Perth Festival of the Arts kicks off this Thursday with a programme - that thanks to the recent re-opening of Perth Theatre - is even more packed at the seams with entertainment than ever before! I’m going to pop along to review (among others) Ruby Wax, Jools Holland and Elephant Sessions with Siobhan Miller and Fara. In the meantime I have put together some edited highlights from the time I spent at the Festival last year. It was the first multi-act event that I reviewed, and I have to admit that at the time, I found the schedule daunting. I was still working a regular day job and studying music part time at college and was so excited when presented with a list of great events to chose from that I went a bit crazy, forgetting that I had to review them when the concert was over.
Perth Festival is a great place to try new things though and I thoroughly enjoyed my first ever Jazz concert courtesy of Alison Burns and Martin Taylor (who remains the best guitarist I’ve ever seen live). I also got a huge kick out of seeing my groovy late night TV hero Jools Holland and his fantastic orchestra and comedian Marcus Brigstocke raised more than a chuckle, although it turns out writing about comedy wasn’t as easy as I thought.
As things kick off it soon becomes apparent that guitarist Martin Taylor has a great deal of skill as a musician and arranger, not to mention one of the most beautiful silky smooth guitar tones you have ever heard. On second song, ‘The One I Love Belongs to Somebody Else’, he really brings the swing, and his impressive solo elicits a well deserved round of applause. When Taylor mentions that he has worked with Joe Pass and was playing with legendary violinist Stefan Grapelli as early as 1979 no-one is in the least bit surprised. He is that good.
With some great blues fills from Martin and the spine-tingling vocals by Alison do the cracking slightly wry lyrics justice.
By the time ‘I’ve Got the World On A String’ strikes up, the duo have the audience in the palm of their hands, with a lovely vocal from Alison and some truly arduous looking chord shapes from Martin. A brief solo instrumental interlude follows with just Mr. Taylor on guitar and a version of ‘I’m Old Fashioned’ that is both technically amazing and extremely entertaining.
After a very brief interval the second half gets things jumping with crowd pleasers ‘I Got Rhythm’ and ‘Cheek to Cheek’. The song I really love though is the bluesy ‘I’m Just A Lucky So-and-So’ with some great blues fills from Martin and the spine-tingling vocals by Alison do the cracking slightly wry lyrics justice. “If you should ask me the amount in my bank account, I’d have to confess that I’m slipping”. I’ve just checked my bank balance and it seems that people in 2017 are still having the same problems as people in 1945 when this song was written. Only difference is that we can find out we’re poor from the comfort of our own smart phones! Next song My ‘Old Flame’ was originally written for Mae West and features another impressive vocal performance and also some lovely harmonics from Mr. Taylor.
The night had really flown by and before I know it Alison and Martin are performing an encore of Gershwins ‘Lady be Good’ and we are heading back down The Loft stairs to the street, my mother (acting as gig buddy this evening) remarking on how impressed she is that club goers can navigate them after a nights drinking when she’s struggling after just a couple of glasses of prosecco.
During the first song Midnight Special I started to get a sense of the sheer scale of the big band. Of course I’ve seen them and heard them on the TV, but here I could really feel them as well. Soon we get a bit of audience participation as Jools shouts out the name of some Jazz and Blues greats and plays the one we cheer the loudest. Louis Armstrong wins and the trumpet player Jon Scott takes a brief but lovely solo, Jools tickles the ivories and, in fine voice it must be said, sings the lead.
It would be remiss of me not to point out that Jools orchestra features two of the most talented and beautiful backing singers you have ever seen or heard, both of who sing lead on a couple of songs. First up is Beth Rowley with a jazzy rendition of the Jools penned song ‘Just To Be Home’. This is followed by a roof-raising performance of a Bessie Smith song ‘Gimme a Pigfoot' featuring a harmonica solo from Rowley. After stripping things back with a massive drum solo from the great Gilson Lavis, who was hitting those skins like a cross between ‘The Man With The Golden Arm’ and Whiplashes dad! It's time for Louise Marshall to take the spotlight with a piano and drums arrangement of ‘Waterloo Bridge. Next up is a reggae infused version of ‘Plaisir D’amour’, with a stonking bass-line that has just a hint of ‘I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You’ thrown in. It’s a fitting showcase for Louise’s impressive vocal talents.
Soon Jool's old Squeeze bandmate Chris Difford takes the stage and we are treated to great arrangements of Squeeze classics ‘Pulling Muscles From The Shell’ and ‘Cool For Cats’, plus new song ‘Fat as a Fiddle’. Difford gives way to the awesome and beautiful Ruby Turner who has one of greatest voices I’ve ever heard. The closest thing I can think of to her performance is Margie Hendricks in the way she really swings for the fences and leaves it all out there on the stage. Ruby’s part of the show has some really great song selections, songs like ‘Let The Good Times Roll’ (which allowed me and my pal Big John to try out our backing vocals, we’ve still got it!), ‘Peace In The Valley’ and my favourite ‘Worried Man’. After an encore that included the Jools singalong staple ‘Enjoy Yourself’ the happy and musically satiated Perth audience file out of auditorium tired from clapping and singing along.
It turns out that the Long Face of the title is both literally and metaphorical. There’s no two ways about it, Marcus Brigstocke literally has a long face. He can do a passable impression of both the Easter Island Statue and, without his glasses, Tweeter from The Muppets. If you put a gun to my head and forced me to come up with and adjective to describe his face I’d probably go with “protracted”.
The show ends with Marcus putting Purple Rain on his portable record player breaking out his cheeseboard and getting naked from the waist down and tucking in.
The long face of the title also refers to Mr. Brigstocke’s unhappiness with the political goings on of the last couple of years and he uses the first half of the show to vent to great comic effect. This mild rant takes in his frustration with Brexit, the resurgence of the Tories and the fact that there is now a “perverted orange oompah loompah” in the Whitehouse. He also talks about Boris Johnson’s appointment as Foreign Secretary, who he says even took Prince Phillip aback causing him to remark “Are you sure? He’s quite racist!” This in turn prompts a pretty good Barack Obama impression.
After the interval, things lighten up a bit and Marcus does a wee bit of audience participation asking, “Who is happier now than they’ve ever been?” The Perth audience is on really good form. One man is particularly happy because he had mint choc chip ice-cream at half-time. When asked if he could have anyone in the world feed him mint choc chip ice-cream, he replies without any hesitation “Scarlett Johansen”. Another guy is really happy because he does paintings of bears and one lady is celebrating the anniversary of her organ transplant. A young lady was happy a while ago but now… not so much. “Why’s that?” Marcus asks. “Because my boyfriend said he wants Scarlett Johansen to feed him ice-cream.”
The show ends with Marcus putting Purple Rain on his portable record player breaking out his cheeseboard and getting naked from the waist down and tucking in. He covers his modesty with the sleeve of “Velvet Underground and Nico” and feeds cheese to the front row. It’s a fitting if slightly surreal end to an evening of cracking comedy. Although I have to admit that when the grapes fell off the cheeseboard, I was glad he didn’t bend over to pick them up!
To see the full line up for this year's Perth Festival of the Arts check out our event listing >>>
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