Sunday 10 October 2010

Back to Llareggub

I wrote in 2008 of my admiration for Stan Tracey and Bobby Wellins, and expressed the hope that I might one day hear them play live the music from Stan's Under Milk Wood suite.

That day came last Wednesday at the Y in Leicester, and I'm proud of my small part in making the gig happen.

I was emailed by one of the organisers of a short Leicester literary festival asking if I knew a band who could play the UMW music to accompany a reading of Thomas's radio play. I jokingly replied that he could always ask Stan & Bobby and quoted a fee (too low as it happened!) which I was sure would be beyond their budget. To my surprise and delight he contacted Sylvia Rae Tracey (who handles Stan's bookings) and booked the quartet (Andrew Cleyndert & Clark Tracey) paying 25% more than the sum I'd conjectured.

It was worth every penny. Having recently heard Stan, Bobby and Guy Barker at the Scarborough festival playing Stan's usual live repertoire of standards, show tunes and blues I knew how committed and driving the band could be at its best, but I suspected that a performance of the UMW music would be special; in the event the two readers had little to do and most of the evening was devoted to music, so inevitably most of the pieces were extended past their recorded length. The performances that night won't displace my recall of the 1965 recording; the purity of Wellins' tone now has a burred edge and Andrew Cleyndert's bass-playing- fine though it is- lacks the late Jeff Clyne's exquisite note choices; listen to his first phrase after the piano introduction to Starless and Bible Black, just before Wellins jumps in to play the melody- at the Y Andrew made an ostinato of his first figure and Bobby paused a couple of beats before entering.

But it was a delight to hear those compositions played so well. As an aside I read a report that audiences during Stan's recent American tour were surprised to hear him playing show tunes, assuming he'd play his own compositions. The writer wondered: did he play them to ingratiate himself with a US audience? - not realising that he's always much more likely to play Body & Soul than Pluck's Gutter. (Francis Davis, in the book from which I stole the title of this blog tells of Muhal Richard Abrams' reluctance to play any of his compositions more than once- he'd rather move on to something new.) In Stan's case something old made new, and I'm not complaining.

I recently heard that Stan's started composing again; I know the details of the new project but I'll keep them under my hat- I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise.