Her Majesty's Theatre London Show

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Media Reviews

Debbie Curtis, The Queen of Swing, Putting the BIG back in Big Band at Her Majesty's Theatre in London's West End. Media Reviews, Pictures & Audience Comments................


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!

I nearly didn’t go, you know, Sunday night and back to work the next morning!

However, 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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As 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!

I 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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I made my way to the stalls which were filling up and settled down in my seat with just a few minutes to go.

The 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!

Then, 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!

With 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.

Straight 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.

Next 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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Un-announced 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”?

John 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!

With 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!

Debbie’s favourite, Autumn Leaves was in there too and the Doc Severenson arrangement of In the Mood was superb!

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Next 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.

I made my way to the bar, thirstier though for more of Debbie and her band.

The second half excelled, opening with Tommy Dorsey’s Song of India, followed by a fine trumpet solo on ‘The Man with the Horn’

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!

There 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!

John Miller returned for Pennsylvania 65000 and Iain Ewing delivered further fine performances of Big Bad Leroy Brown & Under My Skin.

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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We 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!

Marcus Ford

Freelance Entertainment Journalist



Review by Chris Hurley - Editor - www.aboutmygeneration.com
Copyright Protected - You must seek permission to reproduce this review.

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.

Hard 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 era.

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 has plenty.

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.

Chris Hurley, Editor - www.aboutmygeneration.com

The Band

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.

Your Comments

To add your own comment, please use the form at the bottom of the page.

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!
Steven Donnelly

It was a great show, we look forward to the next one, you really are the best in the UK, no doubt about that.
Robert & Janice Parnham
We thoroughly 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

I 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
Sue Marchant
BBC Northampton

"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."
Brighton Jive

"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.
Dave Knightly

HI Debbie, just to say thanks for a wonderful evening last night, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
Kieran & Sandra Shortall

Hi Debbie,
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.
Best wishes,
Helen Newman

"heard you last night on the radio, very good it was to"

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