Well this is a step away from what I usually write about, but I thought I’d have a change.
The RAF Concert Band this year are celebrating 70 years of the United States Air Force with an American Songbook, a varied selection of songs and pieces of music celebrating the best the Americans have to offer, from Broadway to Saving Private Ryan. This concert had something for everyone. However, with tradition, the evening started with a Fantastic rendition of ‘God Save The Queen’. Some of the older folk in the audience, giving it what for with the lyrics, despite not many others joining in instead choosing to mouth the words and listen to the band play the National Anthem with expert precision. I’m sure Her Majesty would have been proud. Does she sing ‘God save me?’ I’ll ask her if I ever meet her!
The American Celebrations begin with a Hoe-Down (from Rodeo), and then our MC for the evening took to the stage. Many of the audience would have had no idea who our MC was but would certainly recognise his voice. His voice is synonymous with revealing ‘those big money balls’ on the National Lottery or Announcing ‘The judges have their scores’ on Strictly Come Dancing. Our MC for the evening is ‘The Voice of the balls’ Mr Alan Dedicoat.
A brief introduction by Alan, in to why this years concert was a celebration of 70 years of the United States Air Force and the relationship between and The Royal Air Force and what better way to celebrate this union than with a fantastic arrangement of ‘Holyrood’ and ‘The United Air Force Song’. ‘Holyrood’ was written whilst the Band and Battalion of the 93rd Highlanders were carrying out the guard duties at Holyrood House in Edinburgh. ‘The United Air Force song was written for the US Air Force and is now used as their official anthem.
We moved quickly from official anthems to the fantastic sounds of Broadway, because not trip through the American Songbook would be complete with a couple of musical numbers. Our first foray into the world of Broadway is ‘Send in the Clowns’ written by Stephen Sondheim, famous for Sweeney Todd . Lending her incredible vocals to this amazing rendition is a very talented young lady, Sarah Francis. This song can evoke many emotions and Sarah performed this with such a heartwarming tone and the emotion of the song was plain for all to see. A think a tear was shed among some of the audience. A rapturous applause rang out after Sarah and the RAF concert band had finished. This was the first taste of Sarah’s amazing vocals and we were definitely left wanting more, and more is what we were treated to later in the show.
Back to a classical piece of music for the next piece. Clarinet Concerto No. 2 in Eb Major Allegro, (that’s a mouthful). This piece introduced to us SAC Sabina Heywood, who was the winner of the Royal Air Force Charitable Trust’s Soloists Competition in 2017. This piece performed by Sabina was absolutely incredible, Sabina performed this piece which must have been a good 7 minutes long from memory, aided by the RAF Concert band to provide a lovely background to this fantastic clarinet playing. Watching Sabina play the clarinet was breathtaking, as if you watched closely, you couldn’t see when she was breathing, I think the audience were breathing for her. Such an amazing talent, and I can see this will not be the last were hear from Sabina in the years to come.
From Classical to pop music next, The next three pieces paid tribute to the American Pop Legends. We started with a uplifting performance of ‘9-5’ by Dolly Parton, seamlessly moving into ‘These Boots are made for Walking’ by Nancy Sinatra, finishing this particular arrangement with Roy Orbison’s ‘Pretty Woman’. This definitely had the audience top tapping and the odd clapping along, more clapping was to follow with the Motown Medley which was to follow but not after a trip to Scarborough Fair,made famous by Simon and Garfunkel. Lending his fantastic crooner-esque voice to this lovely song was Cpl Matt Walker, who has a fantastic tone to his voice and his voice echoed throughout the Bridgewater Hall.
From Scarborough Fair back to Michigan and the start of Motown. This uptempo and crowd pleasing arrangement celebrated the best that Motown has to offer. From Stevie Wonder to Diana Ross via The Four Tops. Hits included ‘I’ll Be There’, ‘I Heard it through the Grapevine’, ‘My Guy’ and finishing with lots of hand clapping from the audience as Sarah and Cpl Matt delighted us with ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’. This for me was a particular highlight of the evening as three of the songs were from the Sister Act films :).
