred Hersch: 8 November 1998

Holywell Music Room in Oxford is said to be the oldest custom-built music room in Europe. Its tall walls have heard the notes of such classical masters as Mozart and Vivaldi. Today it still provides a good venue to hear music concert-style, and last Sunday an American jazz pianist graced its stage.

Fred Hersch is the latest in a line of quality jazz musicians to perform in Oxford in this concert style and typifies the thin line between jazz as commercial entertainment and jazz as the new classical music. His first number is as good as an example as any of the former. There’ll Never Be Another You was instantly recognisable to all (including the annoying chap behind me who insisted on singing along), whilst the dual piece American Folk Song/Spartacus was an example of the latter.

Perched on the edge of his stool, he paused for a few seconds, switching off from all around him and then waiting for the music to start up in his head. Almost as if it washed over him, his head would start to nod to the internal beat and the hands move resolutely towards the keys. He is playing the tune, but also give the appearance of being the tune. His facial expressions, the grimaces and mouth stretching, seem to function as a sotto voce rhythm section; his entire body moves, sways, to the musical ebb and flow.

Well received by the predominately male audience, furrowed brows concentrated on the less well-known pieces such as his own Up In The Air while positive animation greeted tunes like In Walked Bud; indeed, heads were nodding and feet tapping quite vigorously! Other musical highlights included the bright Heartsong, I Loves You Porgy and After You’ve Gone. The audience favourite was definitely Body And Soul judging by the audible Mmmmmm! that went round the hall.

Yet another good concert arranged by Olwen Richards, marred by one small but not insignificant intrusion. Someone had not switched their watch off, and at 9pm (in the middle of the Porgy piece), beep-beep; not content with that, one hour later, a repeat performance. Do we need this? Still, this did not detract from the performance. Mmmmmmm!

The Jazz Biscuits - Unvoiced: CD Review

The London-based band with some local roots played their third gig in the Banbury area on Monday last having premiered at The Mill in March. They have also had their first CD released, and what a good one it is.

The opening track, The Anxiety of Influence, is a good paced vehicle for the band to strut their stuff (did I really write that?) with a catchy riff that comes around again and again. Track two, Where's My Leizl?, is a slower piece and the band settle into their stride. This track is one of two featuring the flugelhorn of guest Howerd Simpson.

Down to the horizontal with Dylan’s Ballad; great for the dark hours of the night - or morning - for those smoochty close dance numbers; despite being a non-smoker, this is smoked-filled cellar stuff. The sax of Stephen and the guitar of Dylan of equal prominence. A total change for Wooden Dance with a catchy riff and then on to The JB Blues. A good introduction with Stephen and Howerd that leads into a good example of fifties bop in the late nineties - good stuff (influenced by Miles Davis bands of forty five years ago?)

Flunscram is a bit later in its influence I think, and a title and content somewhat redolent of East of Eden though not 'Jig-a-jig'. Parisienne is another slow one to be listened to in the darker hours. Possibly my favourite sax solo on the album - a lovely tune. Boot Snooglum is another good title that sounds like it should be something else - but what? Nice'n'bouncy.

The final track, Smokin' the Nine Bar Blues, has an opening theme that reminds one of the New Orleans marching bands. Feels like the last track - can imagine it at the end of the night.

A good first CD and a good showcase for their talent. Unvoiced represents a broad spread and should appeal to the die-hard 'Modern' jazzers as well as those slightly younger who like parts of the seventies and eighties scene. Not to say that this band are not a retro band. They could make more of bass line in places, though this may have been a production thing. Drums/percussion provide solid and tight backcloth. Well done lads - and I await the follow up.

Pete Lay & Mike Pears: 10 November 1998/ Pete Lay & Bruce Boardman: 17 November 1998

It has been a busy month for Banbury’s leading ‘jazzer’ as Pete Lay has not only played in the second half of the two-gig celebrations for Banbury Jazz Club’s thirty-first birthday but he also made his first performance appearance at the other regular live jazz venue, The Mill’s Jazz-in-the-Foyer.

At The Mill Pete brought one of his regular pianists, Mike Pears. Together they gave a varied programme much appreciated by the audience, which consisted of part all-nighters and part transient groups. Days Of Wine And Roses started the evening, swiftly followed by All Or Nothing At All; some of the tunes, such as The Nearness Of You, were arranged by Mike Pears. Other musical highlights included Sonny Rollins’ Alfie’s Theme and the evergreen Girl From Ipanema (though I seem to recollect that she was tall and tanned, not green…).

The following week Pete appeared at his ‘home’ venue, the Banbury House Hotel. On this occasion, his pianist was Bruce Boardman, a favourite among many of the BJC cognoscenti and Pete’s partner at The Swan on the first Sunday of every month. Bruce’s style is difficult to define, but for all the right reasons. He can turn his hands, or at least his fingers, to virtually any idiom and when it comes to jazz he can take you on a musical journey from early ragtime, through stride to Monk and beyond. This time, a quartet too; Tony Kilkenny on bass and Mark Doffman on drums.

What made this evening special was that all the tunes played were either from the pen of George Gershwin or Duke Ellington. The Gershwin selection included A Foggy Day, Lady Be Good and a funky version of Summertime. The Duke’s selection included Caravan and In A Sentimental Mood. As well as playing, Bruce occasionally sings, and this time he gave his version of Lucky So And So.

In the audience was the Mayor of Banbury who thanked Pete for her invitation and expressed what a good time she had – and that this sort of music was not that bad!

