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Queen of the Blues fetes Marlborough with a truly regal performance


Britain's 'Queen of the Blues'Britain's 'Queen of the Blues'Elkie Brooks, the razor-throated rock chick of the 70s and 80s.  I remembered loving her as a teenager but now couldn’t recall any of her songs.  ‘What did she sing?’  I asked a friend.  ‘Dunno, they replied.  Then, ‘Oh hang on, didn’t she do that ‘Pearl’s a Singer’?  Can’t think what else though.’

‘Blimey she must be ancient now,’  I thought to myself as I rocked up at the Priory Gardens marquee to see her headline the Marlborough Jazz Festival on Saturday night.  The audience had already eased itself into all the available chairs so I sat cross-legged on the grass at the side of the stage and waiting with a mixture of anticipation and curiosity.  What would she look like now? How had that voice weathered the test of time?  

A minute later the lights dimmed and a waif-like creature with dark hair tumbling around her shoulders floated on stage to be greeted by rapturous applause. From where I was sitting, Elkie looked no older than twenty five, her black evening dress framing a figure that many women of that age would kill for.  She looked like Kate Bush in her prime.

And then she started to sing, opening the show with the gentle ‘Warm and tender love’ and I realised that, if anything, time had only served to mature and empower her still-extraordinary voice.  Actually a Salford girl, she sounded like a Roberta Flack or a Nina, a deep-south soul with clear gospel influences fused into the music.   And then they started rolling in, all those tracks I’d forgotten, as she moved into the indignant ‘Fool if you think it’s over’ and the wonderful but melancholic ‘Sunshine after the rain.’  

The audience adored her and she loved them in return, standing at the edge of the stage with her arms outstretched towards them as if beseeching them to join her.  She was funny too, chattering away in her Mancunian accent between numbers about the problems of being in her fifties (she’s actually just turned seventy) and complaining that ‘in 1981 I made an album and none of you lot ever bought it’.

It was a passionate, elevated performance, her exceptionally tight band backing her with soaring piano and soulful saxophone.   There was a notable variety of songs and tempo too, intertwining her own numbers with a searing rendition of The Moody Blue’s ‘Nights in White Satin’ and Adele’s wistful ‘To make you feel my love.’

The second half was more upbeat, rocking through the fore-mentioned ‘Pearl’s a singer’ and including the best cover of Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’ that I’ve ever heard.   By now I’d dumped my notebook and was dancing my heart out on the grass.  I knew I was in the company of a consummate professional, a diva of the oldest school, and I felt awed and privileged to be a witness to her exceptional talent.  It was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen, and if I had one bugbear it was this – I detest seated venues and something of the energy and passion was lost in the passive, mainly grey-haired audience that watched her.

‘Why aren’t you all dancing?’ I thought.  ‘This is music to lose yourself in.’   And that’s when the irony struck me.   Elkie Brooks was probably several decades older than most of them, yet to me – in their inert absorption of her energy and vibrancy – it was they who had every appearance of knocking on a bit, not she.  

Pics of Elkie's performance

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Marlborough Jazz festival opens - with sunshine and, of course, jazz

Alexander Bone declares the 29th Marlborough International Jazz Festival openAlexander Bone declares the 29th Marlborough International Jazz Festival openThe 29th Marlborough International Jazz festival was opened in Friday evening sunshine outside the Castle and Ball Hotel with a foot-tapping audience penned in on the edge of the High Street.

The Town Mayor, Councillor Margaret Rose led an official party which included her Chaplain, David Campbell.  He called for "A moment of quiet before we begin" and called on God to bless the town and the musicians: "Thank you for the music."

Jazz Festival supremo Nick Fogg addreses the assembled throng at last night's openingJazz Festival supremo Nick Fogg addreses the assembled throng at last night's openingThe Festival was declared open by Alexander Bone.  Inn March 2014, he was named the first ever BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year - at the age of seventeen.  He is a saxophonist, pianist, music producer and composer.

He has just finished his course at Chethams School of Music in Manchester - and this Saturday (July 18) evening he is appearing for the last time with the Chethams Jazz Ensemble.  They are playing at the prestigious Buxton Festival.

Alexander Bone and the Jam Experiment playing at ASK later in the eveningAlexander Bone and the Jam Experiment playing at ASK later in the eveningLater on Friday, he played at ASK with his band - The Jam Experiment.

