Pheasantry, The First Decade, Day 4: Nicky Haslam, Earl Okin, Elaine Delmar

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Elaine Delmar. Photo by Louis Burrows Photography

As someone once said, all good things come to an end, or as a more specific someone (James A Fitzpatrick) put it at the end of each of his travelogues, “…and so we say farewell to (wherever)” which in this case is the four-day celebration marking the 10th anniversary of the relaunching of The Pheasantry. Overall it’s been an impressive week and if the very last act of the very last day – or act number 12, whichever is the greater – was the best by a country mile then let’s hear it for symmetry.

Whenever the talk turns to the late lamented Pizza On The Park, the Pizza Express chain and, yes, even The Pheasantry, with luck three sentences will elapse before someone mentions Peter Boizot and on this anniversary perhaps we can give a nod to Boizot’s co-founder and forgotten man Ronald Simson-with-no-P, and then, having done so, move on.

When I say that there were nine Songs by Cole Porter, three by Gershwin, two by Rodgers and Hart, two by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer, one by Rodgers and Hammerstein, one by Irving Berlin, one by Jule Styne, one by Stephen Sondheim, your logical question must surely be how did they shoehorn so much class into so little space?

Nicky Haslam couldn’t carry a tune in a Louis Vuitton wallet but he gets out of that by offering a stylish repertoire – six of the Cole Porter numbers were his – performing it with a charm offensive and punctuating the music with gossip about the glitterati.

When first knew Earl Okin, around the time British Tommys were going over the top at Ypres, about 80% of his schtick consisted of him imitating a trumpet. He seems to have given that up in favour of blowing his own. On the plus side he enjoys a rapport with the audience, plays guitar and piano with equal facility and where once he featured his own quirky songs almost entirely he is now prepared to acknowledge that other people can also write songs superior to his in both words and music. A highlight of his set was a more or less straight version of One For My Baby followed by a version of his own in which he rewrote Mercer’s lyric from the point of view of the bartender who is tired of barflys warming his ear.

Given that this account is appearing in Jazz Journal it is appropriate that this final act on this final day should be given over to someone who is undeniably a jazz performer and arguably the premier jazz singer in the UK. The fact that Elaine Delmar was accompanied on the piano by John Pearce (Simon Thorp was on double bass) was a bonus as far as I was concerned for John is not only one of the finest pianists around but also a gentleman in every sense of the word.

Elaine began with a gentle upbeat reading of It Might As Well Be Spring, followed with Gershwin’s I’ll Build A Stairway To Paradise, then Bewitched from Pal Joey so that in the space of three numbers she had featured Dick Rodgers with his two primary lyricists albeit in reverse order. She then did a second Gershwin, They Can’t Take That Away From Me. With four numbers from five of the all-time great songwriters she was batting a thousand and looking and sounding like half of her 80-plus years. The best was yet to come – three more Porters, one more Rodgers and Hart, it just doesn’t get any better than that, a fairytale ending to a beguiling week. Here’s to the next decade.

Pheasantry, The First Decade, Day 4: Nicky Haslam, Earl Okin, Elaine Delmar. The Pheasantry, Kings Road, London SW3 4UT. 14 November 2019