I’m glad I took up the offer of a media seat at this fabulous
night of Jive and Swing! I’ve been to top big band shows before and always found them enjoyable but predictable, too
much trading on Glenn Miller as if no other band leader or arranger ever existed!
nearly didn’t go, you know, Sunday night and back to work the next morning!
I was intrigued by the national media coverage of the Debbie Curtis Radio Big Band of late, so I took the tube across London
to find out why!
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I made my way towards Her Majesty’s, I heard the sound of swing music ahead, suddenly I felt as if I had stepped back
in time as one, then another and then more and more people appeared to surround me dressed in 1940’s military and civilian
clothing! I felt a little overwhelmed! I turned to the person next to me, dressed as an American GI, I guessed he was in his
early 20’s. “What’s this, was I supposed to wear fancy dress” I asked. He laughed, “No not at
all, its just a great way to attend a Debbie Curtis Concert”. Ok, I thought, but wondered why. I later learned that
40’s re-enactors are staunch supporters of Debbie and her determination to bring big band swing back into the mainstream
and attract a younger and wider audience!
The swing music I’d
heard was coming from a huge ‘ghetto blaster’ placed outside the theatre and re-enactors were all along the frontage
dancing in the street! Brilliant, the entertainment had begun and I hadn’t even stepped into the theatre!
heard a female voice coming from a loud hailer, there behind me was the Queen of Swing herself, Debbie Curtis, bantering with
the crowd and joining in the dancing. How excellent, when an artist bothers to join their audience in the street, instead
of hiding in a dressing room demanding to be pampered and throwing tantrums?
I watched as
Debbie danced, chatted & posed for photos, then John Miller appeared, there was excitement all around, and my Sunday night/Monday
morning feelings vanished, I was now eager to see the performance.
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made my way to the stalls which were filling up and settled down in my seat with just a few minutes to go.
lights dimmed and the deep voice of broadcaster Patrick Lunt broke through to introduce the show. I looked, but couldn’t
see him, so I assumed he was backstage! He spoke of Debbie’s determination to ‘put the big back in band’
(a great slogan) and reflected on her performance at the London Palladium in July. “Sunday Night Swing Sessions”
was being revived by Debbie, some 60 years since Ted Heath played the last one!
with a quick ‘please welcome’ etc the stage was alive with the Jive Aces bright yellow suits! I’d seen this
lively band before at clubs but never in a theatre. They’re a popular, hard working six piece band who rarely take a
day off! Although they’d already played a lunchtime show in Essex they blasted through a high energy set of 40’s
reworks and material of their own, delighting the crowd. Their stage show wild & polished. Looking at their gig list,
they’ll likely be playing near you soon, I recommend you go!
no time for an encore, there was a brief interval and then more from the ‘invisible’ Patrick Lunt. The curtain
raised to reveal the gleaming set of Debbie and her 16 strong band.
in with St Louis Blues March, my first thought was that for such a large band, they seemed considerably quieter than the Jive
Aces, I wanted to feel more power coming at me. However, they were as tight as a lock nut and Debbie was clearly in command.
Either side of the stage were Debbie’s own ‘Hobsons Choice Dancers & Re-Enactors” who really
added to the show as they blended with the music to give us a glimpse of 40’s wartime life.
up, a personal favourite, Woody Herman’s Woodchoppers Ball! My tastes span from classical, through jazz, to heavy rock
and my ipod throws all sorts of music at me when set to random play, but I always stop what I’m doing when this track
plays, I just love it.
To add to my enjoyment, the dancers entered for their
first performance of the night, jiving across the stage in front of the band! This was so much more already than I’d
expected and though the band seemed too quiet , I was really enjoying the show.
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and with Debbie seemingly surprised, John Miller entered the stage, “I was lonely back there” he said, Debbie
quickly introduced him as Glenn Miller’s nephew, and John joked “where”?
subtly asked Debbie to skip the planned vocal tracks because the sound system had failed. Aha, I thought,
that’s why its too quiet. So, next up came Billy Mays’ All of Me instead of Indian Love Call. Half way through,
the PA sprung into life, and with it, the full sound of the band. Now I was clearly hearing this terrific band!
sound restored, Debbie treated us to her vocal of Indian Love Call, followed by John Miller with At Last and then Chattanooga
Choo Choo, for which John was joined by Debbie and 16 year old backing singer in 40’s dress ‘Ziggie Ward’.
