12 February 2013 (gig)
21 February 2013
Ever fancied swinging out with ghosts? Then The Silver Ghosts, a London based jazz and swing ensemble, are just the ticket for YOU!
Evoking the golden era of swing and dancehall music, the band already performed at the prestigious Royal Albert Hall, plus the legendary 100 Club. Add to that a recording session for the BBC at Bush House, and it should come as no surprise that The Silver Ghosts are in increasing demand, playing regular slots at renowned jazz venues as well as special swing music nights across London.
Fronted by the charming Lucy Lullaby (now there’s a lady with a voice!), the rest of this very talented and authentic sounding outfit is comprised of The Colonel (trumpet), Caps (ukulele), Ukulesley (banjolele), Bugsy (drums), Tea Bone (trombone), Lips (clarinet), The Man and Monkey (double bass), and Cookie (sousaphone).
Specialising in 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s jazz- and swing, almost all numbers performed by The Silver Ghosts were originally written and recorded in the period from 1920 to 1949. It means a lot of musical influences, and apart from the usual suspects like Irving Berlin, Cab Calloway, ‘Satchmo’, The Duke, Glenn Miller and Billie Holiday, there are also lesser known ones such as Fletcher Henderson, Washboard Rhythm Kings, Brother Bones, Artie Shaw, Al Bowlly, Lew Stone, Miff Mole, and Hoagy Carmichael. Really, that’s barely touching a piano key as influences amount to considerable more than the aforementioned!
Tuesday week ago I had the great pleasure to witness the exuberant energy and enthusiasm the band spreads during their shows, and this particular one took place at the Canonbury (a bar and restaurant, N1), where The Silver Ghosts are the resident band. playing once a month on every second Tuesday.
With a generous space for dancing at the end of the bar area, it didn’t take long before assembled guests and regulars took to the dance floor for a bout of foxtrot, Lindy hop, Charleston, jive and even jitterbug (well, I spotted one couple bravely attempting it).
First number was the band’s take on Django Rheinhart’s famous ‘Blue Drag’, although the rendition was more inspired by The Washboard Rhythm Kings. During Irving Berlin’s ‘Cheek To Cheek’, Lucy Lullaby’s enchanting vocals effortlessly transported the audience back to the glory days of Rogers & Astaire, and top hat for that!
After two fabulously executed instrumental numbers – ‘Blues My Naughtie’ and ‘The Charleston’ – we all were in for a treat when Billie Holiday’s well-known ‘Swing Brother Swing’ received the Silver Ghosts treatment. Punters were impressed, and if Billie was temporarily removed from her heavenly solitude above, I’m sure she applauded too.
After the first break, which allowed both band and the dancing audience to catch some breath, the set continued with the Conrad/Magidson number ‘The Continental’ (as performed by Ginger Rogers in the 1934 movie THE GAY DIVORCEE.
What is so astonishing is how Lucy and her Silver Ghosts turn every number successfully into their own, despite the fact that theirs are mere cover versions of songs from the jazz- and swing period. Lucy in particular is one of those singers blessed not only with a voice perfectly suited to that genre, but she delivers the vocals completely natural, as if she were born to be nothing else than the Silver Ghosts leading lady. That’s not saying her fellow gentlemen ghosts are less gifted, far from it: their musical craft (not to mention showmanship) is nothing less than a 101% convincing, hence the overall result being all rather infectious.
‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’ and ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ need no further introduction, as we’re talking staple classics! While I’m quite a fan of Helen Merrill’s subdued version of ‘Softly As In A Morning Sunrise’, the Ghost’s more upbeat rendition (inspired by Artie Shaw’s 1938 jazz version) did the composition ample justice!
After ‘Sheik Of Araby’ (written in 1921), and Rose Murphy’s ‘Busy Line’ came another classic, namely Cole Porter’s ‘You Do Something To Me’. He must have done something to the band, for what followed was yet another musical highlight (and there were quite a few in my opinion!).
Then it was time for the second break, before the band got ready for the last round. Really, where do the these guys get their stamina from?! The Evergreen ‘Ukelele Lady’ provided opportunity for the Ghost’s ukulele player to draw focus upon him, while the Walter Donaldson composition ‘Driving Me Crazy’ saw every single player drifting into high spirits.
Better still, jazz standard ‘Take The A-Train’ (the signature tune for Duke Ellington’s orchestra) saw even more folks take to the dance floor.
The Silver Ghosts opted for a slight detour with ‘Cantina Band’ – a number written by film composer John Williams for the famous cantina scene in George Lucas’ STAR WARS. “What has this got to do with the golden era of swing and jazz?” I hear you ask… Nothing as such, except that this ‘outer space’ number was written in a Benny Goodman style! Which makes it alright to be included in the repertoire, also, regular Silver Ghosts attendees apparently request it.
Another pure treat was ‘Jack I’m So Mellow’ by Trixie Smith, a fun song from America’s no-fun-whatsoever prohibition era: “I'm so high and so dry / I'm sailin' in the sky / Just smoke some gage / Come around babe, / Jack, I'm mellow.” Now swing that leg and shake your glass!
Final number of the night was one of the most well-known and best-loved songs of the 1930’s, ‘Bei Mir Bist Du Schön’ aka ‘Bei Mir Bistu Sheyn’ (as it’s known in its original Yiddish incarnation). Although the song was brought to international fame by The Andrew Sisters in 1938, it first appeared six years earlier in the Yiddish comedy musical I WOULD IF I COULD (MEN KEN LEBN NOR MEN LOST NISHT). Suffice to say, The Silver Ghosts turned this into a fitting tribute to both versions, and I for one couldn’t help but sing along to the chorus.
What a delightful and dazzling night out on a cold and dreary Tuesday, and if you wish to jump onto their swinging band wagon, you had better reserve some seats on the A-train double-quick!