NEWS/ FEATURE: Mica Paris announced as soloist for Guy Barker's Big Band Christmas (Royal Albert Hall, 10 December)

Mica Paris:
Announced today as soloist for Guy Barker's Big Band Christmas
Photo courtesy of artist

MICA PARIS - it is announced today - will be joining the list of soloists for the second “Guy Barker's Big Band Christmas” on Sunday 10 December. 

The first show last December went well, to say the least. Royal Albert Hall has stated that it was “one of the biggest successes of the hall’s winter season.”

This second edition will also feature singers GEORGIE FAME, JOE STILGOE, TONY MOMRELLE and 
CLARE TEAL - who will also co-present with Guy Barker - and clarinettist GIACOMO SMITH. 

GUY BARKER talked about the preparations for this year's show to Sebastian:


“I love the Royal Albert Hall, who doesn't!” says Guy Barker. As is the case for all musically inclined Londoners, the hall has special associations for him. Barker's vivid memories of it go back to his youth: “I remember my very first Prom. I queued up when I was 14 or 15 years old. I managed to get up to the very front for the Rite of Spring. and was just amazed.” And he remembers his father took him to hear Benny Goodman with his British band. “I was just mesmerized by the building...”

These days he tends to experience it from the conductor's rostrum rather than down in the arena:
“When you stand on the stage down there you look up at this vast space - but the feeling on the stage can be quite intimate... you could be in your front room,” he quips.

One key participant in this year's show is the Godfather of UK soul, Georgie Fame. He has that star quality, a way of stepping naturally and effortlessly into the limelight. Guy Barker's big band has been his band of choice for many years. And, as visitors to their sell-out residencies at Ronnie Scott's will testify, the thrill and magnetism are all still there.

And Mica Paris? “She is such a powerful singer. The way she sings, the Royal Albert Hall is the perfect place!” Guy Barker had met Mica Paris several times quite a few years ago, but their paths crossed more recently when they were on adjacent tables at an awards event, and got talking. A series of projects together have ensued. They have both enjoyed the work they have done together, up to and including the recent recording of a centenary tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, and the Jazz Voice show at the London Jazz Festival just a few days ago. And what will Mica Paris be singing? “A Christmas number, but when we got talking about this show she just turned to me and said : 'It's got to be Hallelujah, I just love him so'.” So she will be performing the Ray Charles song.

And the fact that the connection of that song with Christmas is, well, indirect? “Aha.” It was a question which Barker had clearly anticipated: “Well the truth there is that if I only do Christmas songs, give it three years, and there will be no Christmas songs left!” Barker has looked out generally to build a programme of songs with the right kind of associations, and the catalogues of Louis Prima, Louis Jordan and Ramsey Lewis have proved happy hunting grounds. The formula has worked, and last year one critic who had been sceptical about the whole idea of the show came away with a phrase that not only appeals to Barker's sense of humour, but also validates the concept: “Christmas without the cheese,” the reviewer had written.

Guy Barker and Clarke Peters at the 2016 Big Band Christmas
Photo credit: Andy Paradise/Royal Albert Hall

The fact that the hall evokes that distant memory of Benny Goodman made me want to ask about the clarinettist Giacomo Smith. “Giacomo – he is amazing!” Barker responded. And talking about the phenomenon of the Kansas Smitty's of which Giacomo Smith has been one of the main driving forces: “They came out of the blue for me. Then I saw them play. Giacomo's clarinet playing, the language he plays - he's fantastic.” Giacomo Smith will be playing Winter Wonderland and China Boy, based on the Sidney Bechet version.

And Tony Momrelle, the soul singer who for many years was the lead male singer for the band Incognito? “I had heard about him for a number of years, but we've only worked together for about two or three. We 'll be doing the Quincy Jones story next year, that was originally a BBC Radio 2 Commission for Cheltenham, but the show has progressed. Tony is a really special vocalist, a fantastic voice and a consummate professional. He works really hard and is just great to work with.”

The other guests are Clare Teal in the dual role of co-presenter and singer - “She'll be helping me out when I’m trying to steer the ship,” he says - and singer pianist Joe Stilgoe. "I've worked with Joe ever since he invited me to play trumpet on an album of his own songs - he's so talented, very witty, and just ideal to have on the team for a show like this."

And could this one really run and run? The signs are certainly positive. Lucy Noble, artistic director of the Royal Albert Hall, has said: “Guy’s show last year was like the best Christmas party you’ve ever been invited to: an evening of pure joy.” The Hall has officially stated that Guy Barker's Big Band Christmas “looks set to become an annual event on the venue’s calendar”. Or, as the man himself puts it in the natural, clear way he always communicates: “We're already booked for next year!” (pp)

BOOKING LINK: Guy Barker's Big Band Christmas, 10 December, 6pm

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