The opportunity to join the judging panel of the Leeds Pub Piano Competition, returning to the city after nearly thirty years was an offer I couldn’t refuse. Sponsored by Tetley’s beer the final was held at The Tetley – the original art deco Tetley Headquarters building erected in 1931, now a centre for contemporary art, learning – and drinking.
This fringe event sat happily for years alongside it’s older sibling Leeds International Piano Competition founded in 1963. The British live music scene has endured many changes over the last thirty years and pianos have disappeared from many pubs, mind you a quarter of Britain’s pubs have also disappeared and when you do find a pub complete with a piano the lid is often locked.
The competition was a joy to behold, 8 contestants made it through to the final, each had to perform a 10 minute set which could include, “popular songs, sing-a-long hits, old fashioned tunes… or whatever you think it is that will surprise and entertain.”
And we had it all – and more, brilliantly hosted by singer and composer Gwyneth Herbert, contestants drew markers to determine the order of play. The range of material was delightful and it was a bit spine-tingly to hear a pub packed with people having a great time listening to live music and singing along at the tops of their voices. From Joplin rags to Bohemian Rhapsody, via We’ll be Coming Round The Mountain and Disney hits like Under The Sea, you couldn’t predict what was coming next. The standard was very high and I nearly fell off my chair when I heard Rimsky Korsakov’s – Flight of The Bumble Bee flying off the keys – all together now.
My fellow judges were trumpet superstar Byron Wallen, looking for “the musician who could really communicate their musicality and add that mercurial dose of magic” and music lover and Tetley brand manager Emily Hudson.
It was virtually impossible to pick the three winners receiving cash prizes of £500, £250 and £100, but Kevin James, Des McLernan and Gilly Bean stood out from the pack although an impromptu 4th prize was added called the Time Gentleman Please award for outstanding ability despite playing longer than the allocated 10 minutes and refusing to stop when asked and that went to Karl Mullen who was awesome.
Pints, a piano and a pub – who could ask for anything more.
On August 16th we lost one of the greatest vocalists to ever grace this planet, Aretha Louise Franklin, the undisputed Queen of Soul. A dedicated civil rights activist and humanitarian icon to many, Barack Obama said she “helped define the American experience.” I would add this woman could define and heighten any musical experience regardless of genre full stop.
Unlike virtually everyone else my age, Aretha’s greatness didn’t permeate much into what I was listening to growing up other than the massive hits like ‘Respect’ and ‘I Say A Little Prayer’ that even I, in my curious solitary big band and early jazz bubble, couldn’t help but hear, but the little I heard I thought amazing. Over the years I have readdressed this listening balance and now put Aretha’s vocal skills, definitely on a par with those of Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald, though of course all three are incomparable and utterly unique.
I’m always fascinated to read about the lives of singers I admire, to learn what their early influences were, to listen to the records that inspired them to see how these sounds informed their own individual styles.
By the time she was 12 years old Aretha was playing piano and singing solos in church and often on the road with her father C.L. Franklin, respected Baptist minister and super star preacher known as the man with the “Million – Dollar Voice”. His success touring and selling records of his sermons made C.L. a wealthy man and he and his children presided in a huge grand house in Detroit. There were lots of parties and musicians would visit the Franklins, jazz royalty like Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Dinah Washington. Blues artists like B.B. King were friends to the family. The house was full of music and unlike other religious ministers C.L. saw blues and jazz music equal to gospel saying all good music came from God.
By all accounts Aretha was like a musical sponge in that she could immediately replicate what she heard, never having to study but taking everything in with her ears and eyes. When an 18 year old Aretha signed to Columbia in 1960 resulting in the album Aretha: With The Ray Bryant Combo the voice you hear is already fully formed, her phrasing effortless, her grasp of lyrics worldy wise. There will never be another Aretha Franklin. RIP x.
I’d never of heard the term ‘Mercury retrograde’ till a few years ago when dear friend Guy Barker explained a bit about this astrological phenomenon, which happens about 3 times a year. A planet in retrograde looks like it’s moving in reverse, an illusion occurring when a faster moving planet overtakes it, like if you’re on a speedy train going past a slower train it can feel like that slower train is going backwards. We’re slap bang in the middle of one now. It started on July 26 and will end on August 18th although there’s a two week revving up/down period either side.
People all over the world for centuries have maintained that during this period, communications breakdown, some experience travel delays or lost items, technology can go haywire, emotions run high possibly leading to anxiety disagreements and misunderstandings of mammoth proportions. There are websites by the dozen advising you to tread carefully during these three week cycles, try not to make any important decisions or sign any big contracts. Hold your tongue, don’t take things to heart.
I’ve never knowingly been affected before but genuinely feel I’m being clobbered from all sides by this one like a ticking emotional time bomb and I’m not alone. Alan the dog seems more restless and proper barky… but then maybe he’s feeding off me… not that I’ve knowingly been barking …although!?