Next month? Gypsy jazz with the guitar trio Gitanes on the 15th at The Mill and The Jazz Biscuits at BJC on the 8th. Note the change round – BJC meets on the second Tuesday for December only.

The Jazz Biscuits: 8 December 1998

Banbury Jazz Club took a small but significant step forward last week by presenting a band considerably younger than many of the usual bands that play there. The Jazz Biscuits performed two very good, tight sets mixing standards with tunes that are not so commonly heard at the monthly Banbury House Hotel events.

This band, who have now played several gigs around the area but are essentially based in London, are Dylan Kaye on guitar, Andy Marks on bass, David Bouet on drums and percussion and Stephen Band on alto and soprano saxophone. They came to my attention earlier this year with the release of the first CD called Unvoiced which was produced with funding from the National Lottery and, I believe, was the first of its kind to be so financed.

The first set started with a Straightahead followed by George Gershwin’s A Foggy Day with Stephen switching from alto to soprano sax. From that Miles Davis seminal album Kind of Blue, the highlight of the first half, Blue in Green, featured excellent parts from all four musicians; the lovely brushwork of David helping to create the reflective and cool mood that is essential for this piece. The excellently rhythmic Cedar Blues completed the set and sent people to the bar remarking on this bands good music and approach.

The second half continued the good music. Most jazz gigs feature A Jobim number, and this was no exception. Triste was a good vehicle for Stephens’s soprano sax with an excellent crescendo that put it in the running for best tune of the night. Miles Davis was also represented again with a very tight Milestones. One of BJC favourites also made an appearance; Stella by Starlight may have been different from the usual versions but was, nevertheless, acceptable.

There had been concern expressed by a few people that bringing in younger bands would pose problems and that the audience, especially the more long-standing members, would not approve. Banbury Jazz Club has survived over 30 years thanks to Pete Lay; surely it also has a responsibility to continue representing jazz, and the way to do this is to make sure that the baton of good jazz is passed from the older to the younger generation. I am not suggesting that the regular performers at BJC are to be replaced – indeed they have a lot to teach the younger players - but it is important to continue to foster good music in younger bands and, importantly, help attract younger audiences.

This was a good gig that had virtually all the audience tapping their fingers, hands or feet at some point, and I don't think there were many disappointments. Hats off to Pete Lay and here's to the future.

The Jazz Biscuits also appeared at The White Bear in Shipston last Sunday. A packed bar were fully appreciative of the music despite playing for most of the night as a trio. Stephen was unable to be there, but local sax man, Stephen E Suttee joined the guys for the majority of the second set. A good crowd and good music – and on a Sunday! Check out this pub if your in the area and over Christmas they are running a jazz and blues festival – give them a ring for more details.

Meanwhile, back at Banbury Jazz Club, the January session brings a young pianist, again from London, Sean Hargreaves on January 19th. See you there.

Jazz Diary: December 1998

It seems to have been a busy month catching up with what’s been and what’s coming up in jazz in the Four Shires. Banbury Jazz Club’s December session brought new blood to the Banbury House Hotel in the form of The Jazz Biscuits. This is a young band, based in London, but with local connections. Guitarist Dylan Kaye hails from Brailles and as well as performing with the whole group can be seen locally teamed up with the band’s bass player, Andy Marks. Drummer David Bouet and saxophonist Stephen band complete the line-up. They have a wide repertoire, from smooth standards by the likes of Cole Porter and George Gershwin, through fifties and sixties styles with tunes by Miles Davis et al to their own tunes.

I first heard about them when they were looking for a venue in the locality to perform and publicise the launch of their first CD, Unvoiced. This CD represents a broad spread and appeals to the die-hard 'Modern' jazzers as well as those slightly younger who like parts of the seventies and eighties scene.

The Jazz Biscuits were also at The White Bear, Shipston-on-Stour the following Sunday evening, albeit in a slightly depleted format as Stephen Band was unable to play. Not deterred by this, the trio performed a terrific set that was far freer (and louder) than their BJC gig. Sax lovers were not disappointed either as the guys were joined by Banbury sax player Steve Suttee for a few numbers in the second half. Another good evening and the White Bear seems to be a good place to hear live music on a Sunday night.

Meanwhile, back at The Mill in Banbury, the December Jazz-in-the-Foyer coincided with the launch of the latest art exhibition and a packed Millstream Bar were treated to a selection of musical delights. The music started with a small group from the regular Tuesday night jazz jam sessions performing some acoustic numbers. Led by Teresa and Steve Suttee, the young performers had their first taste of live jazz performance and did very well.

The main act of the evening was Martin Moyers (guitar) and Ian Hill (saxophone) augmented by singer Julie Dennis. This duo worked really well together, especially when this was their first time out together. A nice array of songs and known tunes kept people tapping and there was certainly a lot of approval for Julie’s singing. One can only hope that some of the audience feel motivated to return.

Another regular visitor to local jazz venues is artist Daphne Polglaise. Often to be seen perched on stool at the front, pad in one hand, pen in the other, Daphne is well-known by many local bands for her fine line drawings. Inspired as much by the music as by the visual, Daphne’s work is featured here with a drawing of The Jazz Biscuits.

Banbury Jazz Club next meets at the Banbury House Hotel at 8pm on Tuesday January 19th when pianist Sean Hargreaves appears. Jazz-in-the-Foyer at The Mill is on Tuesday 12th (8.30pm) with top London vocalist Trudy Kerr. Jazz-in-the-Foyer is free entry.

