Conductor: Ray McVay
Reviewer: James Garrington
In December 1944, a small aircraft disappeared over the English Channel. On board was renowned band leader Major Glenn Miller. Fortunately, his music did not disappear with him, and 70 years on, there are still tribute bands keeping the tradition alive. Very popular music it is, too – to fill Birmingham’s Symphony Hall on a damp January afternoon takes some doing, and the UK’s own Glenn Miller Orchestra achieved just that.
Over the course of a fairly lengthy programme the band presents a selection of music in the traditional Miller style. Some of the numbers are well known, and easily associated with Glenn Miller – others not so, including some more recent stuff given the Miller treatment. Most of the well-known numbers crop up as expected, including American Patrol, Little Brown Jug, Tuxedo Junction and Pennsylvania 65000 as well as the Miller standard Moonlight Serenade. Despite having only 16 on stage, they manage to achieve a fairly authentic Miller sound, albeit a little thin at times, and with one or two balance issues early on.
Among the expected programme there are a few surprises, with mixed results including an interesting version of My Favourite Things from The Sound of Music in Miller style. Glenn Miller was also fond of dabbling with the classics, and the orchestra duly present one of his efforts – a syncopated swing version of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto which doesn’t really work, and seems out of place among the usual big band programme.
With the orchestra, there are vocalists, led off by veteran Colin Anthony presenting A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square. Anthony crops up from time to time throughout, including a pleasant little Sinatra set comprising For Once in My Life, Come Fly With Me and New York, New York as well as duetting with band member Ray Wordsworth on Me and My Shadow and Birth of the Blues. Wordsworth also performs a pretty decent version of What a Wonderful World. By comparison, Catherine Sykes feels underused, presenting an enjoyable As Time Goes By as well as a somewhat misjudged Get Happy, which doesn’t really suit her voice. Anthony and Sykes are joined by three members of the orchestra to form The Moonlight Serenaders, their own version of Glenn Miller’s Modernaires. As a group, they perform a couple of Modernaires favourites, Chattanooga Choo Choo and Perfidia with some good harmoniesthough the mix of voices prevents them from achieving the brightness of the original Modernaires sound.
The Jiving Lindy Hoppers add a lot of energy to proceedings, with some vigorous and acrobatic routines to accompany Jumpin’ at the Woodside and Running Wild as well as a nicely controlled gentle – genteel almost – Jersey Bounce. The orchestra is at its best, though, when they just play the traditional big band repertoire and one of the highlights is a haunting version of My Hero.
Overall, the Glenn Miller Orchestra provides a pleasant, nostalgic and clearly very popular afternoon’s entertainment.
Reviewed on 2 January 2016 | Image: Contributed