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Stilgoe Rides Again

StilgoeThe top highlight of many music and movie lovers’ Fringe last year was singer- jazz pianist Joe Stilgoe’s joyful, classy, five-star show Songs on Film, a loving and stylish homage to the films he grew up with. In true Hollywood style, he’s back this week with a follow-up, Songs on Film – The Sequel, which runs until Sunday.

He says: “The strapline for this show is: ‘Like all good sequels, the cast is the same, most of the themes are the same – there are just more explosions and fight scenes.’ Since we’re only doing a short run this year, we will probably get some of the same audience from last year so we wanted to make it a bit different – but we have kept some of the greatest hits from the first show.”

Of course, as Stilgoe points out, songs from films is “a rich genre to mine” – so where do you start?  “The reason I thought the show worked was because I related it to my own experience of watching cinema – why I went into music, I think that made it cohesive. So this time we’ve got a section about growing up in the 1980s, and celebrating the mullets and the massive jackets, I’m thinking Ted Danson ..”

Not only that but whereas most of the standards we hear being played in jazz concerts began life in the great movie and stage musicals, many of the songs with which Stilgoe fills his show are from non-musicals. “We want to choose songs that people remember films by – whether it’s Goodnight Sweetheart from Three Men and a Baby or the waltz from Pixar’s Up. Those really give you that nostalgic burst – and people came up to us last year and said how much they enjoyed that aspect.”

What was also striking last year was the fact that we got to hear songs which most of us had probably never heard performed live before. One stand-out in that department was Arthur’s Song, from the 1981 comedy Arthur. “I love playing that one so much because I love Dudley Moore and I love that film. It’s not a song that people play over and over again but it is very evocative of that film and the era.”

At the age of 36, Stilgoe is too young to have seen Arthur in the cinema when it came out; The Jungle Book was the first film he saw on the big screen. “I loved it, specifically because of the music – I went on to be a huge fan of Louis Prima and the Sherman brothers who wrote the songs.”

Very much a chip off the old block (Stilgoe’s father is the songwriter and broadcaster Sir Richard), he jokes: “As a teenager I went through a period of hating musicals. I thought they were silly. So I guess my teenage rebellion was just not liking musicals for a few years, which must have hurt my dad. But then I came back to them and realised that this is the family business!”

It must, therefore, have been a dream come true to find himself – as recently as Saturday – onstage at The Old Vic in High Society?  “Yes, I’m still on a bit of a cloud because it was such a wonderful experience and High Society is the film that made me want to be a jazz musician.”

Playing a character (named Joey) specially created for him, but performing the same sort of function in the show as Louis Armstrong did in the film, Stilgoe “played a Nat King Cole/Mel Torme kind of figure who would have been booked for the party in the film.. Basically, I started the show by mucking around with the audience asking them to shout out songs and take part in a singalong.”

So he brought anarchy to High Society? “Yes! Some nice anarchy – because at the start you want to get the audience into a party atmosphere. I got to sing the title number and some other songs including my favourite, Well Did You Evah? .. yes, I admit it, I gatecrashed the Sinatra-Crosby duet!”

He also learned to dance for High Society. So should we be on alert for a spot of Fred Astaire-style dancing in this year’s Songs on Film? “The problem with that is, if I’m dancing, who’s playing the piano?!” Still, maybe it’s an idea for the third part of the trilogy – or further down the line when his six-month-old daughter has joined the family business?

But back to this year’s Songs on Film. Are we talking a superior sequel, a Godfather 2? “Absolutely,” laughs Stilgoe who is driving up the motorway as we speak. “We’re talking Godfather 2 and Toy Story 2; definitely not a Jaws 4 – or even 2 or 3!”

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Edinburgh Fringe 2014: Joe Stilgoe – Songs on Film

Joe Stilgoe: Songs on Film, Assembly Checkpoint, until August 22nd *****

Singer-pianist Joe Stilgoe’s Songs on Film show can be summed up in a two-word review: “sheer joy”. Why? Because it lifts the spirits, puts a smile on the face and sends you out with one of your favourite film melodies ringing in your ears. I’d say it would make you forget the frightful weather outside if you should see it during an Edinburgh monsoon, but the opposite is actually true since the first section of the hour-long show celebrates rain on film – whether in one of Stilgoe’s entertaining monologues or musically, with his trio’s lovely, gently swinging take on Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.

