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Newbury's Apollo Big Band bounces back with pizazz

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Apollo Big Band at the Corn Exchange on Saturday, October 2. Review by KEVIN DYSON

Last weekend Apollo returned to long-awaited public performance – their last show was in November 2019. For all musicians, lockdown brought the sudden end to live engagements. At best, that was frustrating for some, but for those playing music for their living, probably disastrous.

I was pleased the Corn Exchange had sensibly allocated empty seating between those occupied by big band music lovers and it provided some reassurance.

Apollo Big Band
Apollo Big Band

Appearing promptly on stage the band looked professional and very confident. Their first rendition of Jools Holland’s version of Tuxedo Junction had everyone’s foot tapping. The volume was very comfortable and the mix had definition allowing every instrument to be clearly heard. It was a very good sound indeed.

Musical director Les Bruce kept tight rein on his 16 musicians who next played a version of Nestico’s The Queen Bee. Bass player Simon Ridge traded his Fender Jazz bass guitar for traditional double bass. I noted that Simon had provided two of his own arrangements for the band to play later – Adele’s Stay With Me and Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive.

Guest vocalist Steph Richardson joined the band on stage for a trio of very classy vocals ending with Shirley Bassey’s That’s Life, while the saxophone section provided a soft pillow of warm chords beneath her pleasant timbre.

Steph Richardson
Steph Richardson

Night Train introduced Apollo’s trombone section who moved to the front of the stage to demonstrate their prominence and skilful playing dynamics. This included Apollo’s youngest band member Jed Roylance.

Tonight’s set list included a great variety of songs and tunes from many eras and genres. There was something for everyone – from big band jazz classics to Lennon/McCartney and there was also a little bit of humour too!

We were treated to some very fine extemporisations, most notably the alto sax duet by Les Bruce and Laura Notton in Green Onions and in which I particularly loved the b10th stabs supplied from the other brass players.

Other soloists of note were trumpet players James Hearn, Brian Yule and Lorna Mountford playing baritone sax and flute.

Towards the end of the evening the band played Jo Zawinul’s Mercy Mercy Mercy with great pizazz and the evening concluded with Steph joining the band for Mr Zoot Suit and encore Pencil Full of Lead.

A very enjoyable evening of live music which we’ve all terribly missed over the last two years and I hope more venues will soon start to host our local artists once again.

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