Tag Archives: Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Review: Tim Kliphuis Trio, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Tim Kliphuis Trio, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Sat December 1st ****Tim Kliphuis Trio

 The Royal Scottish National Orchestra didn’t have a monopoly on the classical goings-on in the Concert Hall on Saturday night; upstairs, in the elegant former restaurant space, a trio was performing Bach, Brahms and Vivaldi pieces which it has recorded with orchestras for Sony Classical over the last few years.

 The Tim Kliphuis Trio doesn’t merely “swing the classics”, however. Kliphuis (violin), Nigel Clark (guitar) and Roy Percy (bass) started out as a superior gypsy jazz group and their renditions of the classics are very much shaped by their roots in the swinging, life-affirming spirit of the music of the great Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt. 

 On Saturday, some of the classical numbers – such as the Allegro in G from Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos – sounded as if they had always been jazz tunes, opening with riffs played in unison by this impeccably in-synch trio, before erupting into solos that spotlighted the breezy virtuosity of the individuals. 

 Showmanship and drama also played a part, with the first set’s electrifying closer – Winter, from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons – breaking the speed limit and bringing many members of the audience to their feet. (That number was one of many on which it was a difficult to hear Nigel Clark’s dazzling guitar-playing without straining. The acoustic in the room meant that whenever he played a delicate, quiet ballad or was being accompanied on a solo by both of his colleagues, he was in danger of being completely drowned out.)

The classical pieces were beautifully balanced by a handful of French and American numbers from the 1930s, notably the ballad Ou es tu?, once sung – as Kliphuis explained – “by Edith Piaf, Jean Sablon, Maurice Chevalier and ..” 

 “Kenneth McKellar?” interjected Percy helpfully.

* First published in The Herald on Wednesday December 5th

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Review: Tony Bennett, Glasgow, 2012

Tony Bennett, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, June 25, 2012 ****

He may have managed to do a post-prandial walkabout through the city centre yesterday afternoon without being accosted by anyone other than your reviewer, but Tony Bennett was welcomed to the Concert Hall like a long lost brother when he came onstage last night. Anticipation had been building for the opening 20 minutes of the concert, which had been taken up by his daughter Antonia, a singer with a more stagey style than her jazz-influenced father who still has a thing or two to teach her about phrasing and conveying the meaning of lyrics.

He may be in his third decade of pension-drawing but Bennett positively romped through his repertoire, dishing up one greatest hit after another in a continuous programme that comprised a staggering 26 songs. As seems often to be the case with these “senior” stars, the longer he was onstage, the more alive, animated and energetic he became. It was as if the warmth which poured forth from the audience fuelled the performance.

Accompanied by a quartet which featured guitarist Gray Sargent – whose duets with Bennett at the start of such sublime ballads as But Beautiful (the Billie Holiday version of which had been playing in Rogano while Bennett lunched) were highlights – the 85-year-old singer displayed an astonishing power and command.

Indeed, for his final encore, to convey how moved he was by the massive wave of affection from the full house, Bennett put down the microphone and, accompanied by Sargent, sang Fly Me to the Moon as he swivelled gently round, taking in every section of the audience and imploring them with his hands as he sang “Fill my heart with song and let me sing forevermore”. In other words, he brought the house down.

* First published in The Herald, Tuesday June 26, 2012

Watch What Happens

They All Laughed

Maybe This Time

I Got Rhythm

Cold, Cold Heart

Sing You Sinners

Old Friend

Steppin’ Out With My Baby

But Beautiful

The Way You Look Tonight

Just in Time

Boulevard of Broken Dreams

The Good Life

Once Upon a Time

Shadow of Your Smile

One For My Baby

I Wanna Be Around

For Once In My Life

The Best Is Yet To Come

I Left My Heart in San Francisco

My Hometown

I’m Old-Fashioned

Who Cares?


When You’re Smiling

Fly Me To the Moon


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My City of Stars Exhibition, Starring Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong, Kelvin Hall, Glasgow, 1956 (c) The Herald and Times Group

I’ve been totally pre-occupied these last two weeks curating an exhibition of photographs – some of them never before seen – of stars of cinema and music as they passed through my hometown of Glasgow from the 1920s onwards.

