Saturday, March 19, 1983


Dad gave me a lift to Whincliffe at teatime last night amid grey skies and drizzle; he dropped me off at Beamish Hall at quarter to eight. Quite a lot of people crowded into the foyer and on the stairs. I could hardly get my legs into my cramped uncomfortable seat in the Upper Circle: I had to sit in an awkward sideways posture which gave me pins and needles all evening.

I was high above the stage and virtually on top of the performers. Down below, the expensive seats were packed, tables and chairs set out à la a self-respecting jazz club. From my vantage point I commanded sweeping panoramic views across the audience and an unrestricted view right down onto the blue and orange glitter of the stage.

The Gil Evans Orchestra up first, a 14-piece band. I'd expected easy listening armchair jazz and so was surprised at their long drifting barrages of keyboard-bass noise, piercing brass and squalling saxophone and trumpet solos. The music now impossible to describe, and at times I even heard odd echoes of psychedelic ensemble passages such as “A Saucerful of Secrets.” It was really haunting. Enthusiastic applause.

After a long interruption and to loud cheers, Lester Bowie took the stage in his familiar white lab coat. The sounds he squeezes from his trumpet are phenomenal, at one point quiet moaning cat sounds, at others, shrieks and squeals that soared up to the great decorated ceilings of Beamish Hall. Halfway through the second bluesy number he was joined by Fontella Bass and the enormous David Peaston, who has an incredible voice.

As soon as he opened his mouth he was all grace and elegance, his voice rising higher and higher until – breathtakingly – it echoed and was lost high above. The audience whooped at the sheer power and exhilaration of his voice: he sustained one note for what seemed an eternity and the hall erupted into spontaneous applause. Later, Fontella’s sister Martha sang a couple of gospel songs, throwing her ample pink figure around the stage until at one point I thought she was going to fall over.

The sky was flat and leaden today, but at least it was dry. Around dinnertime Rob and Carol rolled up along with teacher-friend Henning, a big bearded German with a quiet and good-natured air. Robert's now getting very serious about Buddhism now, and he told us how he “meditated on death last night: it really helps.” Then the three of them went out for a curry.

Dad and I met them at the match. Athletic were playing Steyncote and all-in-all it was a pretty crummy display, Easterby showing occasional flashes of one-touch fluency but Steyncote dominating for long periods. Sure enough, just on half-time, their two strikers Joe Franks and Cameron Keith, broke free and Keith pushed a shot just past the feebly falling figure of the keeper and into the net. Sickening. Dad was really angry afterwards but I just dropped football from my mind as the season is past the caring stage; Athletic are neither up nor down.

We got back to a crowded house and ate a quick snack before Rob, Henning and I set out for Whincliffe again to see Freddie Hubbard. Beamish Hall was fairly empty compared with last night. Julian Bahula’s Jazz Afrika played a couple of things I remembered from last time I saw them and were really good to watch, but their was none of the excitement or exuberance of last time, and they didn't seem to connect with the audience.

Freddie Hubbard came on stage looking like Joe Cool in his shades, black shirt, red tie and slick double-breasted suit. He played a long set with numerous solos, and plays pretty powerfully. He doesn’t have as wide a vocabulary of sounds as Lester Bowie does but still did some excellent things. The last number was the best, the bass laying down a hypnotic rhythm, which was echoed by the piano, then taken up by the brass . . . on and on it went, into solos and fragmented percussive sections which the drummer ended by snatching the original rhythm from out of the shifting sound and dragging everything back together again to enthusiastic applause.

But for long periods the music had to compete with the rattling of cash registers, the chinking of coins and the murmur of talking and laughing voices. Robert pointed out a few “pigbag-types probably there just for the pose” plus the usual members of the elderly-to-middle-aged tweed jacket-and-tie brigade. In the car on the way back Robert argued that jazz's focus on solos is “indulgent.”

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