From the sounds of Detroit to the symphonic sounds and hypnotic tones of the ‘Afterlife’. Composed by Rossano Gallante, ‘Afterlife’ is described as a meditation on life, the afterlife and self-awareness. This piece invoked many emotions and whilst listening to the sounds from the band, pictures appeared in the mind, my mind showed me green fields, lushious blue seas. Tranquillity and peacefulness were the two images I had whilst getting lost in the music of this piece. A lovely contrast to the fast paced toe tapping sounds of Motown.
Back to the US Air Force now and an arrangement of Stars and Stripes Forever, however this was playfully changed to Stars and Slides forever as this was performed by the Trombone Section. Giving this very American patriotic song a different sound but still staying true to the original.
To end the first half , we returned to musicals and the film, ‘Love Me Tonight’. The song Lover was performed and the Band were once again joined by Sarah Francis and Cpl Matt Walker. A peaceful and relaxing end to the first half of amazing music.
After a brief interval, the second half started with an electric performance of a piece called ‘High Voltage’, a very energetic piece with brilliant solos from the tenor sax and the trombone. A roaring way to start the second half, and this continued as we travelled back to Broadway to celebrate one of the most famous songs from the show ‘Funny Girl’, ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ made famous by Barbara Streisand. Once again lending her amazing vocals to this song was Sarah Francis, and boy, what a voice, belting out this number with emotion and power. A flawless rendition, with an end note that could break glass and brings goosebumps to the skin.
Next we welcome back to the front of the stage (as he has been at the back with the percussion section) Cpl Matt Walker, to take us back to the 60’s with a fantastic number that became a signature tune of legendary crooner Tony Bennett. ‘I Left My Heart In San Francisco’ won the Grammy for record of the year in 1962. Cpl Matt’s voice is perfect for this song and lends itself beautifully to the music. Continuing with the legendary crooners, we are treated to a rendition of ‘New York! New York!’ by Cpl Matt Walker , again his voice is superb and he belts out this Sinatra hit with ease. A little break from the original was the chant of ‘YES!’ from some of the Band after the line, ‘I’m leaving today’ leaving the audience chuckling away.
Spielberg next, two of his famous works, ‘Band of Brothers’ and ‘Saving Private Ryan’, two pieces of music from a TV show and a film, that strike at the heart of conflict. These pieces are played with such emotion and a eerie softness, that suits the music and has the audience in the grip of suspense. We go from the conflict of war to the vastness of outer space. The next piece of music was an arrangement of ‘Space Oddity’ by the late great David Bowie, ‘Telstar’ by The Tornados and ‘Calling all Occupants of Interplanetary Craft’. These three pieces of music celebrate The US Air Forces’ involvement in the US space programme. A very prominent piece which brought back memories to the older members of the audience of the Apollo moon landings and to some of the younger generations, the excellent music of David Bowie and the immortal line ‘Ground control to Major Tom’.
We are on the wind down of the concert now, coming towards the end of what has been a fantastic night of entertainment and amazing music. We start the wind down with ‘America the Beautiful’ leading into ‘From Sea to Shining Sea’ and then ‘Hands Across the Sea’
Two pieces of music left to listen to, and after an evening of The American Songbook, the evening ended in a very British fashion. During the interval, the cadets sold Union Jack flags, these would come in very handy in the next 10 minutes. The RAF Concert band played ‘Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1’, this piece being a mainstay at the BBC Proms for many years. This led into the return of Sarah Francis and Cpl Matt Walker to lead a rendition of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, inducing a lot of very enthusiastic flag waving from the audience, apart from queuing there is nothing more British than flag waving to ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ . The evening then came to a close with the playing of the ‘Royal Air Force March Past’, the official quick march of the Royal Air Force.
The audience were not satisfied by this ending and definitely wanted more. The encore treated us to the battle of the Saxophone and the Clarinet, won by the Saxophone who then with the end piece was highlighted as a solo and proved to be a fantastic end to the evening and left the audience in high spirits and we had been treated to a night out, we wont forget in a hurry.
Roll on next year when the Royal Air Force celebrates it’s centenary.