Album Review: Greek Street Friday

Kind of Jazz

Matthew Ruddick, 9th September 2023


Ian's first new album since 2019 has a more autobiographical feel. Hard to believe, but Ian Shaw’s last album, What’s New, was released back in 2019, and it’s been six years since his last jazz-influenced pop album, the excellent Shine Sister Shine (2017). So, what’s new?

Firstly, Ian returns to the more pop-oriented sounds of the 1970s that influenced him in his formative years; think Bowie, Steely Dan, some of the great, melodic singer-songwriters such as Billy Joel. Secondly, the new album has more of an autobiographical feel to it, as the title Greek Street Friday implies. There are also fewer covers on the new album. Perhaps it’s because Ian reached a big round number last summer (spoiler alert – it wasn’t fifty) and is in a more reflective frame of mind. Thirdly, the excellent pianist Jamie Safir takes over from Barry Green on piano and keyboards this time around; Jamie also co-wrote and arranged most of the songs with Ian, and also produced the album. Finally, the album has more of a guitar-driven, less jazz-oriented feel to it, featuring David Preston on guitar and Alex Haines, who adds some elegant slide guitar on a few tracks.

The rest of the band include Conor Chaplin on bass, Ian Thomas on bass, and guest musicians Iain Ballamy on saxophone, Matt Kent on vocals and backing vocals, and Polly Gibbons on backing vocals.

The album opens with People Who Go Ta-dah! which takes aim at fakes in modern society, which include the shallow talent-pool that makes up the current government. It’s all set to a taut, funky Steely Dan groove, led by Jamie Safir, who contributes Fender Rhodes, Clavinet and also Hammond Organ.

The reflective title track is a fine illustration of what a fine lyricist Ian Shaw has become over the years, as he describes how a Greek Street Friday morphs into “another lonely Saturday night”. There’s some lovely slide guitar by Alex Haines here, which add to the feeling of melancholy, and Matt Kent adds a subtle backing vocal.

Falling Uphill also has a Steely Dan vibe, complete with female backing vocals from Polly Gibbons, who is on fine form throughout. The lyrics reference Ian’s formative years as a “piano man” for hire. Jackie’s Blues refer to Ian’s friend, Scottish poet Jackie Kay. Musically there are references to early Bowie in the arrangement, which is stunning. There’s also a guitar solo by David Preston to enjoy, and soulful backing from Polly Gibbons, too.

The delicate To Be Held is based on a quote by Truman Capote. It’s destined to be another Shaw-penned classic, like My Brother, with a catchy melody and poignant lyrics.

Say A Prayer For Baby Blue has a breathless, rock vibe, and sounds like it recalls the late nights of Shaw’s youth in the eighties. Years – a ‘bonus track’ on the CD – is a delightful duet with New York-born, London-based singer (and violinist) Matt Kent. Vocally it’s one of Ian’s best performances on the album, and the impressive Kent holds his own. The album closes with We Stopped Talking, which references a book called London Made Us by Ian’s old friend, broadcaster Robert Elms.

There are two ‘covers’ on the album. George was written about George Michael by pianist Jamie Safir, and features an elegant melody and piano, courtesy on Safir, and a heartfelt vocal from Ian Shaw. Better still is a cover of Rickie Lee Jones’s Blinded By The Hunt. It’s my favourite song on the album. Shaw’s falsetto made the hairs on my arm stand up – both on the album and at the launch party at Ronnie Scott’s. Ian Ballamy contributes soprano saxophone on this one, while Jamie Safir plays both piano and Hammond organ, and guitarist David Preston switches to acoustic.

Greek Street Friday is a welcome addition to Ian’s impressive discography. It’s good to hear more of his own compositions, which always impress, and the band is superb throughout. Highly recommended.