These Ronnie Scott's gigs – of which I attended the first of four – were to launch the album Greek Street Friday. For pedants, then, this was the Frith Street Thursday version of Greek Street Friday…
The new album consists of new songs, mostly co-written by Ian Shaw and Jamie Safir. The album blurb says that the songs create "11 portraits of people and places from Ian Shaw's life", that the songs "muse on our place in a complicated world", and that they "draw inspiration from […] Bowie, Steely Dan, Al Jarreau, early Elton John, Billy Joel… That is indeed the core vibe of the album: reflective… confessional… authentic.
It's true for the album, but not really of the gig. Ian Shaw's second home is out on stage, creating the live experiences, connecting instantly and easily with audiences (if you're Welsh, it's probably a quieter option to think twice before admitting it…) The first thing which stays in this mind from last Thursday at Ronnie's is how extrovert and rocky it was. This was above all a show where the good and the loud prevail, with punchy and positive contributions from stalwarts like drummer Ian Thomas and guitarist David Preston in particular. To say the least, it is a complete contrast to Shaw's trio with Jamie Safir and Iain Ballamy, which is much more 'jazz'… and a LOT quieter. The two bands, in the live context, show very different sides of the same performer.
All three backing singers took their moments in the limelight brilliantly. It is no secret that Shaw mentors younger singers and helps them to find (and thrive in) the limelight. A new name to me was guest singer/violinist Matt Kent. Originally from New York and now based in London, his most-played track (with over 10 million Spotify plays) is Lacrimosa, in which he does some popified riffing and puts song-words to the Lacrimosa movement from Mozart's Requiem, sticking with the original key of D Minor (the saddest key of all / Spinal Tap). At Ronnie's and at close quarters, his vocal quality and confidence and ease on stage were tremendous. He performed on one of the most instantly approachable songs of the evening, as a duet with Ian Shaw: Years.
Another instantly appealing, hooky, reassuring (and great) song is the reflective To Be Held, based on a quote from Truman Capote. There is even a song (We Stopped Talking) which draws its inspiration from Shaw's friendship with BBC Radio London's Robert Elms. It will be good to dip into these songs and to get to know them better. My hunch is that there are quite a few more in there which don't offer up their secrets as instantly as the ones that caught my ear. In the meantime this happy and loud gig is going to stay in the minds and the ears of the appreciative Ronnie's crowd for a long time – as it does in mine.
(*) Asterisked songs not on the new album