100 Years of British Song – Ian Shaw with special guests at QEH – EFG London Jazz Festival

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It was always going to be an ambitious project to capture 100 years of British popular song in two hours, but if anyone can do it, it’s Ian Shaw. MC Jumoke Fashola’s observation that she “doesn’t know any singer who hasn’t worked with him” paved the way for an evening of, in jazz showbiz terms, a glittering all-star line up.

Shaw’s long time collaborator Claire Martin made the first sparkling entrance onto the cabaret set stage with her rendition of Bowlly’s Love is the Sweetest Thing, placing us between the two World Wars. The segue into Smile illustrated with projected images from the Jazz Age, Chaplin, Hitler and Auschwitz(!) was no doubt intended as juxtaposition, but was one of several visual sequences that at times jarred with the upbeat tone of the evening.

The jazz royalty roll call continued with Elaine Delmar and Barb Jungr, both capturing the spirit of the 1940s and 1960s with their fluid, expressive style. Shaw is unafraid to venture from jazz to other genres if it suits and Kathryn Williams’s Folk-tinged rendition of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face is apparently the finest Ewan MacColl ever heard.

Shaw took the opportunity to showcase his protéges: Ben Cox didn’t change from his 2WW Naval uniform despite being the star of the 1970s slot with an easy going, crooning rendition of Drake’s River Man. Another new discovery is Yvette Riby Williams, celebrating the 2000s with her soulful (and much improved) version of Coldplay’s Fix You.

Natalie Williams’s finale of Emeli Sande’s Next to Me brought us up to date and was the cue for the entire ensemble to dance and clap on stage. A strange sight – jazz royalty past and present waving back to the audience, before departing backstage where the real party began.

– Kate Gamm