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Carry on Swinging – Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds

Musical Director: Chris Dean

Reviewer: Flip Miller


Chris Dean’s Syd Lawrence Orchestra has been voted the Best Big Band in the UK for over a decade and from the start of the show you can see why. As soon as Chris Dean comes onto the stage and the orchestra starts with Gershwin’s Strike Up the Band, the compact Theatre Royal fills with the familiar sounds of yesteryear.

Syd Lawrence started the orchestra in 1967 to revive the big band swing sounds from the war time. On Syd’s retirement in 1996 he handed the reigns over to Chris Dean who has been leading the orchestra ever since. Now in its 45th year the orchestra is still going from strength to strength. Dean says “Syd ran the band with passion and I try to do the same”.

His passion is evident from the moment he walks on stage and starts the band playing. He is like a master puppeteer bringing his marionettes to life. With one flick of his wrist the trombones start up, another move of the wrist and the saxophones rise from their seats.

The orchestra is made up of some very talented individuals and most of them perform solos throughout the show. A couple of the orchestra members have even featured in this year’s Proms concerts. Dean does announce them but it is sometimes hard to hear the names over the clapping of the audience.

Drummer, Mike Smith’s solo in Sing, Sing, Sing was of particular note. It was certainly a test of stamina. The solo lasted for some minutes and left the Orchestra looking on as Mike demonstrated his versatile talents on his given instrument.

At various points throughout the show the orchestra are joined by Angie Mills who belted out some fine tunes. She starts off a little tentatively but once she relaxes her true talents came to the fore. Her singing voice is ideally suited to belting out these big numbers. Angie has been with the band for 10 years and says “It is great to be standing on stage and have such a talented band behind me”

No evening of big band music would be complete without a comment about the music itself. The music is an inspired mix of popular and perhaps not so well known tunes. From Baubles, Bangles and Beads to Favourite Things you really do find yourself tapping your foot along to the music. Even some of the tunes – like the Wood Choppers Ball and Moonlight Serenade – you may not know by name you will certainly recognise certain the tunes.

The theatre was packed with young and old alike. Dean said “It is great to see so many people here tonight. It makes all the work worthwhile”.

The show was a real feel good show and the music was so powerful. It certainly raised the roof of the Theatre Royal. The orchestra so accomplished and the music was so inspiring. It really is the perfect antidote to the doom and gloom of this economic climate.


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