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The Debbie Curtis Radio Big Band

Review by Jim Kennedy
Copyright: Encore Magazine : The Light Entertainment Magazine for the Theatre Professional

Eccentric Rhythmical Brilliance

I knew it was to be something special half way down London's Argyll Street, on route to the Palladium a classic American car with a ghetto-blaster fastened to the roof and parked right outside the main entrance to the world famous theatre, blared out Big Band Swing, setting the mood for the crowds that were gathering for the evening performance whilst extras kitted out in the clothing of this special musical era, happily mixed and mingled.

And if that scene setting cameo was to prove a hard act to follow, no one had told the band on show. Fronted by one of the UK's top (female) musical directors, DEBBIE CURTIS, her RADIO BIG BAND roared into their opening number - 'Hawaii 50' - with power and precision. Miss Curtis, however, takes some quite getting used to for her approach appears somewhat impulsive and spontaneous - even, it must be said, a trifle zany. She uses the full area of the stage, striding imperiously and conducting the orchestra by waving her arms around like a windmill in a gale. Her blonde locks cascade to her waist and she chatters away, inaudibly at time... even once admonishing one of the sax section for not paying attention to her spoken word. 'What did I just say?' she bellows at the unsuspecting musician. He looks suitably embarrassed but the moment passes in roars of laughter and it is obvious that the whole ensemble love her to bits. And before long, we do too. Pure camp...and how we respond!

The HOBSONS CHOICE DANCERS come on and off stage whenever a band arrangement induces a jive and the afore-mentioned RE-ENACTORS, showing off the wardrobe of the post war times, wander on and off willy-nilly, disconcertingly at first until you get used to it but, through it all, the band swing like crazy, carried away by the sheer joy of it all. Some wonderful arrangements including 'In the Mood', 'Heart & Soul', 'Brazillia' and 'Peanut Vendor' and including great solos from the brilliant GEOFF EALES (Piano), MARTIN SHAW (Trumpet), LEE HALLAM (Trombone), EDDIE MORDUE (Sax) and a quite superb drum sequence from stick man, BOB HOWARD.

Two guest vocalists contribute a great deal to the presentation - Scotland's IAIN EWING and, particularly, Norwegian star COREY CONRADI, whose velvet voice was joy to listen to. The fact that he looks good and tap dances a dream is quite incidental.

But make no bones about it, this is some Big Band, featuring a powerful rhythm section, fluid saxes, driving trombones and a crisp trumpet ensemble that make the rafters ring. A band that swing in tight precision and led by a brilliant but mildly eccentric front lady that truly knows her business, both musically and in the art of entertaining an audience. Big Band fans, take note... this is a class outfit with a capital C, playing a style of musical entertainment that will certainly put a lot of bums on a lot of seats in the years ahead. I can't wait to see (and hear) them again.

Other Big Bands Beware

Jim Kennedy
Encore Magazine
Encore Website

The Debbie Curtis Radio Big Band appeared at the Beck Theatre in Hayes on July 10th.

Debbie Curtis led her Radio Big Band of accomplished, musicians with an unusual informality.

Debbie announced the numbers herself, giving interesting information about the musical arrangements and also adding the novelty of what else may have been happening the same year as the songs the band played, were written. Maybe not everyone knew, before the show, that the ballpoint pen was invented in 1945 and Lego in 1949!

Debbie conducted the band in her own style which was interwoven with sudden exhibitions of dance-steps which was fascinating to watch as the music played. Wearing an outfit of black flared trousers, white shirt, red cravat, and long-ish tailed coat, made for an interesting surprising image, especially as her back was unavoidably to the audience for much of the time, displaying her long, blonde hair.

Her knowledge of the swing-style arrangements and slow ballads was impressive, but not surprising, considering that her father was the late Eddie Curtis, who had been a BBC arranger and band-leader himself.

Guest vocalist, Iain Ewing, had travelled from Scotland on the day of the show. He sang with a relaxed style, and he and the band were as one. His style was very much Frank Sinatra with similar stage-presence.

Some of the dancers during the up-tempo numbers wore war-time costume, and there was a couple doing the 'jitterbug' with boundless energy. Jiving and modern dance was included too.

The audience applauded warmly and enthusiastically at the end of the performance.

The informal atmosphere and menu of Big Band music had obviously been enjoyed and appreciated.

Debbie Curtis hopes to introduce Big Band music to people of all ages, and make her show a real family show. The band is described in the programme as consisting of 'this country's top musicians'.

Another performance will be at the London Palladium this Sunday. Not to be missed by Big Band fans or anyone just wanting a good evening's entertainment.


Debbie Curtis Radio Big Band at Her Majesty's Theatre in London

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!

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.

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.

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!

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.

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 -
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 -

Big Band came home to the London Palladium for a Sunday Night Swing Session after nearly 60 years in the absence!


