John Wilson Orchestra, with Gary Williams - The Times review

John Wilson OrchestraLive! On the Park, SW1 4 out of 5 stars

Have you ever wondered what that timeless paean to Route 66 would sound like transposed from the wide-open spaces of America to the byways of the North of England? Somehow, I suspect that Get thee kicks on the A56 is never going to be as big a hit as Bobby Troup's original, but the Newcastle-born conductor John Wilson and his debonair guest singer Gary Williams (a proud Grimsby boy) certainly had fun with the signposts.

High jinks aside, Wilson takes his mission very seriously. Apart from being an authority on Eric Coates, he has burrowed his way through no end of MGM scores, while his love of the classic big band landed him the assignment as musical director on Kevin Spacey's recent Bobby Darin biopic.

This week's residency in Knightsbridge offers an opportunity to catch Wilson's orchestra in an intimate lounge setting. The men in the audience aren't wearing bow ties, and there's not a cigarette-girl to be seen, but the programme still evokes memories of the supper club of yesteryear. To be frank, some of the numbers, including the cuter-than-cute Geraldo arrangement of Give a Little Whistle, were impossibly quaint. But Wilson and his men are swingers too. The up-tempo pieces by that masterful West Coast arranger Bill Holman could hardly be defined as easy listening, and the presence of such fine players as Andy Panayi and Mark Nightingale was another sign that Wilson was interested in more than nostalgia.

No string section this time, which meant that the Billy May charts kicked all the harder. The Paul Weston setting of All of Me pushed glowing clarinets to the fore. Sometimes you longed for a little more abandon: the sedate horns on How About You? only left you pining for the swagger of Nelson Riddle's version on Songs for Swingin' Lovers. The Basie tributes, however, pulsed with just the right amount of swagger.

Clive Davis for The Times

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