As well as keeping up with the times, I’ve been delving back into the areas musical past. The Banbury Advertiser of April 1956 contained a snippet reporting that a group of local jazzers had ventured up to London to see Stan Kenton and his band.

The early months of that year saw much speculation in the music press about a proposed British tour by this band. At the time, Kenton led one of the leading big bands of the day, which was one of the few to survive into the fifties as the age of the crooner took over. After many years of a Musicians’ Union ban on American bands playing in this country and a reciprocal one by the American Federation of Musicians, based on the suggestion that the visitors would take the jobs from the home guys, a band exchange was organised. The USA would get Ted Heath and the UK, Stan Kenton.

The local contingent were treated to such Kenton standards as ‘Peanut Vendor’ and ‘23° North 82° West’. The line up included many luminaries of the day – Carl Fontana, Ralph Baze, Bill Perkins and the great drummer Mel Lewis. Indeed, one local drummer (possibly Brownie Lay) was reported to have been so impressed that he said he thought Lewis to be “the finest ever”.

At about this time, the Melody Maker announced that the line up was to change due to two members returning home. Saxophonist Spencer Sinatra was replaced by Britain’s Tommy Whittle who was greatly enjoyed the experience. Latterly Tommy still performs with the BBC Big Band and played at Banbury Jazz Club’s thirtieth anniversary in 1997.

A belated complements of the season to you all – and be sure to make one of your New Year resolutions to see at least one live band a month, jazz or what you fancy.

John Dankworth

I have to start with an apology – perhaps not an auspicious start, but necessary. Last month, you will have read about John Dankworth playing at the thirty-first celebrations of Banbury Jazz Club. However you will not have read all about it! This was due to what is known in some circles as an HGE (human generated error) though I would prefer to think of it as man and machine – in this case my new computer – not in perfect harmony. The upshot of this human/technology ‘interface’ (I’ve got the jargon) is that two copies of page one winged their way to the offices of Banbury Fare, whilst two copies of page two retired to my file in my study. Result: incomplete report and at least one frustrated reader.

Grovelling completed, here is a resume of the missing portion:

“Just before the final number (Donna Lee) the man behind the thirty one years of BJC, Pete Lay, played Wee Dot with the quartet. Was this his finest hour? He preceded it with the note that this was the signature tune that used in Club Eleven, started by John Dankworth and Ronnie Scott and others in 1949 - and that in the audience on the first night was BJC stalwart, one-time writer of jazz reviews (and member of the exclusive 'That Row') Gerry Dibsdale

All good things come to an end, and two of the rules of musical entertainment are leave the audience wanting more, and make the audience leave whistling or humming the tunes. I think it is safe to say that in both cases, these objectives were achieved. A great night. A big thank you to the Musicians Union, Cherwell District Council, Banbury House Hotel and Record Savings who all help to keep what must be one of, if not the, oldest, provincial jazz clubs in Britain. Now - all of you who turned out then - keep coming, help keep good music live!”

___________________

Since I wrote that, jazz has continued in Banbury as it has done for a few decades now. It has been a bit of a good month for the Banbury Jazzer, Pete Lay. He has played at The Swan with versatile pianist Bruce Boardman, followed by a session at The Mill’s Jazz-in-the-Foyer with another pianist, Mike Pears, and then again with Bruce at the November Banbury Jazz Club. A keen promoter as well as performer, sax playe Pete is always a pleasure to listen to.

On the international front, American pianist Fred Hersch performed in the Holywell Music Room in Oxford. Fred, the latest in a line of quality jazz musicians to perform in Oxford in this concert style, typifies the thin line between jazz as commercial entertainment and jazz as the new classical music.

Coming up in December, The Jazz Biscuits, a young band certainly worth seeing, are at the Jazz Club on the 8th, and gypsy-jazz guitarists Gitanes are at Jazz-in-the-Foyer at The Mill on the 15th.

Indeed, if you like to hear live music there is always something going on in the area. As well as the major venues, many pubs now feature live music. With regards to jazz, regular places to visit are Banbury Jazz Club (3rd Tuesday of the month, except December), Jazz-in-the-Foyer at The Mill (2nd Tuesday, except December and 4th Sunday lunch) and The Swan (1st Sunday lunch). Out of town, there is the New Inn at Buckingham, the Bullingdon Arms and O X One Club in Oxford and several others that have jazz playing at various times.

___________________

In an interview with John Dankworth he thought that he had played in Banbury in the past with his big band, but was sure where or when. I understand that this is true and that it was at the Winter Gardens. Does anybody have any memories of this? This also set me thinking that there must be a wealth of information about the jazz scene as it developed in this country reflected in the local area. Over the forthcoming months, as well as looking at what has been on and what is coming up, I shall also be digging into the past.

Royal Shakespeare Theatre - The Tempest: 25 February 1998

The play concerns Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan who has been entrapped on an island for many years. With him are his daughter Miranda, now a young woman, Ariel, a spirit and Caliban a savage who Prospero has made his slave. Using his powers of magic to conjure up a tempest, Prospero has managed to bring onto this island his brother who usurped him for the dukedom, accompanied by the King of Naples and the king’s son.

To add further detail at this point may serve to make any visit to Stratford unnecessary (assuming that there are people who do not know the complete story) and also the editor’s scissors cannot be too far away. Anyway, suffice it to say that the kings son falls in love with Miranda, Prospero foils an attempt on the king’s life and eventually all live happily ever after, the rightful duke being returned to Milan.

