REVIEW: Jeremy Lubbock – A Life in Music. The Guildhall Studio Orchestra at Milton Court

Giles Thornton directing a rehearsal.
Guildhall Studio Orchestra with Jeremy Lubbock looking on and
Malcolm Edmonstone on keyboard (centre top of picture)
Photo © Guildhall School of Music and Drama


Jeremy Lubbock – A Life in Music 
(Guildhall Studio Orchestra. Milton Court. 27 March 2019. Review by James Brady.)

As an arranger and songwriter, Jeremy Lubbock is one of those music industry figures who has worked prolifically behind the scenes without ever really coming to wider public notice. From the 70s through to the 2000s, Lubbock worked in LA, racking up three arranging Grammys, an Oscar nomination and a credit list that includes the likes of Barbra Streisand, Joni Mitchell and Al Jarreau. His greatest successes came in the 80s and 90s, and the sounds of these decades dominated this evening’s programme.

After a brief, bracing fanfare excellently executed from the gallery by the trumpets, the first half consisted almost entirely of numbers for string orchestra from Lubbock’s album Awakenings, with a couple of choral pieces near the end from brother John Lubbock’s vocal group. A rhapsodic piece (Moods) featuring Derek Paravicini, described in the programme as “a musical savant: blind with severe learning difficulties and autism, and the gift of an extraordinary musical ear and memory,” brought some variety to the proceedings, but I was left wondering if one or two of the series of slow, sentimental pieces could have been dispensed with.

A welcome change of pace came after the interval, with the additions of student brass and saxophone sections, and in particular Chris Hill on bass and Ralph Salmins on drums (who both made energetic contributions), filling the stage with an outfit in the Metropole Orkest mould. Features for Joe Stilgoe and Tommy Blaize (best known for his weekly duties as vocalist on Strictly Come Dancing) stood out in the early part of the set, with both vocalists delivering engaging and charismatic performances. Jeremy Lubbock punctuated each number with a brief anecdote about its origins, the highlight of which was hearing about Ray Charles’ mercenary approach to recording Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town, of which Blaize’s imitative take deserves particular mention for neatly evoking Charles’ characteristic quirks and balance of passion and control. Taking over baton duties for this and several other numbers was recent GSMD graduate Giles Thornton, who commanded the podium unobtrusively but effectively.

Along with Blaize and Stilgoe, Liane Carroll made a typically spirited appearance on two Lubbock originals, Just Yet and Mornin’. Although she acquitted herself with characteristic panache, the former seemed too low for her to really shine, whilst the persistent balance issues obscured her vocalese fireworks in the latter (which was also notable for a tastefully funky contribution from guitarist Dominic Stockbridge and spirited work from percussionist Tom Williams).

An archive recording of I Didn’t Know What Time It Was from Lubbock’s trio with whom he toured extensively in the 1950s and 60s revealed his pedigree as a rich-toned baritone combining aspects of both Andy Williams and Frank Sinatra.

The vocal crown of the evening must go to student Isobel Gathercole, who appeared right at the end for a powerful rendition of Luck Be A Lady originally arranged for Barbara Streisand. This was one of the loudest, densest charts of the night, but Gathercole held her own against the massed forces, with a bold stage and vocal presence. In terms of students, her appearance was by far the most conspicuous, and it seemed a shame that, barring a first-half viola feature from Hiu Nam Chan (Londonderry Air) and a short vocalese number (Blue Interlude) which brought vocalist Eliza Carrick-Davies to the fore, more weren’t given opportunities to shine.

This was clearly a labour of love for GSMD Head of Jazz Malcolm Edmonstone, who provided some typically eloquent (although brief) solos during the second half on piano and keyboards. The warmth between the Lubbock brothers was also evident as they embraced at the end, and each guest vocalist paid homage to the elder statesman enthroned at the side of the stage as they left. It was hinted that rehearsals time had been relatively brief and I was left wondering whether more polish from the strings in particular could have been had, although it’s worth adding that the brass and woodwinds would have sounded at home at any high-profile Hollywood bash.

Readers familiar with Milton Court will know that although delightful for unamplified sound, the acoustic does not lend itself well to amplified music, and unfortunately this evening suffered in the same manner. Persistent microphone problems included breath noises apparently emerging from somewhere in the string section and, notably, Joe Stilgoe singing acoustically at the start of his first number due to a dead microphone (although he handled it with customary suavity).

Overall, the evening was very evocative of a particular era of shiny, heavily-produced LA-style film song and there seemed to be an effort to recreate a lusher sound than was possible in this room. Lubbock himself summed it up when he referred to adding the string and horn parts to an arrangement as “sweetening”.  Whereas the evening as a whole perhaps needed some more subtlety and spectacle, it was both pleasing and highly worthwhile to see an arranger emerge from the shadows, and to have the chance to reflect upon his long and distinguished career.

A curtain call at Jeremy Lubbock – A Life in Music
iPhone snap by James Brady


Set Lists

Fanfare
Continuum
Moods – feat. Derek Paravicini (piano)
How Shall Love Be Spoken – feat. Clare Wheeler (voice)
Londonderry Air – feat. Hiu Nam Chan
Rocking – The John Lubbock Singers
The Lord’s Prayer – The John Lubbock Singers
I Saw Three Ships – The John Lubbock Singers and The Guildhall Studio Orchestra
Blue Interlude

Our Love Is Here To Stay – feat. Joe Stilgoe
Change Partners – feat. Joe Stilgoe
I Didn’t Know What Time It Was – recording of Jeremy Lubbock trio
Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town – feat. Tommy Blaize
Not Like This – feat. Tommy Blaize
Just Yet – feat. Liane Carroll
Mornin’ – feat. Liane Carroll
Luck Be A Lady – feat. Isobel Gathercole

Guildhall Studio Orchestra

Violin 1: Nicole Petrus Barracks, Paula Guerra, Dom Ingham, Zoe Hodi, Clement Lebourgeois, Anastasia Egorova, Gaspard Perrotte

Violin 2: Georgia Ellery, Evie Rogers, Ivelina Ivanova, Abigail Adams, Joanna Strembicka, Kin Keung Li, Annalise Lam

Viola: Hiu Nam Chan, Ruby Bowler, Isobel Doncaster, Lara Bowles

Cello: Rita Moutinho, Nia Williams, Alexia Bergman, Aline Christ

Bass: Max Salisbury, Evangelos Saklaras, Antonio Díaz Fernández

Harp: Elin Samuel

Saxophones: Dan McConkey, Alex Shaw, Max Ellenberger, Asha Parkinson, Simeon May

Trombones: Jacob Cooper, Joe Bristow, Will King, Oli Rath

Trumpets: George Jefford, Scott Kempster, Sam Ritchie, Marco Natale-Miles

Guitar: Dominic Stockbridge

Piano: Malcolm Edmonstone

Guest piano: Derek Paravicini

Guest Bass: Chris Hill

Drums: Ralph Salmins

Percussion: Tom Williams

Singers: Eliza Carrick-Davies, Belle Haswell, Lucy Hayes, Alzbeta Turcanyiova

Guest singers: Liane Carroll, Tommy Blaize, Joe Stilgoe

Guest audio production: Haydn Bendall

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