REVIEW: Jazz for Labour at the Barbican

Soweto Kinch, John Etheridge, Courtney Pine, Andy Sheppard, Arun Ghosh
Jazz For Labour, Barbican, Feb 2015
Photo credit: © Mick Destino

Jazz for Labour
(Barbican Hall, 27th February 2015. Review by Brian Blain)


An astonishing assembly of talent, emulating a similar concert in New York by US musicians in support of Obama in 2012 filled the Barbican Concert Hall last Friday in an impressive show of support for The Labour Party under the strapline of ‘Fairness and Diversity, surely banishing for ever the old jibe about Labour’s obsession with trad.

From the opening slot, an astonishing tour de force of multiphonics, circular breathing and looping from Andy Sheppard standing dramatically alone on the vast stage, right through to the glorious finale of Courtney Pine, the UK’s James Brown of jazz, dragging Sheppard, Jay Phelps and Arun Ghosh on stage to join his guitar and percussion-heavy band to get the normally serious crowd on its feet in an unembarrassed display of fist-pumping to rhythmic chants of Unity, we had been treated to as thrilling a cross-section of talent, as broad and deep as anywhere in the world.

Arun Ghosh, Jazz For Labour, Barbican, Feb 2015
Photo credit:© Mick Destino


Just to hear Arun Ghosh’s cheery South Manchester accent explaining the Bengali folk origins of one of his band’s exciting tunes summed up, for me, the beautifully inclusive vibe of the whole eveningand a spirit of togertherness that is the jazz culture at its best.

Not all was heady excitement in a crowd pleasing way. Juliet Kelly,with sensitive accompaniment from Kate Williams followed Sheppard’s virtuosic opening with song inspired by the story of a mother’s escape with her children from slavery in the Deep South, Christine Tobin, majestic warm and wonderfully authentic, as ever, gave us a Brazilian song by Milton Nascimento and one by Leonard Cohen, Famous Blue Raincoat while someone new to me,the stunningly statuesque Vimala Rowe, with the excellent Alex Webb Café Society Band, after a bawdy vaudevillian number, climbed the Everest of lacerating musical social comment, Stange Fruit, and won; a tremendously brave and convincing performance.and yet another example from the history of late thirties Café Society’s breaking down of racial barriers, of jazz’s radical roots.

Claire Martin, Jazz For Labour, Barbican, Feb 2015
Photo credit:© Mick Destino


Three of the greats, Liane Carroll, Claire Martin and Ian Shaw had solo spots, and Ian had some sharp thoughts on the Commonwealth’s tolerance of the persecution of homosexuals, in contrast to his normal pinsharp wit, which was followed by the three singers leading us in a bout of community singing on You’ve Got a Friend, the Carole King classic. Not jazz? Who cares? We know they can do it and we love the way they canget down with the rest of us mortals and just have a good time.

Of the instrumental ‘real’ jazz offerings Tim Garland’s scratch quartet reminded us that there is a lot more to him than the neo-classical influences of his own music, and to hear the great John Marshall roaring on Afro Blue, on the big stage where he rightly belongs was a rare treat:bassist Gary Crosby looked as if he thought so as well. And with guitarist Phil Robson laying down the harmonic base this sounded as good as any permanent group any where-onl real musicianship produces results like these in such a high powered situation.

John Prescott, Daris Brubeck, Rachel Reeves
Jazz For Labour, Barbican, Feb 2015
Photo credit: ©Mick Destino

Darius Brubeck’s band was a delight too, and after a dreamy Latin-esque backbeat feel tune he dedicated Ghost of A Chance to John Prescott, whose half time pep talk, alongside rising Labour star Rachel Reeves, had included the own up that he was a musical conservative - as if we didn’t know John. A reminder here of what a beautiful tenor player Dave O’Higgins is and why bassist Matt Ridley is making waves all over town. He cropped up again in the totally different context of Soweto Kinch’s team of radicals,with another magnificent drummer, Shaney Forbes and Jay Phelps, who can blast like an Eldridge when he wants but here was suitably down and moody on the opener when I imagine Prescott would have been enjoying himself at the bar in hearfelt escape.

Ah yes, Soweto Kinch-a marvellous player and socially aware musician yet here he was following that with a rumbustious rap based on words shouted out by the crowd, beginning with he letters L-A-B-O-U-R. Great fun and the acknowledgement that sometimes you just have to let showbiz rule. For once, another of jazz’s great wits, supreme guitarist John Etheridge was lost for words but his Goodbye Pork Pie Hat said all that was needed. Altogether an inspiring evening which was the brain child of one-time MP, who hopes to be again, Bob Blizzard and which would not have been the smoothly run occasion had it not been for a number of people working together to make it happen, notably Alex Webb.

Jazz For Labour producer Bob Blizzard, Barbican, Feb 2015
Photo credit: © Mick Destino

5 comments:

  1. Deirdre Cartwright writes:

    "the beautifully inclusive vibe of the whole evening and a spirit of togertherness that is the jazz culture at its best."

    A concert for Labour under the title 'Fairness and Diversity'. Inclusive of whom? Diverse for whom? Where are the women instrumentalists? There are now more talented women instrumentalists than I can ever recall on the jazz scene. Yet again in 2015 I see a bill that is an unfair representation.

    Deirdre Cartwright

    Putting my coat on and looking for the nearest racehorse to throw myself under…

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    1. Dear Deirdre,
      Did you volunteer to play, I know that the schedule became tight and many of the musicians who volunteered couldn't be included and those included men too. As you will know if you attended the show over-ran as it was. In the line up were two women pianists, trumpet, guitar and a number of vocal

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    3. Artists.... I find your narcissistic self comparison to the sad death of a suffragette quite disturbing and disrespectful. Not only to the many female artists who supported this event by their voluntary participation in J4L but also to women as a whole and those who fought for our vote.

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  2. Ian Shaw's amazing 'There's a Place for Us' must get a mention - my Tory but jazz loving friend was genuinely moved by it as was everyone in our otherwise Labour supporting party! John Prescott was a bit embarrassing - new Labour?!

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