Of course, I had to include Louis Armstrong, whose 1956 visit to the city has become the stuff of local legend – though it was his 1962 visit that has a personal significance as that was when my 16-year-old father won a competition to meet him. (The signed photo hung in the family bathroom throughout my childhood – appropriately enough, given Louis’s love of laxatives.)

Anyway, here’s my write-up about what happened when Louis came to town in 1956.

By 1956, when Louis Armstrong made the first of his two post-war visits to Glasgow, he was no longer merely known to jazz fans the world over as the singlemost important figure in the evolution of the music. About to be seen in the all-star Hollywood musical High Society, he was also a household name – an entertainer and movie personality known universally as “Satchmo”.

Armstrong’s return to Glasgow, 22 years after his previous visit, was long overdue – so it’s little wonder there was a great deal of excitement about his back-to-back Kelvin Hall shows in the local press. The build-up started days before his arrival, with the Scottish Daily Express publishing “Satchmo’s Column”, a daily diary – clearly ghostwritten – chronicling his tour of Britain.

Nobody could have been more excited than the Clyde Valley Stompers, the trad band which was invited to appear on the bill alongside Armstrong and his All Stars. Four days before the show, the Evening Citizen published a telegram which the band had received:

“Old Pops is happy to hear that you are working on the bill with my All Stars when we play at the Kelvin Hall on May 15. We have got a wonderful show and my boys are playing greater than ever and I know from your reputation that your boys will help us to give the local cats a good evening’s music they will never forget. Regards, Louis ‘Satchmo’ Armstrong.”

Certainly, no-one who was at the show could ever forget it. Even before Armstrong had set foot on the revolving stage, there was the spectacle of the one-legged acrobatic dancer Peg Leg Bates to file away under “unforgettable”. The Bulletin reported that once the All Stars’ set was underway, “the music was alive and the bubbling energy of Louis infectious”.

Fans had had to wait an hour for their hero, who didn’t come onstage until the second half. It was reported in the Daily Record the next day that he had been giving an impromptu trumpet lesson to eight-year-old Fraser Watson, whom he had spotted clutching his new trumpet amidst the throng of screaming teenagers at the stage door.

When Armstrong did come on, he played for a solid 60 minutes. The only dampener on proceedings was the sight of rows of empty seats near the front – only the less pricey seats had sold out.

Between his two shows, Armstrong feasted on a fish supper brought to his dressing room by the Glasgow-born jazz singer turned Broadway star Ella Logan who was also on the bill. Mamie Crichton of the Evening News was horrified by the choice of food on a triumphant occasion which called for “chicken and champagne”. She described Armstrong eating his fish, with his shirt hanging out, “jacket off, horn-rim spectacles on, a handkerchief tied round his head and his wide, battered lips smeared thickly with his own special lip-salve.”

Don Whyte of the Scottish Daily Express quoted Armstrong’s opinion of his carry-out. “Man, ah couldn’t have done this a while ago with my old stomach trouble. But now ah’ll have blown this lot down after five minutes with my horn.” Armstrong was famous for sharing his favourite laxative, Swiss Kriss, with new friends, but he doesn’t seem to have done this in Glasgow. Instead, Mamie Crichton and the others present backstage were offered diet charts which Armstrong fished out of a huge grip bag and “insisted on autographing for each of us”.

Telling them that he’d lost 15lbs in a year, he said: “You can eat anything you like on this diet, but the secret is – never eat late at night. You take a spoonful of this [he reached into the grip for a jar of white powder] ten minutes after meals, and some of this [in again for a herb mixture] just before you go to bed.”

While fans swarmed outside his police-guarded dressing room, Armstrong also played host to a tailor. Satchmo, you see, had decided that he wanted to be fitted for a kilt – in the Armstrong tartan, of course. In his column in the Express, he explained that his name probably derived from one of Scottish “boss men on the plantations” in the Deep South during the days of slavery. “They knew how to make all the cats toe the line,” he added.

As he was measured by the envoy from Lawries the kiltmakers for the full Highland monty (kilt, shoes, jacket, stockings,  balmoral etc), Armstrong told The Bulletin that he planned to wear it on Ed Sullivan’s TV show back in New York – and that his singer, Velma Middleton (all 350lbs of her) would be getting a kilt too. While reporters took notes and local celebrities – including Jimmy Logan, Ella’s nephew – looked on, Armstrong was busy trying to get his vital statistics from his wife, Lucille. Their conversation was reported in the Express:

” ‘Lucille,’ he asked his dark-skinned fourth wife. ‘What size of shoes do I take?’
‘Nine and a half, my man,’ says Lucille.
‘Hey sugar-brown, what size of hat do I wear?’ asks Satchmo.
‘I dunno. You never wears a hat,’ replies Lucille.”

