The Stardust of a Song

John Barnes captivates his audience at the City Barge

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‘Soft is the music that would charm forever’, and so it seemed on Thursday 19th August as John Barnes with Jack Honeyborne on piano set out to woo, captivate and beguile a full house in the upper bar of The City Barge, Strand on the Green.

The significance of the evening was underlined by the high proportion of musicians seen settling down to set a good example by hanging onto every note; for once even the customary chatter of cutlery was muted. After the interval, surprise guests, usually eager to sit in, held back decorously until just before the end, not wishing to stint the reigning duocracy.

It was an evening for contemplation which Barnes and Honeyborne nurtured as we gave a thought to the passing on of Pete Strange, trombonist and arranger and long time colleague of Barnes in the Humphrey Lyttleton band and Elmer Bernstein, a player on the world stage, the man with the golden touch, whose muscular jazz accompaniment to that searing and definitive Sinatra screen epic was introduced to us by Shorty Rogers’ recording of “Clarke Street”.

There was no tenor in the array of instruments in front of Barnes, but he is on record as likening playing the tenor, for him, to ‘wearing someone else’s shoes’, not really comfortable. Not that you or I would notice. Needless to say, his clarinet, alto and baritone fit him like his own gloves! He eased us in on clarinet, harking back to his early days with Manchester’s Zenith Six and the Mike Daniels band of the fifties. His liquid toned “Goody Goody” and “Three Little Words” conjuring up the mature Omer Simeon with a dash of Barney Bigard. The baritone was unveiled for “I got it bad” and the alto unleashed for a dancing “Cheek to Cheek”, all with Jack Honeyborne garnering rightful ripples of applause for perceptive backing and thoughtful solos.

I went armed with three requests, two of which were abandoned as too frenetic. The third, for “Blue Skies”, in honour of a Bing Crosby 78 we had in the early forties, went unasked for, as I could not bring myself to break the sequence. I was rewarded by what was for me the highlight of the evening, a superb “Stardust” which may have been the flip side of Bing’s “Blue Skies”, introduced on clarinet with the sensuous baritone taking over to give us a memorable musical massage.

As we emerged into the balmy night air I quietly defied anyone else leaving this venue not to look up and hear Hoagy Carmichael’s music cascading out of the sky like a Milky Way waterfall.


August 5, 2004