“Anyone remember 1927?” asked a tongue-in-cheek Tommy Smith before gliding into the second tune of the evening, which was released in the autumn of that year: a beautiful rendition of Stardust by Hoagy Carmichael. Judging by the number of white perms and bald heads in the audience, not to mention the odd crinkling of sweaty wrappers, I had expected a few nods or affirmative cries. But computer said no.
Computer being a large turnout of Falkirk bairns (well, perhaps grandparents would be a more fitting description) who had turned their backs on Donald Trump’s inauguration for an evening of improvisational jazz courtesy of two of the country’s finest musicians: the aforementioned saxophonist from Costa del Wester Hailes and Edinburgh-born pianist Brian Kellock. The music was terrific. The same can’t be said about the venue.
Falkirk Town Hall is perhaps the most soulless performance space in Scotland. Inside and out. Everything about it shrieks municipal. From the glass cube frontage and comprehensive school toilets to the wall-to-wall curtains which soak up the sound and the blinking blinking (sic) auditorium lights, which should have been switched off or at the very least dimmed (one for technician Gary to answer), it is little wonder that most locals and quality acts give it a body swerve.
Grumbles aside, Smith and Kellock were on top form. And even though the polite but appreciative audience reserved their applause for the end of each tune rather than show their appreciation for each of the dazzling solos and dynamic duets which peppered each track, their two 45-minute sets of ballads and standards were bold, playful and tight as a drum. As was their patter between songs. For example, when Smith was humouring the audience into buying their album Bezique so that they could earn enough to feed their children, Kellock piped up: “I don’t have any, but I’m eating for two.”
Onto the music. The highlight for me was their penultimate number which Smith described as “a funny tune with an even stranger title”: The Surrey with the Fringe on Top from the Rogers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma! “What’s a surrey?” mused Smith. To which Kellock drew both hands up to his chin and mimed trotting. But this was no gentle clip-clop through a well-known standard. More a bolt out of the stable, a gallop down the wrong side of the track and a flying leap over the security fence and up into the sky like Pegasus. Both musicians injecting a vim and vigour into their playing which is the equivalent of musical fireworks.
In contrast, their final selection of the evening The Single Petal of a Rose by Duke Ellington and a number of other ballads such as Michel Legrand’s haunting movie theme The Summer Knows from Summer of ’42 and Glen Miller’s signature tune Moonlight Serenade which was treated with so much love and respect that if you had closed your eyes you would have thought you were in a wartime dancehall, were nothing short of beautiful. Which proves, as if it needed proving, that Smith and Kellock are two of the finest and most versatile jazz musicians in Scotland, the UK and beyond.
Finally, thanks must go to Classic Music Live! Falkirk and their main sponsor for arranging tonight’s event. Without their support over the last 25 years, my home town and fellow bairns would have been deprived the joys of many a class act. And they don’t come much classier – and for that matter sassier – than their next booking on 10 February: my old school chum and soprano Cheryl Forbes who along with her multi-talented husband Gordon Cree on piano will be performing a selection of songs from the world of opera and classical music. At £5 it’s a snip. And the venue, The Faw Kirk aka Falkirk Trinity Church, is a cut above FTH.