Joe Stilgoe: Songs On Film

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Bequiffed balladeer pulls out all the tricks
And like his hairstyle celebrates the flicks

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Joe Stilgoe – a sharp-suited and even sharper-witted jazz musician “of sorts” (his self-deprecating words, not mine) – wrote the title track to my favourite singer Liane Carroll’s recent album Seaside which was named Best New CD at last year’s British Jazz Awards. It is a beautiful love song tinged with nostalgia about seizing the moment before it’s too late which contains the lyric “come kiss me quickly, we might not have long before all this is washed away”. Change the words “kiss me” to “see him” and you have my verdict on Stilgoe’s excellent gig-cum-show at Assembly Checkpoint in Edinburgh which runs until the 27th of August.

Jazz musicians of his “sort” (top drawer, my words not his) don’t perform in Scotland that often and when they do it is usually in less intimate venues at a more costly price. So if you love movies and soundtracks and a feel-good night out, then you’ll love Joe Stilgoe’s Ronseal-inspired Songs On Film – an hour-long celebration of classic theme tunes and long forgotten but instantly recognisable movie songs with one sparkling original in the form of What’s On? from his latest studio album Songs On Film: The Sequel released by the Glasgow-based record label Linn who have produced a string of award-winning CDs by leading jazz musicians such as Ian Shaw, Barb Jungr and Claire Martin.

After a whirlwind piano overture of blink-and-you-miss-them snippets played against a backdrop of Star Wars-like receding text, a Darth Vader-masked Stilgoe sets the tongue-firmly-in-cheek tone by introducing his bass player Tom Farmer as “tall and woody” like his instrument (nudge nudge, wink wink) and his drummer Ben Reynolds as “a cross between Nicola Sturgeon and Novak Djokovic” (the resemblance is uncanny). But to think of Farmer and Reynolds as straight men to Stilgoe’s joker or as mere background artists to his star turn is to do them and the show a disservice because they sing and dance, honk and whistle, grab a torch and quite literally shine a light on nerve-jangling tracks from horror films. Cue Psycho screams and the snarling of fangs from The Lost Boys.

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In between each genre-specific sequence, which range from cartoons and musicals to Tarantino and the Footloose and fancy-free 80’s which is satirised throughout, run a series of short film clips from the “Meanwhile back in the jazz world” cafe in which a variety of movie stars all played by Stilgoe turn their hands (and in one instance Scissorhands) to playing the piano or singing a standard. The standout being a muzzled Hannibal Lecter whose unintelligible crooning is reminiscent of and as laugh-out-loud funny as The Monster’s rendition of Puttin’ On The Ritz in Mel Brooks’ spoof Young Frankenstein. Like much of the show: class!

As the one-liners and impersonations kept coming, and as the mood lifted from happy to clappy, what the show was crying out for was a bit of depth, a bit of emotion, a bit of heart. And that came from one of the most unexpected but perfectly pitched sources: a moving rendition of Rainbow Connection from The Muppet Movie dovetailed by a few dreamy chords from Pixar’s Up which was dedicated to Stilgoe’s one-year-old daughter. This and a sublime interpretation of The Rhythm of Life from Sweet Chariot were worth the entrance money alone. As I said: come see him me quickly, we might not have long before all this is washed away!

Verdict: 4/5


Date: 10 Aug 2016

Venue: Assembly Checkpoint, Edinburgh

Band: Joe Stilgoe (Piano, Vocals), Tom Farmer (Bass), Ben Reynolds (Drums)

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