When Andy Hamilton passed away last year it ended a truly incredible career that began way back in 1928 when he formed his first band in his native Jamaica. In the intervening years he went on to act as Errol Flynn’s musical arranger before ending up in Birmingham, working in a factory by day then playing jazz at night. In the 70’s he promoted some of Steel Pulse’s first gigs, helping to usher in a new era of roots reggae, as well as encouraging many internationally famous jazz bands and solo stars to play Birmingham and, in later years, his newly adopted home of Bearwood. In 1986 he nearly died from diabetes but not only went on to make a remarkable recovery but, at the tender age of 73, also recorded his debut album, Silvershine, which became the UK’s biggest selling Jazz Album of the Year in 1991. Over the next 20 years or so he carried on playing, almost until the very end, with weekly gigs in Bearwood, monthly shows at Birmingham Symphony Hall and a regular slot at the prestigious Mostly Jazz, Funk and Soul Festival.
Now, just a couple of days after what would have been his 95th birthday, an impressive line up of past Blue Notes musicians (the band he formed back in 1953 and fronted for the next 60 years), family and friends gathered at the club named in his honour last year to pay tribute to one of jazz’s true legends.
Over the course of 3 hours the core Blue Notes band was joined by a series of guest artists including Steve Ajao and Alvin Davis, two of the UK’s leading sax symbols, with (amongst others) Roy Forbes and Kevin McCann on vocals, the nattily behatted Johnny Hoo on drums and (just a year or two younger) a kid called Aiden. At just 12 (I think...) he’s one of many younger players that Andy continued to encourage and, judging by his seemingly effortless style of drumming, it’s pretty clear that Andy’s legacy is in safe hands (more on that later by the way).
Highlights came thick and fast throughout the evening, with a mellow selection of tracks early in proceedings giving way to some pretty funky stuff as the night got its groooooooooooove on. Part one saw some stunning playing from one of Andy’s long time collaborators Dutch Lewis (the dude seems to be able to play anything that you blow...flute, sax, clarinet, whistle...you name it) and Steve Ajao, whilst Vic Evans took to the mic to pour that uniquely oaked voice of his all over some of Andy’s favourite tunes. I swear that man could sing a tax return and make it sound like the most beautiful thing in the world. Meanwhile on keyboards Tim Amann (also tonight’s musical arranger) drove the whole thing along in fine style, dishing up some wonderfully intricate flavours and providing all the other musicians with the perfect canvases for their solo slots. Part two lifted the pace with Vic Evans getting the crowd singing along to traditional Jamaican number Hold Him Joe (I’m sure it’s rude but that might just be my dirty mind...) and Johnny Hoo swinging the sticks on a super cool Autumn In Paris.
A downright funky Autumn Groove (off Andy’s 1st album) narrowly missed out on being the track of the night, that title was won...perhaps as it should’ve been really...by a whole new generation of Hamilton, his granddaughter Sophie, who out Ella-d Ms Fitzgerald on a super sassy Shiny Stockings. Roy Forbes’ perfectly pitched tribute to his mentor, a cover of Unforgettable, reminded us all while we were here before a suitably ska tinged number got some of the more energetic members of the audience up and shaking some ass, gently encouraged by Andy’s daughter Kim (also Sophie’s mum).
All good things must come to an end though and what better way to cap things off than the rum rich vocals of Vic Evans on That’s All and a rousing Don’t Worry, sending everyone out into the cold night air with a warm Jamaican glow.
I’m ashamed to say that, despite being a Bearwoodian for 20 years, this is my first visit to Bearwood Corks and the Silvershine JazzClub (formerly Bearwood Jazz). Really, really have no idea why. Just one of those things I meant to do but never got around to. For 20 years. Yes, I know. Slackness is thy name. I actually like jazz too, not an expert by any means but I know my Courtney Pine from my Cannonball Adderley and own at least one copy of A Love Supreme so...you know...no excuses. It’s a lovely venue too, intimate, charmingly old school (£2.10 for a pint of mild) and echoing with a thousand and one great nights past. It deserves to have an equally great future too. Support it. It’s what Andy would’ve wanted. Silvershine on...
PS: Just discovered that Paul Foad, key member of The Blue Notes and Sophie’s dad, was in legendary post punk band The Au Pairs too! Blimey...now there’s a reunion the world needs right now...