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CMP Entertainment presents




Cadogan Hall


Conductor “SGT” Steve Parry


Choreographer Lizzie Sianni


Oct 29, 2010


On tour until July 31, 2011









A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!


Simply Big Band, described as ‘the dazzling new two hour roller-coaster ride through the golden age of the American big amazing extravaganza of Music, Song and Dance,’ is a good – natured, energetic show, featuring a large, talented group of musicians, three singers and a number of smiling dancers, currently touring throughout the UK. We caught up to the show at London’s Cadogan Hall.

From reviews I’ve written in the past of bands like Iggy Pop and the Stooges and Toots and the Maytals, the WOMAD festival and other assorted musical acts and events, you might think I’m heading up the path to premature old age deciding to attend such a show, let alone write about it. However, as every wise person comes to realise, nothing exists in the present which does not stem from our past, so I, being a fervent fan of a great song, whatever its era, was there on the night.

As the show promised to take us ‘from the raging razzmatazz of Harlem’s Cotton Club in the 20’s, to the halcyon post-war days of swing and Sinatra’s bobby-sox girls, and the glamorous glitz of Las Vegas in the swinging 60s,’ I was ready to travel ‘back to when music meant magical songs, larger – than – life performers and legendary venues,’ even though in this case, all of the later pre-date me. As a young man, long before I was born, my late father had frequented New York’s Cotton Club, and his love of Duke Ellington and music of that era permeated my childhood; likewise, my mother’s love of Sinatra and ‘40’s music was passed down through her singing of some of seminal songs like ‘Stardust’.  However, as my ‘press’ seat was beneath the overhang, I was not in a position to be able to fully appreciate the photos and rare footage of 1930’s N.Y. Cotton Club dancers, ‘40’s swing era singers and jivers, Sinatra, or the Vegas Rat Pack, so I was forced to rely on their tributary counterparts to get ‘in the mood.’ Unfortunately, I can’t say that was always fully realised, despite the fact that as a second hand fan of much of the music being played, I was actually, eager to hear it.

That said, the band consisted of excellent musicians, all three singers, Matthew Ford, Su Yeo and Chris Herbert were on form, though not always suited to their material (some of which could do with rearranging or replacing) and the dancers were chipper and impressively agile, though their choreography could, in places, also do with a revamp as it seemed a tad stale at times, possibly, due to the length and demands of their tour. But before you decide to sidestep this show in future, just because of one audience member’s rather self-important, sour-grapes (due to seating) opinion, please read on.

The opening overture of this programme, a full on, Big Band instrumental cavalcade from the twenty-six piece orchestra was truly, ‘electrifying’ as the programme stated, no doubt, even more so for those with a decent view of the accompanying footage, and the first number with the dapper and spangled dancers, ‘Sing, Sing, Sing a Benny Goodman staple, performed with great verve and panache. And although excitement levels generated by subsequent numbers tended to vary, according to individual pieces, Compére Matthew Ford, ‘widely regarded as one of the finest big band singers in the UK’ shone on stellar renderings of ‘Stardust’ and ‘All of Me,’ on which his personable delivery was reminiscent of Tony Bennett’s, blended with the easy swinging with the band ability of Frank Sinatra.  It was no surprise to learn that Mr. Ford is a past recipient of the Ronnie Scott Award for ‘Best UK Male Vocalist’ (2005). Su Yeo’s rendition of Julie London’s classic version of ‘Cry Me a River’ and the youngest singer of the trio, Chris Herbert’s ambitious undertaking of Ray Charles’ hit, ‘Georgia,’ which hinted at a range far between his inherent boy band tendencies (which the soulfulness of time may enable him to shed) were among other big moments from this highly professional troupe. That said, it must be added that none of these fine singers impersonates anyone, but rather, adapts their own well trained voices to the aforementioned styles.

In the second half of the show, a ’TV Themes’ segment, encompassing ‘The Pink Panther’, ‘Mission Impossible’ and music from other hit shows as performed by the band went down a treat, as did Matthew Ford’s spirited interpretation of Cab Calloway’s classic, ‘Minnie the Moocher’ on which the audience joined in the singing of the infectious chorus. However, ‘Magenta Haze’ a beautiful, but oft neglected Duke Ellington composition faithfully recreated by the band, with appropriately placed high hats on trumpets and trombones, was one of the show’s lingering high points. The Beatles ‘Something’ in this case, attributed to late drumming powerhouse Buddy Rich, was appropriately upbeat in order to suggest the ‘60’s penchant for jazzy re-arranging of ballads.

