Johnny Mercer: Songs and Stories with Chris Ingham

Leon Nock sees a Georgia cracker online from Suffolk

Chris Ingham presents Johnny Mercer from home

Before I pull away from the kerb let’s get one thing straight, the official title for the two hours I’ve just spent in the scintillating company of Chris Ingham was indeed Johnny Mercer: Songs and Stories with Chris Ingham and if ever anything was just what it said on the tin these two hours were surely it.

Here was a jacketless Chris, sleeves rolled up, seated at a grand piano, presumably at home in Suffolk, singing and playing some 30-odd lyrics written by Mercer punctuated by biological data, anecdotes and gossip about Savannah-born Mercer.

Mercer was a cracker in both the American and English sense of the word. (In case you’re wondering about the subtitle, the term “Georgia crackers” was coined by Floridians to describe the pioneer 19th century settlers in Georgia who would drive their cattle into neighbouring Florida to graze and would get their attention by cracking their bullwhips.)

In the several years I’ve been covering live gigs for Jazz Journal I’ve seen Chris Ingham far more than any other performer and never been disappointed, so much so that in these parlous times when it is no longer viable for promotors and/or venues to offer complimentary tickets to reviewers I was happy to buy a ticket along with some 50-odd other cognoscenti and bask in the talent of this gifted musician and raconteur.

Arguably Chris’s natural habitat is leading a trio, often supplementing drums and string bass with a fourth voice – brass, reeds or strings. On one occasion shortly before lockdown he worked as a duo with reed man Mark Crooks but tonight was the first time I had seen him purely solo.

He had of course featured Mercer as one of the series of five songwriters he profiled in February/March this year but Mercer’s brilliant catalogue and colourful private life makes him a particularly apposite subject to support a solo evening.

Inevitably, given Mercer’s prolific output, for every gem there was an omission. Thus whilst Laura, Autumn Leaves and Midnight Sun were present and correct, Skylark, I Remember You and My Shining Hour were AWOL. But this of course is nit-picking, just as it would be churlish to call attention to the odd wrong date. Better by far to celebrate a successful and hugely entertaining evening.