The Ray Gelato Giants and The Sugarfoot Stompers at The Fairfield Halls Croydon on Friday 3 March 2000
The Ray Gelato Giants swung by The Fairfield Halls in Croydon in early March, and brought their friends The Sugarfoot Stompers. The show, Swing Swing Swing, is currently touring England (see Event Listing for other dates), bringing swing music and dancing to the masses.
The Concert Hall was set with life-size cut-outs of high-steppin' dancers by either wing, and a backdrop of New York City at night. On strolled the Giants for a quick musical blast, before saxophonist Alex Garnett warmed up the crowd for the arrival of our host for the evening, Ray Gelato. Not missing a beat, the band launched into That's Amore, with a raucous solo by Garnett. Spanning the years with effortless ease, Ray then introduced a song by Steely Dan founder Donald Fagen. Walk Between Raindrops was the last track on Fagen's 1982 album The Nightfly, but here sounded like an original 1950's lounge classic.
Then it was time to bring on The Sugarfoot Stompers. Basin Street Blues introduced Temujin Gil and Simanda, Simon Selmon and Hattie and Irving and Alexa to the stage for some blues and smooth swing. This was followed by a staggeringly fast Sleepy Time Down South, and The Stompers got together for some Big Apple/Shim Sham moves. Then came an audience heckle: "We can't see them!" - and it was true. No follow spot and mainly red and blue lighting meant that Ray was moving in and out of shadows, while the Stompers really were dancing in the dark. Fortunately someone in the gods heard the cry, and offered some greater illumination on the stage.
Pianist Richard Busiakiewicz grabbed the newly-available limelight with some stunning work on Apple Honey, with high-speed support from bassist Clark Kent and Alex Garnett again, before drummer Steve Rushton invoked the spirit of Keith Moon in an enthusiastic bout of tub-thumping. Ray then took us away from the London rain for An Evening In Roma, before bringing back Temujin and Simanda for a jazzy Shim Sham and some Fred-and-Ginger style during Let's Face The Music And Dance. "I'm Confessing That I Love You!" exclaimed Ray, and sang a fine version of the Louis Armstrong song. The highpoint was his sax solo at the front of the stage without amplification, letting the audience hear the wonderfully warm tone of his instrument. He was followed in similar unplugged style by the bluesy trumpet of Mark Armstrong.
Time to unbutton the top shirt button and loosen the tie for a Gelato original, I'd Like A Little Pizza You, with Ray backed by the horn section under the unflattering moniker of The Butt Tones. The song was a fine example of the comedy-Italian-cuisine-as-sexual-innuendo genre. Probably the only example, actually. Then it was familiar ground for Simon and Hattie, as The Giants stormed through the Gershwin classic Lady Be Good. Dressed redder than a rich pasta sauce, the couple gave a good display of possibly the best routine Simon has ever choreographed.
Following the current trend of a successful TV game show, Ray then decided to ask the audience which number they would like to hear next. By a show of hands, If You Were The Only Girl In The World got the vote, while several people produced mobile phones in an effort to call a friend, and a few more wanted to go fifty-fifty. Ray then 'suffered' the attentions of all three girly Stompers during Just A Gigolo, and with that, the entertainers ended the first half of the show.
Enter the drummer: Steve Rushton was first back on stage for a muscular Sing Sing Sing-type intro that led to an extremely listenable drum solo. Mark Armstrong added a muted trumpet, before Clark, Richard, Alex and trombonist Andy Baker joined in for Mambo Italiano, showcasing some freestyle dancing embellished by two cool displays by Simanda and Irving. Not wanting to be left out of the action, Gelato then attempted some aerobics (well, press-ups) during Angelina/Zooma Zooma, another food-flavoured number.
The most fun dance routine of the evening came with Undecided, familiar to cliptomaniacs as the song from Swing Fever, where one girl has to choose between a soldier and a sailor as her dance partner. Here, Simon was having difficulty knowing whether it was Hattie or Alexa that he wanted on the end of his arm, and there was some really clever switching of partners during the Charlestons and Lindy Turns. That Old Black Magic was another vocal tour-de-force for Ray, before Harlem Nocturne accompanied Simon and Alexa for some Blues-In-The-Night style moves. The pace picked up for a breezy Up A Lazy River with Ray once again backed by The Butt Tones. "It's a pleasure to kill ourselves for ya!" he laughed.
The show ended with an ensemble Big Apple for Flying Home and Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime (yet more Butt Tones action), before the encore of It Don't Mean A Thing allowed The Sugarfoot Stompers back on stage for a final time. The current schedule means that the show continues touring until mid-April, taking in Derby, Basingstoke, Frome, Dorking and Yeovil. If you're looking for a night out with swing music and dancing presented with personality and entertainment, get along to this show.
See Reviews-Records section for the lowdown on The Giants' CD The Men From Uncle!
© 2000 Andrew Winton.
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