For all its traversing of time periods, this non-linear show tends to confuse, rather than enlighten in regard to its’ historical trajectory of America’s juke-box, so it’s safe to say that it assumes a certain knowledge of the songs and eras being touched on by its audiences, as one’s internal filing cabinet is constantly either challenged, or taken for granted, depending on one’s level of focus and/or interest during various segments. While on the one hand, I can understand why the show is performed in this way, possibly in order to prevent those with a liking for songs from one era from walking out on others, I believe it seriously detracts from the potential excitement level of the show and prevents younger people from learning as much as they might have from it. Though one friendly elderly lady sitting nearby commented, with a chuckle, ‘look at all the pensioners,’ that isn’t necessarily a given for a show advertised as being ‘a night out for all the family.’

For listeners, musical arrangements are like clothing – if they try something on and it doesn’t suit them more than what they were already wearing, they don’t buy it. The same could be said of over performed classics like Peggy Lee’s ‘Fever’ which would be better left out of the programme than speeded up into a version that hovers dangerously close to being totally corny. Su Yeo has a voice capable of performing many songs, providing their arrangements are ones befitting her fine vocals.

Conductor Steve Parry is a man of many talents. In addition to leading this versatile band, he is also their arranger, solo trumpeter and, according to our host, a pianist and drummer. On this occasion, however, his trumpet underscored emotions that could only have been enacted via that particular instrument, at appropriate moments in many a standard. Backing Parry through every moment of this throwback programme was the solid rhythm section consisting of Andrzej Baranek on piano, Nick Blacka on double bass, Bob Howard on drums and Anthony Ormesher on electric guitar. 

I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve been privileged to have seen musical legends like Duke Ellington, Count Basey, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Buddy Rich, Benny Goodman and other stars of their era performing live, amid all the singing along and amazingly uninhibited lindy-hopping in the aisles that their enthusiastic crowds of fans, largely made up of those who were there ‘back then’, the only ones really capable of reconstructing and/or putting such times into context enacted.

Simply Big Band, a fond trip through the American music landscape, though somewhat diminished by its’ non-linear approach and occasional fizzling moments, is, nonetheless, buoyed up by definitive renditions of classics like Ellington’s, ‘Take the A Train’ on which you’d be hard-pressed to find a  more exciting version than the driving one this superb band performs here. And though many years have passed since, this tributary show is first and foremost, inspired by times well worth revisiting, when songs really meant the world to many, around the world.


London - Cadogan Hall
Sloane Terrace, London, SW1X 9DQ.

Fri 29 October, 7.30pm


Tour dates:

Cambridge - Corm Exchange
Sat 12 February 2011, 7.30pm
Tickets: £22.50, £26.00, £28.50
How to Book: In person at the Corn Exchange box office 3 Parsons Court, Wheeler Street,
Cambridge, CB2 3QE
. Alternatively; call 01223 357 851 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              01223 357 851      end_of_the_skype_highlighting or click
Cardiff – St David’s Hall
Sun 13 February 2011, 7.30pm
Tickets: £24.50, £26.50 & £28.50
How to Book: In person at the St David’s Hall box office The Hayes, Cardiff, CF10 1SH. Alternatively; call 0292 087 8444 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              0292 087 8444      end_of_the_skype_highlighting or click


Sheffield – City Hall
Sat 27 February 2011, 7.30pm
Tickets:  £24.50 & £28.50
How to Book: In person at the City Hall box office Barkers Pool, Sheffield, S1 2JA. Alternatively; call 0114 2789 789 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              0114 2789 789      end_of_the_skype_highlighting or click


Aberdeen – Music Hall
Fri 1 July 2011, 7.30pm
Tickets: £25.50 & £28.50
How to Book: In person at the Music Hall box office, Union Street, Aberdeen, AB10 1QS. Alternatively; call 01224 641122 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              01224 641122      end_of_the_skype_highlighting or click

Glasgow – Royal Concert Hall
Sat 2 July 2011, 7.30pm
Tickets: £25.50 & £28.50
How to Book:  In person at the Royal Concert Hall box office, 2 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow,
G2 3NY
. Alternatively; call 0141 353 8000 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              0141 353 8000      end_of_the_skype_highlighting or click


Edinburgh – Usher Hall
Sat 30 July 2011, 7.30pm Part of Edinburgh Jazz Festival.
Tickets: £24.50, £26.50 & £28.50
How to Book; In person from the Usher Hall box office, Lothian Road, Edinburgh, EH1 2EA. Alternatively, call 0131 228 1155 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              0131 228 1155      end_of_the_skype_highlighting or click







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