The Atomic Mr. Skinner

Colin Skinner's Skin Deep orchestra does The Count Proud.

The Beatles. The Rolling Stones. The Doors. Queen. They all have their tribute bands touring the country, trying to recreate the sounds of their heroes for a new audience. Tribute bands are big business in the pop world now; if you can no longer see the real thing, go and see a contemporary facsimile.

Swing is different. The repertoire of the bands is made up of a variety of classics from the 30s and 40s, pulling in the varied talents of Ellington, Goodman, Shaw, Dorsey, Miller and others. But once in a while, an orchestra appears that is entirely dedicated to one of the greats. Colin Skinner's Skin Deep Atomic Basie tribute is such a band.

Skinner is well known on the swing dance circuit, having played with Echoes of Ellington, James Langton's Solid Senders and 9.20 Deluxe. Skin Deep as a band has been around since the early 90s, and recorded a CD in 1995 with James Langton on vocals. That was a mainstream big band album, but it did contain a clue to what lay ahead: a cover of Count Basie's Blues In Hoss's flat.

Ray Gelato
Skin Deep's power saxes

The 100 Club on the night after August Bank Holiday is not particularly crowded; the tables are set in front of the stage, and early arrivals take the seats with the best view. But with The Swing Jam ending on the Sunday before, this was to be a night for dancing. By the beginning of the second set, Rob and Diane Thomas, Denise Steele and others from the weekend were being swung every which way by the awesome sound of Skin Deep.

It's not just a Basie tribute - it's Basie in a particular era. The fifties saw The Count come storming back with a big band with some stunning arrangements by the likes of Neal Hefti and Quincy Jones. Albums such as April In Paris, On The Road and of course The Atomic Mr. Basie heralded a bright, clean yet swinging sound that introduced many more standards into the Basie book.

Tonight's delights are laid out over three sets covering three dozen tunes. The orchestra line-up is playing five-four-four in the brass, with five saxophones, four trombones and four trumpets. Powering along behind them is a solid rhythm section of drums, bass guitar and piano, and there are occasional vocal contributions from James Langton. Apart from Skinner and Langton, there are other familiar faces, such as trumpeter Andy Cuss (9.20 Deluxe), bass saxophonist Jay Craig (BBC Big Band, Echoes of Ellington), drummer Steve Rushton (Ray Gelato Giants) and pianist Clive Dunstall (9.20 Deluxe).

It's a quick blast of a signature tune, and then the orchestra roars off into Brownsville Express, Hayburner and Muttnik in quick succession. James Langton is brought on half way through the first set to vocalise on Day In Day Out, Nina Never Knew and Fly Me To The Moon. The first set ends with a lively version of Moten Swing and Back To The Apple, which features some high register trumpet playing from Andy Cuss.

A gentle version of All Of Me gets the second set underway, before a light and bright run-through for the tap dance favourite Cute. One of the pleasures of the evening is recognising so many of the tunes, without ever having known the titles. Some frantic scribbling takes place as dancers jot down the name of a song that will be hunted down soon in a record store. Tip for the Day: wait 'til the end and then get a set list - it's got them all on it!

Ray Gelato
Steve 'Animal' Rushton lets rip

James Langton took the stage again, this time for I Get A Kick Out Of You. Unfortunately, not all the words sprang immediately to his mind, but he ad-libbed well until the real thing came along. He was later seen in conversation with his Solid Senders' singer Louise Cookman, no doubt brushing up on the lyrics for his coming songs. It wasn't only the words that caused a problem. During the evening Mr. Langton was the subject to some gentle ribbing by Muppets' Animal-style drummer Steve Rushton. "I told 'im not to book a singer" he said, as efforts were made to get the microphone working. Later in the set, Rushton turned to the trumpet section and asked "Is that THE James Langton?"

In true showbiz style, the best was saved 'til last. The third and final set kicked off with April In Paris, followed by Blues In Hoss's Flat and a slow and sultry Makin' Whoopee, featuring some wonderful muted trombone. Then we were off into Frankie country, as Mr. Manning's favourite tune, Shiny Stockings, was taken at a brisk pace. Not a word was forgotten during Where Or When and Young At Heart, as James finished his contributions for the evening. 

The orchestra rounded out the night with Li'l Darlin', In A Mellotone and ended with a way-too-brief version of One O'Clock Jump. Colin Skinner introduced the band during this number, a large number of whom seemed to be called Andy. In true Procul Harum style, the crowd called out for more, and was rewarded with one more tune before the final notes rang out well after midnight.

The demise of Echoes of Ellington last year was a sad event, but the emergence of Skin Deep in its Atomic Basie mode, together with the discovery of The Sticky Wicket Little Big Band from Birmingham has breathed some new life into the swing music scene. 

This was the second appearance for Skin Deep playing this repertoire at The 100 Club. As always, the economics of running a 17-piece orchestra means that getting regular gigs is not going to be easy. So God bless them all for playing for the love of it with only the door money as any financial reward. It was clear that the audience loved it, so hopefully there will be more nights like this in the future. And when they do -get down there and support them. This orchestra is worth making a long trip to see.

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