Review by Jim Kennedy
Copyright: Encore Magazine : The Light Entertainment Magazine for the Theatre Professional
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!
Encore Website www.encoreextra.com
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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
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!
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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
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
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!
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
audience reluctantly left the theatre clearly wishing the 2 hour show could have gone on for a lot longer!