David Calder was very commanding as Prospero and had the attention of the audience from the start. A powerful figure given to much pacing around the stage, his part was perfectly played against a range of others who were either weak in character or in acting. Miranda (Penny Layden) played the dutiful daughter well and submitted to her fathers power willingly. The duke’s brother, Antonio (David Henry) and the majority of the other shipwrecked nobility lacked the drive and determination that one would expect in such a situation, with the exception of Gonzalo played by Alfred Burke.

Whilst the power of the story lies with Prospero, for sheer entertainment value, the trio of Caliban, Trinculo and Stephano (Robert Glenister, Adrian Schiller and Barry Stanton respectively) take some beating. Their comedy and pathos were one of the highlights of the play. Also worthy of separate note is Scott Handy who, as Ariel, clad only in a dhoti and covered in white body paint was eye catching and filled the stage with a presence; his distinctive singing, especially of “Where sucks the bee” was well received.

The set was simple yet effective. A large circle on the stage with a gang plank running out into the stalls served to remind the audience of the physical boundaries of the play. The backdrop at times featured a huge swathe of material that Prospero donned to generate the tempest. The opening scene was very effective, the storm lashing around the audience’s ears when the doors opened, complete with creaking deck boards. The lighting (Howard Harrison) and special effects were a strength. The conch that was Caliban’s home came and went without notice and the huge bowls of food that disappeared in a flash before our very eyes were very impressive.

All in all Adrian Noble has directed an excellent production at the RSC and one that should be seen. If you feel that Shakespeare is too high-brow or not easy to understand, give this a try, you will be pleasantly surprised.

Pete Lay & Bruce Boardman: 1 February 1998

Local jazzman Pete Lay was off touring this weekend, though he only managed as far as the Swan by Banbury Cross. With him was pianist extraordinaire Bruce Boardman with a keyboard that did most things in terms of sound and what it didn't do, Pete did with tenor, alto sax or flute.

Not a strict jazz session as per Banbury Jazz Club, the duo nevertheless gave a good performance of well-known tunes for the afternoon drinkers. Kicking off with Now's The Time, many songs had vocals attached - with even Pete supplying some of them, the first of which was Bye Bye Blackbird.

Pub crowds can be a diffident lot, at least until they have downed a few, then they often pole vault to the other extreme. The punters this time took some time to warm up, but with hard work by the band with both song and chat, people eventually got into the swing of it, even applauding at times.

There were a few requests. One of the lads asked if they could play an Oasis number which was met with the reply that when they (Oasis) "can play this sort of music, then we'll consider playing theirs". However, they did play Shine On Harvest Moon (though Harvey Moon was the request) and Mack The Knife (twice).

Performing under the name of The Jazz and Blues Duo it was possibly the more bluesier numbers that got the warmest reception. The zydeco-style Good Afternoon Blues sung by Bruce finished the first set, and Little Red Rooster, again with Bruce on vocals, started the second.

Other good tunes included Horace Silver's Sister Sadie where the keyboard became a Hammond Organ, My Baby Just Cares For Me, with Bruce singing the Nina Simone opus, and Georgia, a personal favourite of mine.

The highlight or the afternoon in terms or being able to show off was a version of Mama Don't Allow which included Bruce playing boogie-woogie, Thelonious Monk and Fats Domino with Pete responding with imitations of Victor Sylvester, Glen Miller and Ronnie Scott. Very amusing and the gauntlet was thrown down for people to come up with other styles for the next session, which is Sunday March 1st.

Jazz Review of the Year: 1998

“Thank you all for coming here tonight for this, the prestigious Banbury Jazz Awards for 1998. This year was the first year for a long time when audiences in the Banbury area could see good, live jazz at least twice a month, every month. Banbury Jazz Club reached and passed its thirty-first birthday with great festivity. The Mill’s Jazz-in-the-Foyer reached and passed its first birthday with not as great a celebration, but to all concerned it was just as important a milestone. The Young and the old, the great and the not so great have all been involved. If 1999 is half as good, it would not be half bad (whatever that means)…

Now to the awards.

The “Alan Sillitoe” Award for reaching 31 years with BJC and still providing good, live jazz: Pete Lay

The “Millstone” Award for assisting in the success of Jazz-in-the-Foyer: Teresa, Steve, Stev, Tony and Daphne

The “Good Vibes” Award for introducing young jazz players: Mike Denis

The “Ugly Duckling” Award for appearing at The Swan on the first Sunday of the month (and for having the least-catchy name): Pete Lay/Bruce Boardman Jazz/Blues Duo

The “Digestive” Award for producing their first CD and for excellent performances at various local venues: The Jazz Biscuits

The “Gitanes” Award for performing for the first time together: Martin Moyers and Ian Hill

The “I’m Glad He’s Still Playing” Award: Dick Morrisey

The “Best Show in Town Award” for, remarkably, providing the best show in town: John Dankworth

Just enough time left to wish you all a Happy New Year, and look forward to another interesting year. Thank you for coming.”

Rambert Dance Company - Cruel Garden: 6 May 1998

A dramatic and spectacular night in Spain was laid out before us at the Apollo when the Rambert Dance Company presented the Oxford premiere of Cruel Garden. First performed in 1977 this new production conceived by Lindsay Kemp and choreographed by Christopher Bruce is stunning in dance, costume and music.

