Swing No End

Last Sunday afternoon our third double big band BBC Prom took place at The Royal Albert Hall.  Swing No End featuring two roaring big bands led by trumpeter Guy Barker and trombonist Winston Rollins, playing music from the golden era of pop music of the 20’s 30’s and 40’s.

The amount of work involved putting the show together is of epic proportions and huge thanks to everyone involved – to Muddy of course, Musical Director and arranger Guy Barker, Alan Prosser who has the magical ability to listen to an old scratchy 78 record and write down what he hears, to Belinda and Megan, Dylan, BBC Production staff and Royal Albert Hall crew.

Our special guests came from all over the world to perform this exciting repertoire with these exceptional musicians.

I wanted to dedicate part of this year’s concert to the work of pianist arranger and composer Mary Lou Williams, who for my money was every bit as talented as the likes of Duke Ellington, but who had the misfortune to be born at a time when her talents were not given the opportunity to shine.

Mary Lou was in great demand as an arranger for the best bands of the day, Benny Goodman, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong and Tommy Dorsey.  Demonstrating Mary’s arrangements was easy but the tricky role of female jazz pianist who could effortlessly fill Mary’s shoes, who could walk on stage in front of thousands of people, sit down and play something so extraordinary, that we were left with our jaws hanging open, fell to Japanese piano wonder Hiromi.

Tenor saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis paid tribute to Coleman Hawkins in a beautiful rendition of Body and Soul.  Singers Mads Mathias, Vanessa Haynes and The Accent Vocal Quartet delighted the capacity crowd with some of the greatest songs of the era, and I sang a couple too!  We also introduced young emerging talent in the form of Rob Green, Ben Cipolla and Cherise Adams-Burnett.

Of course the stars of the show were our two orchestras, handpicked and assembled especially for the prom, showcasing the finest musicians from the British jazz and big band world, who lit up the hall with their brilliant section work and breath taking solos.

If you want to see what we got up to, you can watch the concert on the BBC iPlayer or tune into BBC Radio 2 this Friday at 8pm.


” … madam we’ve found your bag.”

After completing the third lap round the baggage carousel  the daunting realisation that our suitcase had somehow not made the short hop from Bristol to Dublin with us began to sink in.

An almost sympathetic woman in lost luggage took our details and a detailed bag description namely ‘big black suitcase with multi-coloured label’.

Dublin is a city in which to have fun and hang out with your mates, instead we headed to Grafton street on a toiletries, trolleys and socks run.

The next day I was straight into rehearsals with the glorious RTE Concert Orchestra conducted by Guy Barker, wearing the same stripy T-shirt, jeans and comfy trainers I’d travelled over in, so it was poor Mud who was left to deal with bag-gate.  As the hours went by with still no word she set off again to Grafton Street to look at replacing my gig clothes.

Amazingly with all the travelling we do it’s never happened before, but then we always pack evenly between 2 suitcases so that, should anything go missing, we’ve both always got something to wear, always that is except on this particular occasion where we’d managed to ensure that every possible necessary item – sheet music for the gig, all our clothes, wash bag, hair bag and contact lenses was in the case that went AWOL.

Sax player Ben Castle said I should tweet about it because businesses don’t like negative press.  So I asked the ‘aer’- line to pretty please help find my bag urgently.  They replied immediately asking me to message them with the reference number, which I did, they wrote back to say they were still looking.

At 7pm the night before the concert, Sharon rings from the airline, “Is your case big and black with a multi – coloured label?”  “Yes – yes it is.” Pause, “Ah we’ve nothing of that description here.”  Thanks.

By 10pm I’d just about finished re-typing out all the lyrics for the show.  I know about 95% of the songs I just never know which 95% it’s going to be.  Sharon rings again at 10pm “I’m away home in a minute but if I find the case before I leave I’ll bring it with me.” Thanks.  Half an hour later a chap calls, “Is your case big and black with a multi-coloured label?”  “Yes – yes it is.” Pause, “Great – madam we’ve found your bag.”