Let There be Love: A Tribute to Nat “King” Cole

Symphony HallCity of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra John Wilson – conductor, Gary Williams – vocalist

A full house greeted conductor John Wilson and vocalist Gary Williams for what was to be a magical evening bringing together the CBSO and the American Songbook with the emphasis on the songs sung by Nat “King” Cole.

There were 22 planned numbers including 2 instrumentals to give Gary a short break in each half and the 20 vocals demonstrated his ability to sing both ballads and up-tempo arrangements. We were also treated to 2 encores “Let There Be Love” and “Route 66” with some special lyrics changing it to “Route A56” and providing references to places like Barnsley and Pontefract which coming not far from them I thought very amusing. But let’s get back to the evening proper. It is easy to see and sense when an audience is enjoying themselves and as Gary started off with a real winner in the up-tempo number “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” then his first ballad of the night “On the Street Where You Live” and quickly following it up with the classic Gordon Jenkins arrangement of “Stardust” it was clear he had already won over the audience. And to be honest that was the pattern that proved to be a winning combination of the CBSO and Gary Williams. The applause was loud and long and as Gary said it was a shame that the Controller of BBC Radio 2 could not have been there to see a full house for “Our kind of music”. We should hear more of this style of music on the BBC.

The CBSO with over 70 instrumentalists created a magical sound that can be as soft as a feather or as loud as an aeroplane but always exactly right for the song in question. John Wilson made great use of some classic arrangements from Gordon Jenkins with for example a most beautiful reading of “Stay As Sweet As You Are” which I believe dates back to when Gordon Jenkins was the arranger and conductor for 6 years on Dick Haymes, “Auto-Lite Show” in the 1940s. Gary sang this gentle song flawlessly and every single word could be heard perfectly. There were also plenty of swinging numbers too in arrangements by Billy May: “Walking My Baby Back Home”; “Say It Isn’t So”; “Just One of Those Things” and “The Song Has Ended”. Likewise, Nelson Riddle arrangements were aplenty: “Smile”; “Somewhere Along the Way”; the ever popular “Mona Lisa” which again Gary performed perfectly; “Unforgettable”; “Dance, Ballerina, Dance” and “Nature Boy”. There were also some wonderful George Shearing arrangements: “L.O.V.E”, “Pick Yourself Up” and “Let There Be Love”. The material, the orchestra, the arrangements, the soloists and the vocalist were the best and we could not have asked for more. Even the members of the CBSO were applauding after the 2 encores. The publicity for the show used the song title “Unforgettable” and that is how I shall think of the evening. Running time 2 hours 10 minutes including the interval. Clive Fuller for “Encore Magazine”

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