Performance Review

Scarborough Jazz Festival, October 2015

David Wright,

Bearing some resemblance to the comedian Dara Ó Briain and with a wit to match, it’s intriguing to learn that Shaw began his career not as a musician but in the alternative cabaret circuit, alongside the likes of Jo Brand and Julian Clary.

“You’re up late, this is one of my favourite festivals,” he remarks to the crowd, the natural wit of this Welshman immediately putting the crowd at their ease. After the more soulful voices heard earlier in Jazz at Cafe Society, this is a change of tone; he’s a very versatile singer and his scat singing is extraordinary. It’s easy to see why he is twice winner of the BBC Best Jazz Vocalist Awards.

Shaw is a true poet, wordsmith and a fantastic songwriter. The self-penned Somewhere Towards Love is a gentle, stunning song, introduced eloquently on piano by the great Barry Green. Shaw’s falsetto voice sends shivers up the spine (and this piece is also a favourite of style icon Molly Parkin, who chose it as one of her Desert Island Discs on Radio 4.)

My Brother is similarly poignant and one imagines it will receive favourable radio play when it is released as a single in November. With its haunting piano line, the chorus immediately hooks you in, the melody plays about in my head hours later. Shaw’s lyrics are far from mundane: “My brother would have played trombone in a marching band.” The upright bass solo from Mick Hutton is sensitively played and enhances the song perfectly.

Ever self-deprecating, Shaw notices the big clock on the stage, placed there so performers don’t over run. He picks it up and jokes: “Is this for the raffle? One minute over and it’s over for you, fatso!” But his set isn’t over yet, we’re half way through and as his trio depart the stage, he moves across to the piano stool and is joined by the amazing trumpeter Guy Barker.

“He spends most of his time in a dungeon composing these days!” laughs Shaw. Although personality wise, the two are like chalk and cheese, musically they gel well together. Barker's stage persona is quieter, but his trumpet playing literally speaks volumes. The word genius is used too liberally these days, but Barker is an incredible player, with a staggering technique and sound, indeed there is little need for him to use the microphone. He plays along with the musical jokes as Shaw stops and starts Makin’ Whoopee, his trumpet occasionally imitating a startled horse. Shaw’s piano canters along beside him during the quirky standard, September In The Rain and the two seem to be able to sense what the other will do next.

“I have a party to go to!” exclaims Shaw, as he arrives back onstage for a final encore of Somewhere from West Side Story. Dedicated to the refugees and the ongoing crisis, the song’s lyrics seem to have an extra urgency to them tonight; the partying will have to wait a little longer as Shaw, now seated, touchingly delivers the moving lyrics:

There's a place for us,
Somewhere a place for us.
Peace and quiet and open air
Wait for us

As I catch the cliff lift home, Shaw’s rendition still moves me and, with tiredness setting in, I head home, ever more grateful to have a bed I can call my own when so many sadly don’t.