Loosely based around the life of Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca, but using much from his texts as well, we are taken on a journey from the blood spattered bull ring through a bohemian cafe to New York, only to return to the bull ring for the end.

There are many highlights to this performance. The Poet (Conor O’Brien) and his battle with the Bull (Simon Cooper) early in the piece was extremely powerful. The gypsies dancing were colourful and exuberant. The Buster Keaton piece featuring Conor O’Brien as the doleful silent screen star was very amusing with a pantomime cow, a cockerel of similar size and a girl with the head of a nightingale. The final part, where the Bull and many others finally destroy the Poet is extremely powerful with an ending that left us exhausted.

Not only were the dancers the stars of the night. The orchestra, London Musici was tremendous; coming, coincidentally, in the Oxford Contemporary Music Spring season, this alone should have attracted more people than there were. Carlos Miranda has created a score that uses percussion to its fullest extent with new and different ways of producing unusual sounds from relatively usual instruments. I hope there is (or will be) a CD.

A complete piece of theatre, Cruel Garden also included poetry, prose and song taken from Lorca’s work. The only disappointing part was the very end, the lament; the singer by then had had enough and his voice was sadly very off key.

Despite this, an excellent evenings entertainment. This is one long performance of ninety minutes and everyone sat spell bound by the whole spectacle. If you missed it, see it; if you saw it, see it again - I certainly shall.

Steve Suttee All Stars: 13 October 1998

Jazz-in-the-Foyer, The Mill's twice-monthly sessions have been going for a year now - and, what's more, are still with us. With Banbury's senior Jazz Club celebrating 31 years next week (or last Tuesday when you read this) it was nice to see many supporters of Banbury's younger jazz session on the 13th. Included in this was Steve Suttee who returned with a special band.

Certainly not in the 'cool style' of many bands, this was part funk, part fusion, but a good mix of other genres as well. Tunes ranged from Blue Bossa, a standard in most places, to Cantaloupe Island and included a couple of guests.

The band was special in that its members were essentailly 'home-grown' - in fact all are or were active players in the regular Jazz-jam sessions that take place at The Mill on Tuesday evenings: John Markam on guitar, Karl Wagner on bass and Steve Harris on drums. Steve (Harris), well known and respected in jazz circles, certainly helped lift the band, while at the same time keeping it together. Always good to hear him play. John got into the tunes well and seemed to be enjoying himself. It is easy for a guitar to dominate a band such as this, but John's role was just right. Karl's bass came to the fore in the funkier numbers that kept the feet of the audience tapping throughout the likes of Watermelon Man.

As for Mr Suttee, his control of the band led to a good show from this new line-up, and his playing, warmed up by the third number, Freddie the Freeloader, had an edge that gave a distinct flavour to the whole proceedings.

The two guests were flautist Teresa Suttee and singer Bobbie Watson. Bobbie, currently working at extending her repertoire into jazz, gave a good rendition of Summertime to an interesting beat that was at times in great danger of going reggae. In the second set her voice had to keep up with a very fast Autumn Leaves that left some of us in the audience out of breath. Teresa joined the band for two numbers, Song For My Father and Cantaloupe Island, the pairing of tenor saxophone and flute sounding good in the theatre foyer.

The Jazz-in-the-Foyer sessions have grown and are now beginning to get a name for The MIll as a place to hear jazz. The change to the second Tuesday should prove popular for local jazzers already used to the third Tuesday for Banbury Jazz Club. Next month, in fact, Banbury Jazz Club pays a visit in the form of Pete Lay with Mike Pears performing in the theatre foyer at The Mill on Tuesday November 10th. See you there.

Tola Branca: 11 March 1998

What’s in a name? Well just one of those yarns that worth re-telling. And as well as how they arrived at their name, the music of Tola Branca was worth listening to. A five-piece band from Oxford, they made their way to the frozen north of the county last Wednesday for Jazz-in-the-Foyer. An warm welcome soon attempted to thaw them out (though The Mills heating worked against it) and they persevered with two sets of songs and tunes, well-known and not so well-known.

Julie Burrett kicked off with a song I know from Joni Mitchell’s Hissing Of Summer Lawns album, Centrepiece. This, I thought, bodes well, and I was not disappointed. Standards included the The Girl From Ipanema, the ubiquitous Summertime with a seasonal progression to Autumn Leaves.

The band is made up of Paul Medley on tenor sax, Trisha Elphinstone on alto and soprano saxes, Alan Foulkes, piano and Alan Wilson on guitar. As well as the songs, the second set included instrumentals that allowed the players more freedom. Sad Samba and Killer Joe were good, but my favourite was the pen-ultimate of the night, Canteloupe Island.

Girl From Ipanema had solos of note from Trisha on her soprano sax and Alan on the guitar. Shadow Of Your Smile had a good tenor solo from Paul which smoothly changed into Fly Me To The Moon.

A good band that will return to The Mill in the summer for those of you who were unable to see them this time. Catch them when you can as they pick up more gigs in the Oxford area. And be sure to ask why the name (there is a tenuous connection with one of the Mill’s biggest nights of the year).

The Jazz Biscuits: 22 March 1998

Sunday lunchtime at The Mill has, for a long time, been a venue for good music and entertainment. Recently, Jazz-in-the Foyer has taken over one Sunday a month and last week J-i-t-F had its furthest booking yet playing with London based group the Jazz Biscuits.