Nick Fogg, who founded the Festival and is now consultant to the Marlborough Arts Association which runs the Festival, told the audience: "It's been a tough year."  And he thanked the sponsors - with special mention of Brewin Dolphin who are the lead sponsor for the eleventh year: "If you're a millionaire already, they will make you a multi-millionaire.”  

The audience at the Grand Opening heard a spirited set from St John's School Jazz band.

And in place of the advertised Original Rabbit Foot Spasm and The Jazzsports, the second set came from the Marlborough Big Band - a 20-piece band founded by teacher and sax maestro Mick Allport.  They will be playing again on Saturday at the New Road bandstand at 9.15pm.  Nick Fogg told the audience that whereas poor old Devizes has no big band to its name -
Marlborough has a flourishing big band - and there it was pening the town’s 2015 jazz spectacular.

Alexander Bone playing with Mick Allport and The Big BandAlexander Bone playing with Mick Allport and The Big BandSt John's Academy Jazz Band at last night's openingSt John's Academy Jazz Band at last night's opening

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Saturday in the High Street…and all that jazz


Drummer Paul ('Spud') Spedding Drummer Paul ('Spud') Spedding Jazz at the Philharmonic, Jazz on a Summer’s Day and Jazz on the High Street. Where would you rather be?

Well, not a difficult question: Jazz at the Philharmonic started in 1944 and finished sometime in the eighties, Jazz on a Summer’s Day was a 1958 film.

Marlborough’s Jazz Festival is very much a current event, celebrated every year with increasing quality, attendance and enjoyment.

Being a relative newcomer to the event, having been a spectator and latterly a steward this is my personal take on the 2015 festival.

Where else would you want to be on Saturday lunchtime other than The Lamb where the Artesian Hall Stompers play every year.  Their traditional jazz makes me feel happy particularly when watching the lugubrious cult hero Paul (Spud) Spedding’s drumming.   There was even an encore on Sunday this year.

The Lamb and the Conservative Club are one end of the performance scale, small venues quite unsuitable for the big stars like Elkie Brooks or the Bratislava Hot Serenaders who need space and a stage - they both played the Priory Marquee - she on Saturday evening, they on Sunday.

It’s this variation that makes our festival a success.  A friendly pedestrian High Street with all kinds of fans strolling from gig to gig.  The rockers like Bob Bowles and Fit for Comfort and the cultured guitars of Gilmore ’n Jaz. Pedestrian might be inaccurate in the, “partially, sometimes closed but not quite because there’s no clear policy”, High Street.

The whole atmosphere from Friday to Sunday is friendly, happy and easy-going.  The fans can shop and drink, perhaps more of the latter but despite a 12-hour music day there were relatively few incidents.  And these more likely to be over-exuberance rather than anything worse.

Your average fan doesn’t exist. Jazz crosses every boundary.  If you like jazz you’re equal in age, social background, race or sex.  A love of Jazz binds even your traditional Marlburian in his salmon pink trousers, striped blazer and cravat (well, some of them) to the tattooed youth in shorts, flip-flops and a T-shirt.

The headline act this year was Elkie Brooks.  I was stewarding elsewhere, but I’m told she was fabulous, still capable of a “performance” despite her years which, perhaps, could qualify her for one of Marlborough’s many planned homes for the less-than-young.

But, to conclude, a word about the organisation of our festival, it would be easy to over-regulate and to impose rules.  Not so for Lindsay Long and her deputy Roger Grant.  Managed with a light hand, a lot of friendly advice and a relaxed attitude makes the army of stewards a happy team, this transfers to the paying public.   Result:  another successful festival.

[And visit our 2015 Jazz Festival picture gallery.]


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First-ever Young Jazz Musician to play Marlborough Festival

 Alexander BoneAlexander BoneThe first-ever jazz winner of the coveted BBC Young Musician of the Year title will be playing at Marlborough Jazz Festival, organisers have confirmed.

Alto saxophonist Alexander Bone was the first jazz musician to win the accolade, after competition organisers widened the field from solely classical music.

The 18 year old plays saxophone and piano. He composes and produces his own jazz music, and also records electronic music under the alias Boney.

“I’ve always been interested in and fascinated by music production, as well as in playing instruments,” he said.

Alexander started playing saxophone at the age of six. He passed his Grade 1 music exam within six weeks of taking up the instrument, and achieved his Grade 8 at the age of 10.