There followed another Debbie vocal, Tuxedo Junction, I particularly enjoyed her phrasing of this
extensively covered song, it was refreshing!
Autumn Leaves was in there too and the Doc Severenson arrangement of In the Mood was superb!
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up, from Glasgow, band vocalist ‘Iain Ewing’, he was great, full of stage presence and with a fine voice. Evidently
Debbie discovered him on the Myspace website. Clearly, she knows what she’s doing! Iain delivered ‘Mac the Knife’
as well, perhaps better, than I’ve ever heard it!
The show continued with more
terrific dancing from Hobsons Choice, we also got to hear some Artie Shaw, Billy May, Ted Heath, Neil Hefti, Harry James,
Ray Noble, Nelson Riddle and another great vocal performance from John Miller with Beyond The Sea. The first half ended with
American Patrol, so there’d been plenty for the Miller fans, but not overdone.
made my way to the bar, thirstier though for more of Debbie and her band.
second half excelled, opening with Tommy Dorsey’s Song of India, followed by a fine trumpet solo on ‘The Man with
I was particularly impressed with an arrangement I’d not heard
before, Brazilia, penned by Debbie’s dad Eddie Curtis back in the 70’s for the BBC. I learned afterwards that
this is one of just a few of his arrangements that has been recovered after his extensive music library went suspiciously
missing following his death. Debbie told me later that she is deeply saddened that she is unable to play numerous arrangements
penned by her Dad as the men responsible pretend to not know what happened to them!
were more vocals from Debbie with Sentimental journey but most intriguing was Jericho. I heard Dennis Lotis sing this years
ago, I believe it was a Ted Heath number, but this was evidently a half completed arrangement that Debbie found amongst her
Dad’s possessions and which she has finished off. Clearly her dads arranging talents have been inherited!
Miller returned for Pennsylvania 65000 and Iain Ewing delivered further fine performances of Big Bad Leroy Brown & Under
Saxophonist Loren Hignell treated the audience to the Pink Panther
theme, he’s young, good looking and clearly talented and he delivered the solo superbly and with a huge grin!
Viv The Spiv from Hobsons Choice added humour to the show, brandishing black market goods hidden beneath his jacket
and delivering a few lines of old style stand up comedy. In pursuit of him at all times were a wartime copper and military
police. There were quick scenes like this throughout and they felt like little flashbacks, or projections of the past.
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were now approaching the end of the show, and although as a journalist I had been invited, I thought to myself what great
value for money this had been for the paying audience, two great bands, terrific music, dancing and humour spread over nearly
three and a half hours plus the on street entertainment before the show!
As Debbie announced the band
into their last number, the theme from Hawaii Five O, I felt disappointed that the show was ending, I wanted more and more
we got. The final number was the Glenn Miller favourite ‘In The Mood’ and suddenly the stage was filled with everyone
from the entire nights entertainment, I hadn’t realised just how many people had been involved as the night had gone
along, but here they all were together, a huge crowd of dancers, singers and re-enactors and of course The Jive Aces. It was
now difficult to see the 16 piece band at the back as there were so many people on stage. It was a fitting end to a terrific
night out and I can’t wait for the next one. If I don’t get invited as a journalist, I’ll be buying my ticket
and taking some friends!
Oh and finally, after the show, I found out that
the ‘invisible’ Patrick Lunt was being beamed in as he’d been unable to attend in person, the wonders of
modern technology abound!
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The Debbie Curtis Radio Big Band - Review
AMG was there! To find out about the show, read on...
The legendary Ted Heath's band played for many years in the Sunday Night Swing Sessions at the London Palladium
and now Britain’s only female big band leader, Debbie Curtis is reviving this tradition playing classic hits from the
1940s and 50s in Sunday night shows at premier venues.
on the heels of its success at the London Palladium in July, the Debbie Curtis Radio Big Band has just staged another London
performance at Her Majesty’s Theatre and what a performance it was.
This was the first show I have been to where the atmosphere starts before you even get inside the theatre. Created
by the huge throng of excited people gathering outside Her Majesty’s, dressed in clothes and uniforms of the wartime
These were a combination of two groups. Hobson’s
Choice and The Re-enactors that we would get to see on stage later with Debbie, and a collection of loyal fans for whom Swing
is their Thing. All the stereotypes were represented, the Spiv selling silk stockings, the Air Raid Warden, GIs and a bevy
of very elegant women dressed in forties' fashions.
