Photograph by Mike Bielby

Please you tell us about your new album and album launch?

During Covid a couple of us sat around on Zoom drinking a little too much wine and decided that setting up a Crowd Funder would be a good idea to enable us to get a few albums off the ground.  We’d been working on a project based on Art Kane’s ‘Harlem 1958’ image – so that was the logical first recording.  Our vocalist, Alice Grace, is a bit of an Ella-head so that became album number two, and for disc number three we decided to see if any of the amazing soloists we’d brought to Newcastle over the years might fancy some collaborations.

Luckily they did!  So, one crowd funder later and here we are… it’s only taken 3 years(!) to get it all together.  ‘Harlem’ and ‘Ella’ were released in 2022 and 2023 respectively, and now it’s the turn of ‘Friends’ and it was, by far, the most challenging to get down.

For starters I chose to write all the arrangements for the album myself – fun, enjoyable and insightful though it is, it’s time-consuming and pressured at times. I think everyone who writes feels the pressure of others verdict – but writing for a collection of the world’s best soloists really felt tricky and exposed at times. However, I’m really pleased with the end result – the band played wonderfully and our guests are stupendous!

Featured on the album are Mike Lovatt, Mark Nightingale, Anthony Strong, Polly Gibbons, Bruce Adams, Alan Barnes, Gareth Lockrane, Ross Stanley and Paul Booth.  Each guest selected their own title which I then arranged.  Mike’s and Polly’s were arrangements which I updated after performing live with them, and all the others are brand new.

One of the key messages for anyone taking an interest in this release is that we’re keen to show that great big band music can exist outside of London! There are a few groups doing good work and playing brilliant music, but gaining traction when we’re not in the capital is nigh-on impossible!  So, we’re trying to shout a little more loudly about the quality of music making in Newcastle and the North East.

We’re looking forward to launching the album on Friday 17th May at Sunderland’s beautiful new venue; The Fire Station.  The full band with vocalist Ruth Lambert plus THREE super-star guests: Paul Booth, Alan Barnes and Bruce Adams will be performing – it’s going to be quite a night!  The programme is all from the album, plus some new arrangements I’ve written and a couple of particularly influential arrangements by others.  As usual with us, there’ll be plenty of variety!  Tickets on sale now at www.strictly-smokin.co.uk/tickets

What other projects are you currently involved in?

Strictly Smokin’ devours most of my time – after launching ‘Friends’ the next project is our ‘Ella & Ellington’ tour which is going around the North – down to Manchester, up to Edinburgh and most places in between!  Along with SSBB, I am co-director of Newcastle Jazz Festival and am lucky to get to write and arrange for lots of varied live and studio projects as well.  I also run Northern Orchestra, which is a project-based group for all sorts of live settings. They

What are you currently listening to and what was the last CD or download you bought?

It’s fair to say my listening habits are varied!

Here’s the last few titles I’ve listened to online:  “No Bounds” – Chris Walden, “Ambivalence Avenue” – Bibio, “Rich Butterfly” – Billy May, “Five Countries” – Neil Yates and “Incantation” – Emma Rawicz (who we’re looking forward to welcoming to The Glasshouse in Gateshead in February 2025)

What is your all-time favourite album and why?

Can anyone actually answer this?!  Ha!  This is copping out, but here’s a couple I keep coming back to!

“Festival Season” – Duke Ellington: it swings like nowt – it’s raw and energetic.

“Front and Centre” – Florian Ross & WDR: wonderfully written by Florian and amazingly played by WDR. It’s accessibly contemporary and exciting music which draws the listener in. I was pleased to do some studying with Florian – I love his writing – it was great to get an insight into his approach.

“Big Swing Face” – Buddy Rich: this is a formative memory for me, I’ve listened to it for years and years, I’ve played the charts and absorbed the music. It’s smart, up-front and intense.

Who has caught you attention recently that we should be listening out for?

I was very lucky to spend some time in Guy Barker’s Royal Albert Hall rehearsals in December last year.  While there, it was great to hear Flight Call – a vocal group featuring Georgia Cécile, Pete Horsfall and Lucy-Anne Daniels.  They’re all wonderful vocalists in their own right, and in combination are knock-out.  They’re got a few singles out now and looks like more on the horizon – definitely worth checking out!

The new album Stictly Smokin’ & Friends by the SSBB will be released on 17th May 2024.

Tickets for the album launch concert at The Fire Station, Sunderland are available from here

For more information visit the band’s website at strictly-smokin.co.uk