I just put a search for Mercury Retrograde into Twitter – it’s not just me, folks all over the globe are blaming the plodding smallest planet for pretty much everything and in every language, from being late to work, or worse losing their jobs to falling out with their partners and friends or having the worst haircut imaginable. Much as it’s useful to have an astrological occurrence to pin every bad move you make on, I do believe there’s no smoke without a fire.
From as early as the mid 1700’s the term ‘Mercury retrograde’ has been knocking about astrology circles causing untold mischief, but astronomer Dr. Mark Hammergren of the Adler Planetarium in Chicago takes this modern day superstition with a pinch of salt, questioning if people looked at any twelve month block would these periods in question all be especially catastrophic, or do misinterpreted messages and technical problems occur throughout the year, “when things go wrong and Mercury isn’t in retrograde, we don’t get that hashtag. It’s called Monday.”
As 2018 rolls on, in amongst our usual hectic UK touring schedule, we’ll take time out to join a traditional paddle steamer in New Orleans, entertaining the guests cruising down the Mississippi as well as performing with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band (hr-Big Band) in Luzerne.
Work has begun on a new record which we’re hoping to release by the end of the year but will keep you posted.
Is it too early to mention Christmas? Following on from the success of our long running and much loved Festive Fiesta now in it’s 387th year, this seasonal musical treat just got bigger! Now accompanied by our top flight 9 piece Big Mini Big Band, we will be serving up a sensational cocktail of seasonal fayre and musical highlights of 2018 kicking off at The Great Hall, Swansea The Great Hall, Swansea on Dec 1st and heading to Birmingham Town Hall on Dec 15th so come and join in the fun!
From Duo, Trio, Big Mini Big Band to 18 piece roaring big band or full orchestra, if you’re looking for an evening of live music that is upbeat and uplifting to extreme and performed by the very best, check out our Live Dates for a venue near you!
We’re swinging into 2018 with the ‘Swing’s The Thing’.
This brand new show sees Clare and her excellent musicians effortlessly traverse a rich landscape of timeless and sparkling material, with standards from the grand masters of the Great American Song Book, Cole Porter & Rodgers & Hart, to witty urbane song stylists of the 50’s & 60’2 Cy Coleman & Carolyn Leigh & Dave Brubeck, there’s always a not to more contemporary writers and originals too.
So check out our listings page for a venue near you and join us for a celebration of popular music from the golden age of song that guarantees to be upbeat and uplifting to the extreme!
The winners of the British Jazz Awards 2017 were announced late on Wed 8th November. Featuring a broad array of jazz talent and now in their 31st year they are the only poll that gives jazz lovers up and down the country the chance to vote on who their favourite musicians, bands and albums have been in the last 12 months.
Teal, who has previously won the British Jazz Awards for vocals in 2005, 2007 and 2015, is a sought after singer throughout the country with her stunning voice, encyclopaedic knowledge of jazz, swing and big band music, and her innate warmth as well as a prolific recording artist and popular BBC Radio 2 broadcaster.
Clare Teal says ‘It is an honour to win any award and as the British Jazz Awards are voted by the public it is pretty special to win for a fourth time particularly with the stellar line-up of nominees. So a big thank you to those who gave me their vote and a massive congratulations to all the other winners and nominees’.
All of Manchester’s communities stand together in strength, resilience and love.
In this most musical of cities, Manchester’s orchestral musicians from the Hallé, the BBC Philharmonic and the Manchester Camerata will come together with The Bridgewater Hall for a concert in support of the families and friends of the victims of last Monday’s atrocity.
The event details are:
Thursday 1 June at 8pm
The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
Sir Mark Elder and Stephen Bell will conduct members of the Hallé, Manchester Camerata and BBC Philharmonic orchestras
Performances by Clare Teal, Alice Coote and Guy Garvey
The evening will include inspiring and uplifting classical music, a performance by Alice Coote – one of the world’s finest mezzo sopranos – as well as songs from international jazz star Clare Teal and award-winning singer-songwriter Guy Garvey.
Everyone involved with the event are giving their services free. Tickets for the concert are free, but you MUST have a ticket to gain entry.
We are asking people, if they are able, to make a donation to the WeStandTogetherManchester Justgiving page at
You can get the latest information, details on admission and book tickets by visiting www.halle.co.uk/westandtogether. You can also contact the box office on 0161 907 9000. The Bridgewater Hall has waived its usual ticket charge. You will need your tickets to gain entry to the building.
Please check the Hallé link above for updated information as it is confirmed.
From Stomps and Shuffles, Boogie-Woogie, Blues, Bebop to Latin, ‘Swing No End’ promises another powerful and upbeat slice of musical action from the 1930’s & 1940’s.
Featuring 2 roaring big bands and special guests battling against each other led by Guy Barker and Winston Rollins, singer and broadcaster Clare Teal, takes us another journey celebrating the triumphs of big band greats including Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmie Lunceford, Boyd Raeburn, Machito, Stan Kenton and Woody Herman.