This was entertainment enough, but onto the show. The supporting act, the Jive Aces, a five piece dance
band soon got the audience clapping. Great musicianship from all of them with a special mention for the keyboard player who’s
Boogy Woogie wowed everyone.
Now to the star attraction,
Debbie and her band. Despite a minor technical sound problem the session cracked off with a raft of favourites that are still
as fresh as the day they were written. Take The A Train, Tuxedo Junction, In the Mood were played by top flight performers
filling the theatre with the powerful and nostalgic sound of big band music. For me this brought back memories of
sitting around the wireless listening to the big bands with my parents when life was much simpler and uncomplicated.
Ably supporting Debbie was the lively American singer, John
Miller, nephew of the famous band leader Glenn. Additional vocals were provided by Iain Ewing, a ‘star in the making’,
with great stage presence. His renditions of Mack the Knife and Leroy Brown were historic.
Hobson’s Choice and the Re-Enactors, the group of 40s aficionados.that we
had met outside, were all on stage, sometimes dancing and at other times just providing an authentic setting to the music
In the grand finale the band, the vocalists and the dancers
share the stage for a spectacular conclusion to a three and a half hour performance of sheer enjoyment.
Debbie lives this music and it shows. The band was originally started by her father
Eddie and she continued to run it after he sadly died when she was only 21. Some of the ensemble are members of the original
band, a testament to their loyalty and her leadership. Eddie would be justly proud of his daughter based on this concert,
making great music with universal appeal to both young and old.
Catching up with Debbie in the bar after the performance I found her to be down to earth and modest about her achievements.
She does not have to be. To succeed in the tough world of entertainment requires courage, hard work and energy of which she
For a feel good night out I can thoroughly
recommend the Debbie Curtis Radio Big Band show. There are more performances planned for before Christmas and we will keep
you posted on the dates and venues.
Editor - www.aboutmygeneration.com
Geoff Eales, Roy Babbington, Bob Howard, Bob Cutting, Martin Shaw, Mark White, Mike Nickel, Lee Hallam,
Bob Wilson, Dave Pearce, Robin Turner, Eddie Mordue, Paul Jones, Mark Alloway, Loren Hignell, Ronnie Mackie.
I really enjoyed Her Majesty's show, I wish I had gone to the Palladium one as well.
I gather you're back at the Palladium in 2008, I definately will not miss that one!
It was a great show, we look forward to the next one, you really are the best in the UK, no doubt about that.
& Janice Parnham
enjoyed Sunday night, your show is so refreshingly different from the other Big Bands around. Please keep the shows coming,
we'll be there.
John & Jane Lucas
Last night, we went to the show at Her Majesty's
theatre and it was brilliant! In the show, you mentioned that you wanted to bring the music to young people. We went
there with our 3 kids, aged 8, 10 & 13, because the youngest and his Dad have both started trumpet lessons. They
thought the show was amazing and their only complaint was that you didn't play "Little Brown Jug" because that's
their homework for this week and they wanted to hear it played properly! We'll definitely go to more of your shows!
Helen Robinson Povey
loved the music last night and will be featuring Hot toddy on my show as simply instrumental tonight.Sorry
I couldn't stay on to meet you but had to dash for the train,Lots of love and
keep me posted about your sunday swing evenings
"Thank you, we really enjoyed the show
at Her Majesty's theatre on sunday night. I even managed to catch you and the Jive Aces live on the radio on the drive
home back to Brighton ! Keep up the good work."
"Great Show on Sunday Debbie as always!! Thanks Hxx"
Thank you Debbie and team for yet another wonderful night of swing, we really enjoyed it
and can't wait for another Sunday Night Swing Session
John & Val Pearce
Brilliant night, loved the show. Excellent Band as always. You are the best.
HI Debbie, just to say thanks for a wonderful evening last night, we thoroughly enjoyed
& Sandra Shortall
I just wanted to say thank you so much for the tickets to last night's
show - it was wonderful!. We all really enjoyed it - even my 10 year-old son was tapping
his feet and he was very impressed, as indeed we all were, by the amazing dancers. The sound problems must have been frustrating
for Debbie but she kept going brilliantly and Ziggie looks set to be a big star! Ian Ewing was a fantastic find - if you don't
mind I'll mention him to our sister paper The Sunday Post who might be interested in doing something on him.
I hope the
band continues to enjoy the success it really deserves, I'll keep in touch with what's going on via the newsletter
and perhaps we could do another feature in the future.
"heard you last night
on the radio, very good it was to"