Big band swing fans gathered to see a fine orchestra one last time.
It was a bittersweet symphony at The 100 Club on Friday 1 March as James Langton assembled His Solid Senders Orchestra for one last time before he departs these shores for New York. In two and a half glorious swing-soaked hours, Langton led the band that he formed as a university project through their repertoire of Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman classics.
In suitable reverence of the occasion, the room was packed with friends, relatives, dancers and even a few normal people. They had gathered to pay final homage at this big band altar of authenticity, this temple of terpsichorean temptation, this cosmic cathedral of class, this sinful scene of syncopation, this [OK we get the idea, he’s very good, now get on with it - Ed].
Opening with Shaw’s regular ice-breaker Nightmare, the orchestra swung into a brisk rendition of Back Bay Shuffle followed by Cole Porter’s Begin The Beguine. Throughout the three sets that ended well past the witching hour they have never sounded better, although of course that may be due in part to hearing them through rose-tinted ears at their final performance.
La chanteuse du nuit was Louise Cookman, fresh from her February frolicking with The Pasadena Roof Orchestra. James Langton revealed that the previous night he had played his last gig with The PRO. He then gave a summary of a letter received from the US Immigration authorities, advising him not to give up his job or make travel plans - "So if anyone needs a singer, get in touch!" It appears that his departure may now be delayed, although sadly not for long.
Louise clambered on stage to give some sprightly renditions of Why Don’t You Do Right, Stop! The Red Light’s On and Any Old Time during the first set. These were interspersed with the likes of Donkey Serenade, I Cover The Waterfront and Marie, which featured some fine trombone work by Gordon Campbell. The first set ended with a speedy run through of Count Basie’s Doggin’ Around.
Amongst the relatives was James’ mother, who became quite misty-eyed towards the end of the show. James himself cracked gags throughout the evening, asking "Where else will you get to hear jokes like these?" "New York!" some wag in the audience shouted back. James then suggested we all came back for the Back To Basie Big Band gig in the middle of March, as that would feature Colin Skinner, Robert Fowler, Gordon Campbell and Danny Marsden, as well as the dubious humour of band leader Paul Lacey.
Bugle Call Rag opened the second set, closely followed by Down South Camp Meeting, dedicated by James to Scottish alto saxophonist Colin Skinner "because he’s down south and …." He left the rest of the sentence hanging in the air. Louise Cookman returned to sing Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea, Massachusetts and The Lamp Is Low, while James took to the mike for It Ain’t Whatcha Do.
The vocal talents of trumpeter Enrico Tomasso were unleashed on a soaring version of I Just Can’t Get Started. His trumpet playing was just superb, and he has certainly lived up to Louis Armstrong’s expectations that he would become a great player. Satchmo expressed this sentiment back in the late 60s when Tomasso met the great man during a UK tour that included his hometown of Leeds. It was good to see that on a recent "100 Best Songs" programme, Enrico was sought out to add some words to Armstrong’s highly-placed We Have All The Time In The World.
Drummer John Sutton took centre stage (mainly because that’s where his drum kit was) for the second set closer, Sing Sing Sing. This inspired a jam session amongst the dancers at the back. Strangely, the clapping was badly out of time, causing some bewildered glances to be exchanged between Sutton and James Langton.
Amongst the many thanks that were handed out by the departing band leader, special mention was made of The 100 Club management, the Hortons. James said he had spoken to Roger Horton about the idea of a band, and it had met with approval. What a shame that a full house did not merit the opening of the second bar!
And so to the final run in. Never has Wrappin’ It Up (The Lindy Glide) been more apt, but any sadness was immediately swept away as Enrico Tomasso returned for Indian Love Call. This man really is a consummate entertainer, although spending so many year s playing with the likes of Pete Long, Ray Gelato and James Langton, perhaps that’s not surprising.
In The Mood was played using the 1942 arrangement, while Louise Cookman returned to explain how You Turned The Tables On Me before imploring the dancers to Watch The Birdie. The pace slowed with Hoagy Carmichael's Stardust, but picked up towards the end with a fast-paced Carioca, before the Shaw farewell theme Goodbye rang out.
Needless to say, this was nowhere near enough for the crowd. Much applause and stompin’ at the 100 Club followed, and the orchestra was persuaded to return for a final Hold Your Hats. And then that was it, it was no more, it ceased to be. The Great DeMontfort University Swing Project went to that dance hall in the sky, where The Count, Louis and The Duke rule, and Bill Haley sits disconsolately in the corner trying to play tunes with eight beats to the bar. Ah! Rock! Where is thy swing? [Nurse - fetch the screens - Ed.]
At the end, trumpeter Mike Lovatt came forward to publicly thank James for all the hard work he has put into getting the band together over the past few years. It really is a labour of love, as there is not much money to be made when so many gather to play so much for so little.
So what now? At the final gigs, James Langton has referred to "Jay Craig’s Solid Senders" but whether the baritone saxophonist takes up the mantle of bandleader remains to be seen. Certainly it would be sad to think that this marvellous orchestra has got together to play such wonderful arrangements for the last time.
Good luck in New York, James. Our loss is their gain. Farewell, and once again, thanks for all the swing.
© March 2002 Andrew Winton.
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