A young quartet, this is the sort of band to keep the spirit and music that is jazz alive today and will ensure its continual growth into the next millenium. With help from the National Lottery, the Biscuits have produced their first CD (available any day now) and are putting together a tour to promote it - but hey, Banbury is their first stop outside the great metropolis.

Their brilliant set contained a good mix of both well known standards and their own compositions. The standards (for example Night and Day, Stella By Starlight and Triste) were well put together and had a freshness that is not often heard these days. Such tunes as these also added credence to their own work which enjoyed such titles as Boot Snooglum and Flunscram. Personal favourites were the original Dylan's Ballad and Miles Davis' Walkin' - in fact there was a healthy number of Davis tunes that also included Milestones and Footprints.

The band is made up of Stephen Band on alto and soprano sax, Dylan Kay on guitars, Andy Marks on bass and David Bouet on drums. A great band to listen to; look out for them at festivals over the Summer, catch them in London, or, even nearer home, at The Swan on Monday May 4th in the afternoon.

As I was stuck behind the bar all afternoon I was lucky enough to hear all and watch audience reaction - and there were a few members of the local playing fraternity in who were mighty impressed and would not wish to follow the Jazz Biscuits on stage!

(By the way, lads, the Average White Band number Pick Up The Pieces, was the best version I've heard and makes for great beer serving music - a copy of this may help bar productivity in some of our more sloth-ful drinking establishments.)

Tim Wilson Quartet: 11 February 1998 & Robin Williamson: 13 February 1998

Hot on the heels of last week’s piece about The Hamsters, here is proof, if proof were needed of The Mill’s eclectic entertainment mix. Wednesday was the second one in the month and thus was Jazz-in-the-Foyer with Tim Wilson bringing his excellent quartet back for another airing. Thursday saw the theatre group Peepolykus and Friday the acoustic talents of Robin Williamson. Unfortunately I did not make the middle of this sandwich, but I can report on the others.

This was Tim Wilson’s third visit to The Mill in this guise and the quartet appear to be going from strength. It was also the best turnout yet for a Wednesday night audience which included many local jazz musicians. Included in this was singer and guitar player Tony Lewis who had a double celebration having come third in the Perrier Awards for singing, and, more importantly, he had just become a (proud) father - congratulations.

As for the band, they gave another good selection of standards. Stev tried out an new sound on his guitar, but I never got round to asking Tim what he thought of it. Tim’s flute playing was well received, especially on the Latinesque numbers (I’ve not used that term for some time!).

Robin Williamson on the Friday was different again. Quiet, relaxing and gently humorous, this was the perfect entertainment with which to unwind at the end of a hectic week. A founder member of The Incredible String Band, Robin played both harp and guitar (but not at the same time!).

The songs were interspersed with tales and ramblings of his life. Included were accounts of life on the road in the USA with John Renborn, attempts to enjoy life on the English Riviera and what to sing to an enthusiastic audience whilst performing in Spain. Tunes included The Blackbird, John Barleycorn (which involved audience singing) and The Irish Rover.

The only regret is that I did not get to Peepolykus.

The Hamsters: 6 February 1998

When I was in the fourth form at Grammar school I was the first to buy Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze (6s 8d) - in fact I don't know if there was a shortage on at the time, but I recall that I was given a copy of a recent number one of that year in return for the loan of Purple Haze for a weekend party. Why am I telling you this? Well memories of Hendrix were re-visited last Friday, along with those of ZZ Top when the Hamsters came to The Mill for what is becoming an annual event - and surely one of the bigger ones in the Mills eclectic calendar.

The Hamsters, who take their name from a pseudonym used by the Sex Pistols, have been touring far and near for many a year providing good ol' music for good ol' boys to have a good ol' time. They are Slim on guitar and vocals, Zsa Zsa on bass and Rev Otis on drums and as a threesome are perfectly poised to do homage to those great rocking trios, The Hendrix Experience and ZZ Top.

It would not be right to suggest that this is a covers band. Firstly they add their own particular nuances to even the most well-known of tunes, but also - and more importantly - nobody can play lead guitar like Slim and solely be interested in copying. Hendrix numbers especially rely as much on soul and emotion as they do on technical ability and Slim had it. Both the second and third sets demonstrated this admirably.

The first set of the evening was mainly their own work with such enjoyable titles as I Ain't Living Long Like This and You'll Never Get Me Up In One Of Those which is to be on their next CD. The second set was dedicated to Hendrix music and included Voodoo Chile, Hey Joe and (the memory inducing) Purple Haze. All Along The Watchtower had one of the longest intros of the night.

The third and final set were ZZ Top tunes, and every one a winner as they say. By this time the audience may well have cheered at anything, but the head bangers, air guitarists and pogo-ers were really into the music and there was not a body in the theatre that was moving in some way or another to the likes of Under Pressure, TV Dinners, Legs and Looking For Some Tush. When Jesus Left Chicago was my personal favourite of the evening with a really dirty, bluesy sound and some excellent solo work. The prize for most showy number has to go to Sharp Dressed Man that had Slim and Zsa Zsa, thanks to the miracle of radio technology, playing guitar amongst the crowd on the floor, their frets lit by flashing LED's and even swapping guitars so that Zsa Zsa completed on lead guitar. The encore of Give Me All Your Lovin' was just the icing on the cake.

A great band with a loyal and growing following. Book early next year as they sold out two weeks ago.

The single I was given back in 1967? At the risk of losing what street cred I might have left, it was I'm A Believer by The Monkees!