The Debbie Curtis Radio Big Band, complete with Hobsons Choice Re-Enactors and Dancers, Glenn Miller’s nephew John Miller, Broadcaster Patrick Lunt and a surprise appearance by unbilled vocalist Iain Ewing swung London’s most prestigious theatre back to the days when Sunday Night Swing Sessions were just as popular as today’s resident show, The Sound of Music.


This was not just a concert, it was a sleek, well produced show and the entertainment began well before the audience took their seats.


West End traffic temporarily ground to a halt when around 40 re-enactors dressed in 1940’s civilian and military costumes took to the street outside the Palladium entrance to entertain the crowds with jive and jitterbug dancing!


Larger than life character ‘Viv the Spiv’ had the public in stitches with his 1940’s wit as he gave them a taste of how the wartime spivs peddled their black market goods on the streets, from nylon stockings to ration cards and tins of spam!


The crowd were further delighted when Debbie Curtis & John Miller left the confines of their dressing rooms to come outside and join the re-enactors and dancers for a meet and greet as the audience began to arrive.


As curtain up approached, there was an air of anticipation inside the theatre, this was the first time a show of this type had been staged at the London Palladium since Ted Heath closed there in the 1950’s and aside of the fact that Debbie Curtis is young, she is also the UK’s only female Big Band leader from only a few throughout history!


Broadcaster Patrick Lunt introduced the show from in front of the curtain, he spoke about the history of the Palladium and Big Bands, about how the music all started with Benny Goodman and about how unique Debbie is, not only as a band leader but also as an individual, plus her determination to bring the music to a wider and especially younger audience. He said, “Debbie told me one day, “I’m going to hire the London Palladium and recreate the Sunday Night Swing Sessions” “and she did”!


He finished with “Music Maestro Please” and the curtain raised to the sound of Debbie and the 16 strong band performing St Louis Blues March. The stage was shrouded in a brilliantly lit mist with colour one would normally expect at a Robbie Williams stadium show.


From that moment on, the audience was Debbie’s, they cheered and whistled their appreciation of every number performed throughout the show and by the end, there were people literally dancing in the aisles.


Hobsons Choice dancers, joined the band on stage regularly throughout the show, a wide range of ages, their dancing was dazzling and had the audience cheering mid songs as they jived and jitterbugged!


To one side of the stage, a small, ghostly group of re-enactors sat around a table playing cards and conversing giving an impression of what life would have been like for the ordinary person during the war years. On the other side, re-enactors appeared and then faded away under the light of a 1940’s street lamp.


Viv the Spiv made several appearances throughout the show as did wartime bobby ‘Sergeant Brighton’ who at one point chased Viv around the auditorium before arresting him for peddling black market goods!


The band performed faultlessly, smart and polished, every note played sounded sweet to the ear. Fine solos were turned out by every band member at some point in the show, especially noticeable were Bob Cutting on Trumpet for You Made Me Love You, Saxophonist Loren Hignell with the Pink Panther Theme, Lee Hallam with Wish Upon A Star and when drummer Bob Howard went solo for Gene Krupa's Leave Us Leap, the audience went wild!


Throughout the show, leader Debbie kept the band totally disciplined and together, clearly commanding every tempo from start to finish. She included many popular favourites such as Woodchoppers Ball, Harlem Nocturne & her personal favourite ‘Autumn Leaves’


She provided her well oiled vocals on songs such as Tuxedo Junction, Sentimental Journey and Indian Love Call.


Featured vocalist John Miller turned out great numbers such as Chattanooga Choo Choo, Under My Skin, At Last, Pennsylvania 65000, Nice & Easy and Beyond the Sea.


The big surprise came when shortly before the end Debbie announced to the audience that whilst looking through the MySpace website, she had come across vocalist Iain Ewing from Glasgow and had asked him down to London to see the show. Totally unrehearsed she invited him to leave his seat in the audience and join the band on stage to perform Mac The Knife, this was clearly a surprise to him and the band who were then told by Debbie that she had slipped the arrangement into their music pads during the interval.


The audience were clearly delighted by this impromptu performance and sounded their appreciation when Iain took hold of a microphone and told them that he had originally intended to fly down but had instead come on a bus after the airport was attacked by terrorists, his comment that we weren’t beaten in 1945 and wouldn’t be beaten now was met with rapturous applause.


Iain then turned out a fantastic performance of Mac the Knife and filled the stage with his presence. The audience loved it!


Throughout the show it was clear that Debbie Curtis knows what she wants to do with this music, she obviously knows the history and has a passion for it inherited from her late father, trombonist and band leader Eddie Curtis.


The show wasn’t just about 40’s music; it was about music performed by a big band without a Marshall amp in sight! Her arrangement of the Hawaii Five O theme tune was greeted with gasps of excitement from the crowd.


All great things have to come to an end and when met with a standing ovation Debbie encored and finished the show with Glenn Miller’s ‘In The Mood’ but not the Miller version, a more modern ‘Doc Severinson’ arrangement which had the audience leaving their seats to dance in the aisles.


The audience reluctantly left the theatre clearly wishing the 2 hour show could have gone on for a lot longer!