Won’t you come home to Tile Hill again, Bill Bailey?, asks Martin Longley.
The Bill Bailey All-Stars
The Westwood Club & Reading Room
The trumpeting bandleader takes his name from the old song, (Won’t You Come Home) Bill Bailey?, as popularised by countless old school jazz combos during the century or so since its composition. The name found on Bailey’s passport is almost certainly Richard. His influence on this Burton-upon-Trent sextet is marked, with copious amounts of anecdotal information given out between the tunes: a friendly ramble, but with the humour sometimes coming across as slightly lame.
This smattering of familiar chestnuts subjected to novelty re-jigging would be best advised for partial jettisoning, as the band are at their sharpest when just delivering the numbers straight, offering up a high standard of soloing precision, and a tight formation that presumably springs from regular gigging and diligent rehearsal. Even though around half of their repertoire is traditional New Orleans fare, Bailey makes a point of including tunes that are less expected, either because they’re rarely selected, or because they pounce from just outside the jazz border.
This weekly Sunday lunchtime session at the Westwood Club is called Jazz-a-matazz, and has a successfully ambitious strategy, when many such slots appear on either a monthly or fortnightly basis. This was the Bailey band’s first appearance at this long-established refuge on the outskirts of Coventry. With matching orange shirts and a preference for longish locks, the Bailey band collectively cut a distinctive visual configuration. The leader’s stack of music ledgers teetered atop an up-ended suitcase bearing his combo’s name.
The pace was set with a trouncing bolt from the starting point, courtesy of At The Jazz Band Ball, their choice of signature tune. The flowing locks were sported by four out of six players, but stringster Peter Robinson opted for a polished, shiny dome. He frequently had the spotlight shone on this reflective bonce, taking more than the usual number of guitar and (particularly) banjo solos, demonstrating a notable broadness of vocabulary on the latter, sprinkled with dexterous finger-work.
The old New Orleans march We Shall Walk Through The Streets Of The City was appropriated for the soundtrack to the 1948 Howard Hawks movie, Red River, and was here offered in purist form with a nimble banjo solo. Another canny swerve was made with a rendition of Moon Over Naples, the instrumental precursor to the Spanish Eyes song, with yet another stand-out banjo solo, this time impersonating a mandolin.
Then, Bailey declared that their choice of Buddy Holly’s Raining In My Heart hadn’t been heard within these portals in a jazz context, and probably wouldn’t be again. This ditty (without vocals) was specially selected to reflect the sudden change in the conditions outside, from sunshine to downpour.
The leader slipped in an outstanding muted trumpet solo during Trouble In Mind, and a horns-only interlude lit up Lady Be Good. Not many tradders pay tribute to George Melly, but Bailey explicitly gave a shout-out with his exuberant singing on Doctor Jazz. Roger Keay also reeled out a frequent run of hot solos on soprano and tenor saxophones.
Near the end, there was a dip with a novelty re-write of Summertime, viewed from a pensioner’s vantage point, but the All-Stars climaxed well with a joyous strut through Royal Garden Blues.