When Stilgoe came to Edinburgh for the first time with his own show, three years ago, it was a solo performance – but even then he had props. Back then, those amounted to a white board with a series of diagrams and pie charts clipped to them. Now, for his Fringe version of the Songs on Film concert which he brought to the Fife Jazz Festival earlier this year, he has all manner of props, from the black umbrellas which are lowered to just above the heads of the (hopefully not superstitious) trio to the Pixar-inspired lamp which appears on the piano for Stilgoe’s touching homage to that studio’s musical output later in the show.

And this is indeed a show rather than a concert. Stilgoe is more than a singer-pianist with a witty repartee; he is a showman and one with terrific, natural, rapport with all age groups in the audience. The stylish props and lighting enhance what would otherwise still be a hugely enjoyable class act. Among the musical highlights are the seldom performed Arthur’s Theme, an exuberant Almost Like Being in Love, a spontaneously composed (if not combusted) medley of themes suggested by the audience, the bittersweet waltz from Up and an unforgettable It Had To Be You, performed sans piano, with harmonies sung by bassist Tom Farmer and drummer Ben Reynolds as the latter plays his brushes on the side of the double bass.

First published in The Scotsman on Friday August 15th

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Jazz @ the Edinburgh Fringe 2014

Here’s my pick of five jazz gigs to catch during this year’s Fringe…

* Colin Steele & Brian Kellock: My Fair Lady, The Jazz Bar, August 9th & 23rd. My Fair LadyThe wonderful songs written by Lerner & Loewe for the 1956 Broadway musical version of Pygmalion have long been favourites of discriminating jazz musicians – especially trumpeters, from Chet Baker to Ruby Braff. Now, for the first time, it’s the turn of the lyrical Colin Steele and his dynamic pianistic partner in crime, Brian Kellock, to serve up their take on such loverly melodies as The Street Where You Live, Show Me and I Could Have Danced All Night. With a little bit of luck, they’ll invite the audience to shout out the key line on The Ascot Gavotte. ..

Remembering Chet, The Jazz Bar, August 16th & 18th. Scottish vocalist Iain Ewing’s must-see homage to the great Chet Baker was a winner at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival and last year’s Fringe … Accompanied by the Baker-inspired trumpet of Colin Steele and  Euan Stevenson’s classy piano, he sings and swings with a Chet-like simplicity and elegance, while putting his own stamp on a string of classic Baker songs. No need to bring the hankies in readiness for Baker’s tragic life story; Ewing’s patter is witty as well as informative. A funny – and stylish – valentine.

* Joe Stilgoe – Songs on Film, Assembly Checkpoint, August 4th-22nd. Songs on FilmMr Stilgoe’s love of film shone through on his fab solo show a couple of years ago, when he seduced the Fringe audience with a bittersweet ballad inspired by the masterful, bittersweet Billy Wilder movie The Apartment – (That’s The Way It Crumbles) Cookie-Wise. Now he’s back with a trio gig entirely themed around songs from the movies, including (if the CD of his London Jazz Festival Songs on Film concert is anything to go by) a mixture of more of his original tunes as well as favourites from his formative years in film buffery.

* The Cabinet of Caligari, The Jazz Bar,  August 13th-15th; 18th & 19th. And speaking of film, if you like your silent movies to be screened with atmospheric original music, check out the screenings of the Expressionist classic The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari (1920) which will be accompanied by a performance by guitarist Graeme Stephen of his new, specially written score.

* Jazz Rite of Spring, The Jazz Bar, August 20th-24th. Pianist David Patrick’s reimagining of Stravinsky’s groundbreaking and riot-inducing masterpiece has been critically acclaimed; my Herald colleague Rob Adams describing it as “highly credible and genuinely exciting”. I haven’t heard it yet but am intrigued by the “12” certificate. Maybe they’re expecting Paris-style trouble; let’s hope The Jazz Bar has the riot police on speed dial..

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