Down For The Count: Songs From The Golden Age Of Swing 

The Count Basie tribute band branched out to skilfully swing a variety of tunes from around the age in question

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Down For The Count at Cadogan Hall, Chelsea, 10 September 2023. L-R: conductor Mike Paul-Smith, singers Marvin Muoneké, Katie Birtill and Lydia Bell. Photo: Jack Childs Productions

One day I may run out of superlatives to describe this band, but I doubt it will be soon, and if I do eventually, exhaust Roget’s Thesaurus I’ll just have to sit down and run up a few more. On Sunday 10 September they returned to Cadogan Hall and tore the place apart without breaking sweat, something they can do with one downbeat behind their back.

The opening number, Steve Allen’s This Could Be The Start Of Something, featuring all three (down from four) of the band’s vocalists – Katie Birtill, Marvin Muoneke, and Lydia Bell – was right on the money prediction-wise, and 28 numbers later, in an auditorium woozy on high octane, they basked in a standing ovation more than richly deserved.

There wasn’t one clinker among the 28, and if the cats at Trade Description Head Office may have looked askance at, and wondered aloud at what a song introduced by Jolie in 1918 (Turner Layton and Henry Creamer’s After You’ve Gone) was doing in an evening billed as “Songs From The Golden Age Of Swing” it would have been a brave pedant indeed who attempted to deflate the balloon of pure ecstasy in which Bell’s vocal, aided and abetted by a band playing out of its skin, had so effortlessly cocooned them. If it comes to that, 16 others (Manhattan, 1925, for example) would have struggled to make it under the wire as “swing” but when a band is cooking like this, does it really matter?

Lush Life has a reputation as an arrangers’ nightmare, deservedly so, but that didn’t prevent Mike Paul-Smith (band manager) and Katie Birtill laying a piano and vocal take on us. When I saw the band first (London Jazz Festival, 2018) Mike was the pianist and although he is outstanding in his new role, I, for one, miss his keyboard artistry.

I could very easily toss off another thousand words or so name-checking such things as Marvin Muoneke`s showmanship, Max Fagandini’s spot-on xerox of Harry James, complete with vibrato, my own personal favourite, But Beautiful – in fact, every number, but time and tide, and all that.

There’s a misconception among the general public, not to say promoters, that those of us who review live performances have got it made: all those free tickets, etc. What’s not to like? But the gig aren’t always up to scratch or to taste and you squander three or four hours you’ll never get back. Once in a while, though, a gig like DFTC comes along, where, in this reviewer’s case, he’d cheerfully brave a blizzard to make it to the venue, and even, dare I say it, pay to get in.

Down For The Count: Songs From The Golden Age Of Swing. Cadogan Hall, Sloane Terrace, Chelsea, 10 September 2023