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BBC Big Band Divas with Claire Martin – Royal Hall, Harrogate

Reviewer: Matt Stimpson


The beautiful surroundings of Harrogate Royal Hall are playing host to the BBC big band tonight, with guest vocalist Claire Martin taking us on a journey to visit the songs of the divas from bands gone by.

The BBC big band is one of the world’s premiere big bands, and tonight they are directed by their long standing conductor, Barry Forgie, who puts the audience at ease right away and is a wonderful jazz historian throughout the evening, passing on his expertise for all to share.

From the opening strains of This could be something big, the band are on top form, their playing is tight, and their soloing is impressive throughout the band, with a special mention to Paul Harrison on piano. The balance of sound takes a little while to settle, but once it is you can pick out every detail.

As the band get into their stride we hear Greasy sack blues, before the duet Stardust, featuring Mike Lovatt and Andy Greenwood on trumpets, with rich sounds and intelligent phrasing coming to the fore.

After hearing some great improvisation from Dave O’Higgins on tenor sax in Big swing face, we are introduced to Claire Martin, Martin is an engaging soloist who is able to change musical genre at the drop of a hat, one minute we are in the husky tones of Fever, the next minute the rich and virtuosic Kansas City Blues, before the whole audience is drawn in by The very thought of you.

Some excellent ensemble and vocal interplay in a number of items quickly brings us to the end of Martin’s first set, leaving the best till last, with the exciting Out of my continental mind, complete with rhythmical stabs from the band and an extremely enjoyable and rhythmic vocal performance.

The first half comes to a close with a fantastic rendition of Porgy and Bess, which encapsulates the first half, a performance full of dynamic contrasts, rhythmic interplay and top class solos from around the band.

The second half gets off to a cracking start with Love for sale, with special mentions to Mike Hope, Martin Shaw (who was on imperious form all night) and Tom Gordan who provides rhythmic drive in many pieces tonight, particularly In the still of the night.

The intricacy and projection of the soloists throughout the evening is impressive, and not to be outdone, Malcolm McFarlane steps out from the rhythm section to deliver Once I had a secret love, on electric guitar.

The second half flies by, with special mention to Mike Felton and Andy Wood for their interplay in Old Rockin’ chair, and to Ashley Horton for some great alto sax playing.

Martin then returns and smacks us between the eyes with some powerful vocals, before becoming reflective and delicate in The man that got away.

After featuring so many vocalists in the evening, we finally reach Ella Fitzgerald, with two classics, It’s too darn hot and That old black magic, once again showing assured and exciting vocal performances, with a band on top form.

The encore is a very clever and descriptive arrangement of Come fly with me by Forgie, with some stunning, sensitive playing from vocalist and band, bringing to a close a highly enjoyable evening.


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