by Peter Callaghan
After Rose Room’s barnstorming performance at The Faw Kirk on the opening night of the inaugural three-day Falkirk Live! music festival by Jazz Scotland and Falkirk Cultural Trust, Dundonian exponent of vintage jazz with a well-travelled drawl Ali Affleck and her quintet of distinguished musicians The Copper Cats featuring the terrific trumpet player Colin Steele raised the roof of Behind The Wall and then some with a blistering gig which would have prompted Andy Scott’s iconic Kelpies to unhinge their steel-fixed heads from their towering necks, shake their impressive manes and stomp their thunderous if unseen hooves to a beat which suggested that the spirit of Alberta Hunter (one of Affleck’s all-time favourite singers and greatest influences) is alive and well and still earning royalties from beyond the grave on the track made famous by the late, great Bessie Smith: Downhearted Blues.
But the opening lyrics “Gee, but it’s hard to love someone / When that someone don’t love you” do not pertain to Ali Affleck and The Copper Cats. Neither does the song’s title. For although blues featured strongly in their two forty-five minute sets, with the exception of La Vie En Rose (the one song which genuinely moved me and proved to be my highlight of the afternoon), “downhearted” is about as far away from the adjectives which most of the jam-packed audience would have chosen to describe their gig. Like Red Room the night before, think: life-affirming, feel-good, upbeat.
With her hands firmly planted on her swinging hips, a yellow and black polka dot dress which would give The One Hundred and One Dalmatians a run for their money and constant twinkly-eye contact à la Peggy Lee with the jam-packed audience in The Loft at Behind The Wall, Ali Affleck shone like the star she is (or soon will be) from her opening “creepy love song” Me, Myself And I (Are All in Love With You) right through to her rousing curtain call A Good Man Is Hard To Find from The Copper Cats’ recent album Serendipity recorded at Sound Café in Penicuik earlier this year.
In introducing the former, Affleck said that she had really only heard Billie Holiday sing it. And there is surely no finer version than Lady Day’s 1937 recording. But Affleck’s performance was reminiscent of another Lady aka The First Lady of Scottish Jazz and former vocalist with The Clyde Valley Stompers Fionna Duncan who not only featured it on her 1992 The Ca Va Session album (search for it online, it’s excellent) but whom I regularly had the pleasure of seeing her perform it with gusto downstairs at Henry’s Cellar Bar in Edinburgh. As Stephen Duffy, jazz singer and presenter of The Jazz House on BBC Radio Scotland, said of Affleck on winning Jazz Vocalist of the Year 2013-14 : “I can think of no other young singer of Scottish Jazz who can deliver this kind of material with such authenticity and so swingingly as Alison – hence her award.”
As terrific as Ali Affleck is, her exuberant performance was ably complimented and matched by a fine array of musicians, most notably Colin Steele on trumpet whose blistering solos and inventive duets with trombonist Chris Grieve and banjoist and guitarist Ross Milligan were a joy. As was Davide Rinaldi on drums and the under-used Bill Brydon on “the biggest brass in the band” whose hulk of a sousaphone wrapped around his body like a boa constrictor going in for the kill. Which is a fitting description for that is exactly what Ali Affleck and The Copper Cats made: a killing!
As well as a string of exquisitely performed “hard drugs and murder” tracks long-associated with the likes of Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Alberta Hunter, Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday, Affleck & Co injected proceedings with a liberal dose of humour during their lengthy but informative introductions which doubled as a potted history of American jazz and blues. I Get The Blues When It Rains was dryly described as “a very Scottish song” and one of Grieve’s manyaccoutrements was labelled “a one pound plunger from Asda”, which another band member added “sounds like a million bucks”.
But the highlight for me was their goosebump-raising rendition of La Vie En Rose made famous my Edith Piaf from which the English translation of the lyric “Je vois la vie en rose” perfectly sums up the affect Ali Affleck and The Copper Cats had on their sold-out and appreciative audience: “And I see life through rose-coloured glasses.”