Alexander has performed with Snake Davis, Jean Toussaint, Liane Carroll and Stan Tracey and at the Royal Albert Hall and the Edinburgh Fringe and Wigan Jazz Festivals.

Delighted festival convener, Nick Fogg, said: “We’re really going places. This hugely-gifted young man is on a certain path to stardom.”


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The line-up for Marlborough International Jazz Festival 2015 is taking shape


The Adam Winslet Band (photo Neil Goodwin)The Adam Winslet Band (photo Neil Goodwin)Looking forward to summer?  Looking forward to the Marlborough International Jazz Festival?  Looking forward to the return of the show-stopping Adam Winslet Band?

With their big sound and their mix of funk, rock and soul, they are just one of the confirmed bookings the festival team have already made - and there's only five months to go.

There are just two diary entries you need: the main event is over the weekend of 17-19 July.  And the tickets go on sale on May 1.

And while those months slide away, the list of booked musicians is growing well with many firm favourites and popular bookings.  The list is already as long as a list should be for a grand weekend of music.

Samuel Eagles Samuel Eagles First up is a new name for the Festival:  the much-lauded Samuel Eagles Quartet.  Who they?

The American saxophonist Jean Toussaint, who played with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and has been based in London since 1987, knows who:   “Samuel Eagles is rapidly standing out from what is today’s norm, with a fresh ear for the music and an exciting approach to improvisation, Samuel is set to make a big impact.”

Samuel was born in London, started playing with his school jazz orchestra and studied at the famous South London Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance where he was taught by several famous saxophonists - including Jean Toussaint.

Returning artistes include Sara Spade and the Noisy Boys - who played at the 2014 opening bash.  Lil' Jimmy Reed, Sticky Wicket and his Swing Orchestra, The Originalo Rabbit Foot Spasm Band, The Bratislava Hot Serenaders, Digby Fairweather's Half Dozen, Baraka, and the ever-popular Darius Brubeck Quartet will all be back. 

Zoe Schwarz Blue Commotion (photo Graham Quick)Zoe Schwarz Blue Commotion (photo Graham Quick)Also returning are the FB Pocket Orchestra who tweeted that they are "super excited" to have been booked for 2015: "It was fabulous last year."

After they wowed the audience last year, Zoë Schwarz Blue Commotion are coming back to Marlborough.  What kind of commotion is that?  As one jazz critic put it: "Schwarz takes all that is good from Janis Joplin and Billie Holiday and makes it uniquely her own."  So if you missed Zoë and co last year - make sure you catch them this year.

Which booked acts have we left out?  The Jive Aces are coming back for more Marlborough enthusiasm.  So are the Senegalese blues band Abdonlaye Samb & Minnjiaraby.  

Of course, July would not be July without a case or two of the Red Stripe band.  And should you be the sort of jazz enthusiast who gets nervous in crowds, be reassured: the Wiltshire Police Band will be playing.

You can follow bookings as they are firmed up on the Festival blog and on twitter: #majazz15


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Queen of Blues Elkie Brooks to headline Marlborough Jazz Festival

Elkie Brooks image by Christophe CohenElkie Brooks image by Christophe Cohen Blues singer Elkie Brooks has been confirmed as the headline act at this year’s Marlborough Jazz Festival.

Famous for her 1977 Top 10 single Sunshine After the Rain, 1981 hit Fool (If You Think It's Over), and her Top Five 1986 smash No More the Fool, Brooks has appeared on more Top 75 albums than any other British female artist.

Known as The British Queen of Blues, she supported The Beatles and the Small faces in the 1960s, before enjoying a solo career which included a run of 16 Top 25 albums.

Her life has been a tale of rage to riches, and back to rags again. The granddaughter of Jewish immigrants, she grew up in Salford, Manchester.

Her success in show business saw her living in a North Devon mansion, but in 1998, when her accountant informed her that he hadn’t been paying her taxes, Brooks found herself in severe debt and was reduced to living in a mobile home.

She’s since released four studio albums – Shangri-La, Trouble in Mind (with Humphrey Lyttelton), Electric Lady, and Powerless. Her autobiography, Finding My Voice, was published in 2012.

Now aged 70, she continues to tour extensively.

Festival convenor Nick Fogg told Marlborough News Online: “We are thrilled to have Britain's Queen of the Blues here at the Marlborough International Jazz Festival. It shows, as if anyone could have doubted it, that we’re up there in the big time.”

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