Elaine Delmar, one of the finest

A few moments minus recorder spent with the singer elicited some details that just might not already be in the jazz biographies

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Elaine Delmar at the London Jazz Festival in 2015. Elaine Delmar at the London Jazz Festival in 2015. Photo © John Watson

It’s fairly safe to say that dozens if not hundreds of senior citizens will be cruising in the Caribbean this winter but it’s equally safe to say that very few, if indeed any, will be actually working whilst on board. Say hello, then, to Elaine Delmar, who will be literally singing for her supper at the rate of two sets per day as she cruises the islands.

Years aside, she sounded incredibly young not to say young at heart as we beguiled what seemed like several hours. It was actually less than one, chatting about any and everything – not least her father the trumpeter and bandleader Leslie “Jiver” Hutchinson, with whose band she was touring when he was killed in a road traffic accident in Norfolk in her 20th year. She recalled how the line-up included three trumpets and four saxes. The names – Bertie King (“uncle” Bertie), Happy Blake, Joe Appleton, Clinton Maxwell, Coleridge Goode – will strike a chord with seasoned readers.

She was actually born in Harpenden though she can’t for the life of her think why, given that her parents made their home in Camden Town; her best guess is that it had something to do with security given that the war was in full swing and Camden Town was arguably not the safest place for expectant mothers.

She gets a kick out of being “a North London girl”, being schooled in Wood Green and flitting between several North London suburbs before settling permanently in Barnet. Learning that I was native to Manchester she rattled off the names of several venues in which she played there and spoke fondly of the 12 years she spent playing the Midlands and northern working men’s clubs, which she described as her apprenticeship.

I mentioned seeing her in 1972 at The Mermaid Theatre in Cowardy Custard, based, of course, on the works of Noel Coward, and this led us on to her work in the theatre where, among other things, she appeared in a revival of Finian’s Rainbow, and notably spent two years in Bubbling Brown Sugar.

As an admirer I’ve seen her perform live on several occasions, the most recent being the day before our chat. I plied her with questions about her charts (she’s had most of them for years and they’re the work of several arrangers), favourite venues (too diplomatic to single out one), favourite writers (again she was reluctant to single out one but she has dabbled liberally among all the heavy hitters and has recorded albums devoted to George Gershwin and Cole Porter, as well as one to Alec Wilder, which is now a collector’s item.

The entire conversation was as warm and relaxed as if between lifelong friends who had been at school together whereas we were the nearest thing to complete strangers as it is possible to get. It’s this ease of conversation plus, of course, a superb set of pipes – at one minute like an express train emerging from a tunnel, at the next purring like a Rolls Royce engine – that makes her one of the finest performers on the cabaret circuit. I urge anyone who aspires to Taste to seek her out and savour.