Perhaps Mr and Mrs Armstrong should have consulted Satchmo’s valet, Doc Pugh, who was in charge of the non-Highland part of his master’s wardrobe. Asked by the Express – for the article MacSatchmo Gets Measured for a Kilt – why Armstrong was wearing a blue suit while the rest of his band was in black, Doc Pugh explained that it was because he only had one black suit. “It’s black mohair – and he’s keeping it off because it’s too warm.”

In fact, it was so warm that, upon arrival in Glasgow, Doc Pugh bought 50 white handkerchiefs (at £5, 5s) to pile up on the piano so that Armstrong would always have one handy to mop his sweaty brow during his shows. Glaswegians who had seen him during his earlier visits, in 1932 and 1933, had been appalled by the amount of sweat to pour out of the trumpeter. One newspaper headline had read: “The World’s Hottest Trumpeter Perspires at the Empire”.

Judging by the reviews, Armstrong needed his hanky supply in 1956. The Citizen said: “He never stopped blowing magic out of dat ol’ horn, hopping about, whooping up the solo bits of his colleagues singing solo or duet with the vast Velma Middleton from a throat that must be a landslide of whole rocks down there to produce that sound. The Daily Record reported that Armstrong got “the Kelvin Hall ROAR”, and that “even a three-quarter’s empty first house didn’t put him off his stride.”

Two days after Armstrong’s triumphant return to Glasgow, the papers were still carrying stories about it. The Evening News revealed that just before the concert, Armstrong had lost his mute and an SOS had to be put out to the London makers of his trumpet. A mute was rushed to Euston Station, put on a fast train to Glasgow and met there by Jimmy McCormack, of the well-known city centre music shop McCormack’s. He jumped in a taxi with it and delivered it to Armstrong in time for the first house….

* The City of Stars exhibition – which also features Cab Calloway – runs at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall from February 25 until September.


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Liza-with-a-z Does Jazz …

My on-the-night review from The Scotsman (7/7/11)

Liza Minnelli, Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow

When Liza Minnelli summons you to the cabaret, you are powerless to resist – at least if you are Glaswegian. “Put down your knitting, the book and the broom… come hear the music play” goes the song, and hundreds of Glasgow grannies did as they were commanded, settling into their £95 seats alongside those devoted gay fans for whom a Liza concert is almost a call to arms.

Three years is a long time in showbiz – especially if you’re in your sixties. And in the three years since Liza Minnelli last performed in Glasgow, she has clearly had to cut back on the physical side of her act which, last time, involved a fair bit of dancing. Even without the dancing (undoubtedly dropped as a result of a knee replacement op), there was much panting and breathlessness – though this abated as the evening (she was onstage for 90 minutes, non-stop) went on, as if the adulation from the excitable audience boosted her oxygen supply.

Last night’s performance was much more of a concert than the previous show, and it seemed to mark the start of a new chapter in this unstoppable woman’s career. Having dispensed with the obligatory, big, crowd-pleasing show tunes – which she really didn’t have the power to belt out the way she used to – in the first part of the evening, she gently eased the audience into a section of the programme which was quieter, more reflective and much, much more thrilling than her well-known signature songs.

Surrounded by darkness for a clubby feel, and with jazzier arrangements being played by her sextet, Minnelli introduced songs from her recent, very intimate, Confessions album. The witty and wry Dietz and Schwartz ballad Confession, a duet with her pianist and musical director Billy Stritch, set the mood for what was in effect a jazz-style “set” within the concert.

Over the course of five or six ballads, every lyric was beautifully delivered, every phrase spot-on, and every song served with great taste and style. All breathlessness had gone, the voice was rich and strong, there were no big notes requiring belting-out, and Minnelli could work her magic as a storyteller – most memorably on a gorgeous interpretation of I Must Have That Man, the little-known ballad On Such a Night As This, and her penultimate encore, Every Time We Say Goodbye.

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