Siobhan Davies Dance Company: 2 May 1998

The Siobhan Davies Dance Company started their tenth anniversary tour this week at Oxford with two pieces, Eighty Eight and Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues. This was also the first item on the Spring '98 series of the Oxfrod Festival of Contemporary Music. The tie between these two is Conlon Nancarrow and his music.

Nancarrow, an American composer, wrote most of his music for player-piano (pianola) and exploited the technology of this machine to create sounds that could not be humanly produced on a piano. In Eighty Eight, the leaps and bounds of the music in structure and tempo provided the perfect aural backdrop for the dance company. Incidentally, the pianist for this piece was Rex Lawson who is not only a world authoritty on player pianos, but also has the longest beard in classical music!

The second piece of the evening was Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues. Originally created by Davies for the Rambert whilst she was an Associate Choreographer there, this won the Laurence Olivier Award in 1993. Inspired by the rhythms of the cotton mills, the music, by Frederic Rzewski is probably more accessible than the Nancarrow piece. The soundscape for the first part of the piece, a series of loops taken from recordings of actual water wheels turning and cotton machines working, was very impressive and created just the right ambience for the performance. I also liked the way that the lighting rig appeared on stage at or below dancers level to create interesting light and space effects.

Contemporary dance is an interesting medium to watch; in classical dance, the raison d'etre is clear, the structures exact. Contemporary dance allows the observer to make of it what you will. The performance may veer from interpretation of the music to the music interpreting the movement, to there being no need at all for sound. At one point you could have heard the provebial pin drop in the auditorium. It was also interesting to see the developemnt in contemporary dance in just the short number of years between Winnsboro (1992) and Eighty Eight (1998). The earlier piece was still moving out the 'lyrical' phase with lots of straight torsos; the later work used a lot more of the dancers upper body with some very distictive arm movements that are now 'very late nineties'

Contemporary Dance: 28 July 1998

It was good to see a mixture of people in the Mill Theatre last Tuesday, young and not so young, friends, relations and general public. Not unusual you may ask? Well, dance performances are not always the most well attended attractions in Banbury’s Arts Centre, but this was an exception. Not a large audience by any means, but a goodly mix that represented a cross-section of the population. The reason? They were all young, local, performers, most of whom have just completed two years at North Oxfordshire College on the BTEC National Diploma in Performing Arts Specialising in Dance.

The evening started with Alligator, a bright dance to See You Later Alligator, the rock’n’roll number by Bill Haley. A smile is a wonderful thing, and when they eventually broke out on the faces of the dancers, it lifted the piece considerably. Next was a solo by Emma Waller to music by Prince, followed by Jennifer Delve and Amber Honour with an amusing piece to two Abba tunes, Waterloo and Fernando. Jennifer then completed the first half with a solo piece to the sounds of Amampono and Bruch and Brahms violin concertos.

After the interval, Amber’s solo was to music by Bjork followed by an excellent piece entitle Spinning Wheel and danced to the singing of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Suzette Mills, the students tutor at College choreographed this. A short piece based on Tai Chi by Lucy Brain preceded the finale, as yet untitled, and featured Amber, Jennifer, Lucy and Claire Brain.

Dancing is much more than just appearing on stage and moving to the music. The amount of planning that goes into a successful performance includes not only untold hours of rehearsal, but also music, costume, lighting (aided by Andy Guttridge), advertising and programmes. Not only were many of the pieces choreographed by the dancers, but they were also responsible for all these other aspects as well.

Neither were they keen just to display these skills, though; this was an evening organised by the students especially to showcase the work of students who have been offered a place at university and who are seeking funding for tuition and maintenance fees.

I am unaware at how much they raised, but the wider issue of student funding is one that reaches students and parents alike. The training of a dancer must incur some costs, notable for clothing and footwear. This column is not the place for a political debate, but readers may wish to consider how they can help support students in general, and this art form in particular.

Oh – and a gripe. When will Banbury theatre audiences realise that bladder and thirst control ought to be practised? Many a good production has been marred by thoughtless people exiting during a performance – often to return a few moments later with either a look of relief on their face and/or a full glass in their hand.

We wish the dancers every success for their future, and let us hope that support for dance in the area continues to grow.

Britten Sinfonia - Bach Meets Zappa: 8 May 1998

The Oxford Contemporary Music Festival Spring series continues. Last Friday the Britten Sinfonia conducted by Stefan Asbury performed a programme entitled Bach meets Zappa at Oxford's Sheldonian Theatre.

To many, Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No 3 may have been an odd starting point for a concert celebrating contemporary music, but it was extremely well-placed as a reference point for some of the subsequent pieces as well as being a joy to hear in its own right.

Travelling forward a century or two, the second piece, Dumbarton Oaks, was written by Igor Stravinsky. Many parallels could be drawn between it and the Brandenburg Concerto though it is unclear as to whether Stravinsky was overtly influenced in writing the Concerto in E flat, or if the similarities were of a more subliminal nature.

The first half ended with Piece No 2 for small orchestra by Conlon Nancarrow. Nancarrow is the 'featured' composer of this Spring series - his music was used in the previous week's performance by the Siobhan Davies Dance Company. Unlike the music then, this Piece No 2 was not written for the player-piano, but was heavily influenced by it. Written in 1986, modern musicians were/are far more accepting of the sort of challenges that Nancarrow sets that had previously been too much for mere mortals. An exciting piece performed with great skill by the Sinfonia.

