With support act Radical Steps from Queen Elizabeth School, Kirkby Lonsdale 

Photo credit: Dave Stapleton

On a warm spring evening quite a crowd gathered at the Brewery Arts Centre in the Lake District town of Kendal to hear the remarkable Scottish pianist Fergus McCreadie and his trio in a programme that looked to provide some excellent music.

Since the release of his debut album Turas in 2018, McCreadie has honed his craft as both an exciting improviser and composer of note. His original pieces all evoke his Scottish heritage, and touch on jazz and folk music in equal measures. Now signed with Edition Records, McCreadie has a further three albums under his belt and importantly managed to create a unique trio sound with David Bowden on double bass and drummer Stephen Henderson.

As the audience settled into their seats, they were first treated to some excellent salsa inspired music from Radical Steps, a young student band from Queen Elizabeth School in Kirkby Lonsdale.

Formed some five years ago and run by music teacher David Banfield who presented the current lineup of the band in what was possibly their last performance together before some of the students leave school at the end of this academic year and move on to pastures new, in a short set that was truly infectious.

Kicking off with ‘Mas Bojo’ the band soon hit their groove with solos from George Bainbridge on electric guitar, and Brooklyn Black on piano who both impressed throughout. Out of the front saxes, first to solo was altoist Kara Woods who immediately set the standard for the others to follow.

This was followed by ‘Caracas’, one of two original compositions by the band, that had a nice solid groove and writing for the saxophones. In addition, the piece featured a free section over a solid bass riff before the piano and percussion reestablished the original rhythmic figure leading back to the theme

Toca Bonito’ was another lovely piece and credit must be given to the rhythm section. The bass guitar of Erin Holton and drums and percussion from Oliver Wilson, Joe Power and Maisie Wilson kept the energy and the music going. Soloists this time were Alex Gardner on baritone saxophone, Amelie Clark on piano, altoist Hannah Wickes, and bassist Erin Holton.

Radical Steps concluded their set with another smart original called ‘Midnight Sun’ that again showed some nice touches for the horns. Matthew Webb worked up a pace in his accompaniment on Spanish guitar and provided a nice solo, as did fellow guitarist George Bainbridge. In between the guitar solos, Kara Woods managed to squeeze in her alto solo, and rounding out proceedings were solos from Alex Gardner again on baritone and Hannah Wickes on alto.

It is fair to say that Radical Steps went down a storm with a standing ovation, and what really impressed was the way in which the band played together as a unit. The solos were neat and concise with the young saxophonists all playing with a nice strong tone on their instruments and the excitement generated by the intoxicating rhythms were palpable.

After a short interval it was time for the Fergus McCreadie Trio to take to the stage. Drawing on music from their albums, Fergus explained that the trio never have a set list preferring to let the compositions flow. The band have been playing together for more than five years and bring their collective experience of playing countless gigs and knowing the music well, and this method of performing appeared to allow seamless and continuous invention.

Taking his seat at the piano, McCreadie sat hunched over the keyboard and started to play. Cascades of notes flowed from his fingers as he set out the melody and form of ‘Ardbeg’, a composition that had first appeared on his debut album. The long piano introduction was then joined by a bass ostinato from David Bowden while drummer Stephen Henderson’s delicate brushwork added texture to the ensemble.

From here on in the music would rise and fall in peaks and troughs of melody that carried the audience along. Bowden would occasionally pick up his bow, and the sound of the arco bass would lend an altogether different air to the music, and in addition there would be a fine plucked solos from the bassist.

In a long continuous piece, the trio’s music grew organically, so much so the solos blended into the overall fabric of the music and it the collective sound of the three musicians that is all encompassing. Such is the dynamism of the trio the music and the empathy between McCreadie, Bowden and Henderson the solos almost sere as cues into the next idea or composition. The piece finally appears to be winding down with delicate piano filigrees and arco bass, but do we want respite or for the music to continue, so captivating is the sound world of the trio.

By the time the music stops to let us breathe again, McCreadie has led us from ‘Ardbeg’ to three other compositions in ‘Sun Pillars’ from their latest album Stream along with ‘Morning Moon’ and ‘Forest Floor’ form the album of the same name. With scarcely a moment to pause, Stephen Henderson kicked off the next segment of music with a compelling and melodic drum introduction via a long drum roll that built intrinsically from the tension of the repetitive snare roll and the use of punctuation on the high hat and bass drum. The solo built in intensity until joined by piano and bass that then took us on another tour de force through the new compositions from Stream in ‘Driftwood’, ‘The Crossing’ and Snowcap’.

It is almost impossible to pin down the music of the trio in full flow, and as a listener you just have to go with it and live in the moment. As the music died down, once again the was rapturous applause from an audience who clearly wanted to hear more, and Fergus McCreadie, David Bowden and Stephen Henderson returned to the stage to play an encore in the title track of the album Cairn.

It was good to see witness a well-attended concert of first rate music. The young band Radical Steps after their set duly took their seats in the auditorium to hear the trio, and it was equally rewarding to note that many of them bought CDs and vinyl to listen to the music again.

Pictured below with Fergus is Radical Steps who are Hannah Wickes – alto sax; Kara Woods – alto sax; Marley Atkin – tenor sax; Alex Gardner – baritone sax; George Bainbridge – lead electric guitar; Matthew Webb – rhythm electric guitar/Spanish acoustic guitar; Brooklyn Black – piano; Amelie Clarke – electric piano/synth; Erin Hilton – bass guitar; Oliver Wilson – drum kit/timbale/percussion; Joe Power – drum kit/congas/cajon; Maisie Wilson – percussion