The second half opened with Eight Lines by modern minimalist composer Steve Reich. Originally scored as Octet for one string quartet, the composer added a second string quartet to ease the difficulty of rather awkward double stops. An excellent performance that was fascinating to watch as well as to hear.

The highlight of the evening for the vast majority of the audience, and the orchestra if facial expressions is anything to go by, were the four Zappa pieces arranged by Philip Cashian, Igor's Boogie, Uncle Meat, Alien Orifice and Black Page No2. The appearance of Zappa's work in the contemporary classical repertoire is now not uncommon. These pieces are fun, not at all out of place and let us hope that more will be come in the future.

All in all a good evening of music, nothing too inaccessible, indeed quite on the contrary for most of the pieces. The Britten Sinfonia are a versatile orchestra and under the conductor-ship of Stefan Asbury should continue to grow in importance as one the country's best promoter of contemporary classical music. I hope they put this out on CD.

John Dankworth: 20 October 1998

The biggest audience since Dick Morrisey filled the Gullivers Bar for the twenty-fifth anniversary six years ago, Banbury Jazz Club was packed to the gunnels on the 20th. Why? One of the founding fathers of the British post-war jazz, John Dankworth, had come to help the packed audience celebrate 31 years of BJC - and what a night! Out had gone the tables; row upon row of chairs were crammed into the small bar area - and even a new sign. So tightly packed were they that some on the front row were literally under the cymbal of the drummer.

It was soon evident that with a career spanning over fifty years, the seventy-one year old had not lost any of his flame when playing, nor his charm when talking. Starting with You Stepped Out Of A Dream, the tempo of which could have led to the substitution of Stepped with the word Leapt, the band were, musically, introduced.

At once the audience were smiling, their eager faces anticipating the feast ahead - and what a feast there was (better stop this analogy - sorry Silenus!). Instantly the chatting stopped, attention focussed intensely on the saxophone player, necks craned over the tops of the many rows in front, heads peered round the columns, all wanted to see the great man!

If the applause at this point was proof enough of audience appreciation, when Mr Dankworth took the Basie style minimal riff in Moten Swing and used it to spar with Tom Hill on double bass, such was the response from some of the more vociferous members of the audience that others looked on rather disconcerted - well it is not the sort of thing expected at Banbury Jazz Club; well, why not?

But let us not be totally carried away with this adulation! John did not give a solo performance, but was backed by the John Patrick Trio, a combination that has played at BJC often - and received with much delight. As well as the incomparable Mr Patrick at the piano, Tony Richards was on the drums and Tom Hill on double bass.

The first set continued with Cole Porter's So Nice to Come Home To and then a bossa version of Lover Man. The second set began with a tune associated with one of Mr D's early heroes, Benny Goodman, Stompin'At The Savoy and ended with Donna Lee.

Just before this the man behind the thirty one years of BJC, Pete Lay played Wee Dot with the quartet. Was this his finest hour? He preceded it with the note that this was the signature tune that used in Club Eleven, started by John Dankworth and Ronnie Scott and others in 1949 - and that in the audience on the first night was BJC stalwart, Gerry Dibsdale

All good things come to an end. Two of the rules of musical entertainment are: leave the audience wanting more, and make them leave whistling or humming the tunes. I think it is safe to say that in both cases, these objectives were achieved. A great night. A big thank you to the Musicians Union, Cherwell District Council, Banbury House Hotel and Record Savings who all help to keep what must be one of, if not the, oldest, provincial jazz clubs in Britain. Now, all of you who turned out then, keep coming, help keep good music live!

Ivor Uff: 15 September 1998

A couple, along with the woman’s brother, came and sat at the table. It turned out that they were visiting, from America. “Where else is there live jazz this week?” asked the husband. Coming from Seattle (a small city apparently, by American standards) they were used to picking and choosing where to go to listen to good jazz. Could they do that here? There were a couple of things going on in Oxford, though these may difficult to find and not necessarily in the city centre; failing that, London or Birmingham are your only possibilities.

Travelling to hear jazz, is becoming the accepted norm. Only the larger connurbations can provide the size of audience that will keep the music alive. But, travelling to play? Well it seems that this is also the case if this month’s band were any example. The Ivor Uff trio, with Pete Lay, came from far (and near). Ivor, one time Banbury resident, now lives in Dover, bass player Tony Kilkenny came up from Weymouth and drummer Mike Cox travelled over from Aylesbury. I have found this travelling distances to be the case with Jazz in the Foyer at The Mill. One member may be local, but many come from further afield and if you wish to hire good, young musicians, then your search has to centre on London.

This line up was the same as Ivor’s ‘Farewell to Banbury’ gig two years ago, and despite the gap, they still played well together. A collection of old favourites (the tunes that is!), the audience were soon tapping feet, bouncing legs and nodding heads along to the likes of I’m Old Fashioned and Smoke Gets In Your Eyes. Pete’s flute appeared for Satin Doll and Fly Me To The Moon and Van Heusen was composer of the night with three of his tunes featured - Here’s That Rainy Day, I Thought About You and It Could Happen To You. Joky Title of The Evening award went to Dover Soul, which, we were informed, ended on a bottom G, not readily available on a saxophone.

Ivor’s piano is always good to listen to and the audience, including the company at my table, enjoyed the evening. They went on their way, probably to try London before heading back to the States. If you don’t want to travel that far, try The Mill on Sunday 27th (lunch time) or on October 9th (evening). The following Tuesday (October 13th) is the BJC Anniversary with John Dankworth and the John Patrick Trio. This promises to be a great evening, but get there early!