From Big Band to Broadway - An Evening with Gary Williams at Pizza on the Park

Ten years ago when Gary Williams made his London debut at Pizza at the Park, the singer left quite an impression. While it was early days for his career, there was no mistaking the quality of his voice and the huge passion he had for the very best in popular music. Flash forward and Williams still exudes that same infectious joy when performing, especially when offering a programme packed with great standards. He is also a natural with an audience, oozing charm and confidence from every pore.

During the last decade Williams has rarely been out of work, singing with Europe’s leading orchestras, recording several CDs and recently starring as Sinatra in the Rat Pack stage show. As a result he displays a versatility on stage, coupled with a genuine ability to make songs his own, however well known the originals.

During delightful arrangements of Nice’n’Easy and What Kind of Fool am I?, for example, it is not just phrasing and technique that stand out but the real warmth of his vocal style. An injection of humour comes with a smattering of alternative lyrics and parodies, the Route 66 meets A56 idea being a particular hit.

During a nicely balance programme, Williams is accompanied by four fine musicians - bassist Joe Pettitt, Luke Annesley on saxophone and clarinet, drummer James O’Carroll and topnotch musical director and pianist Clive Dunstall. Lisa Martland - The Stage

Audience Spellbound by Sensational Swing

Toe tapping was instinctive for the audience charmed by Gary Williams. The Stage One singer turned West End superstar used his wit, humour, personality, and above all his sensational swing voice, to spellbind listeners at Grimsby's Central Hall on Saturday.

With the help of a truly talented quartet of musicians, he performed cocktail lounge classics which transported fans to the glory days of Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole.

After opening with the Bing Crosby favourite Anything Goes, he developed an immediate bond with the audience by shaking hands and inviting them to snap their fingers. Resistance was futile thanks to his own brilliant performance, and those of pianist Joe Stilgoe, bassist Tom Mark, drummer Steve Rushton and Luke Annesley on saxophone, clarinet and flute.

The Rat Pack era was truly evoked by their rendition of Dean Martin's Music To Watch Girls By and Sinatra's Nice 'n' Easy. Fans were enchanted by their interpretation of Andy Williams' Moon River and Nat King Cole's The More I See You.

And West End musicals were brought to life through performances of Oh, What a Beautiful Morning! and Hello, Young Lovers. But it was Gary's home-inspired lyrics which truly charmed the audience. Changing the American road in (Get Your Kicks On) Route 66 to the A56 had everyone laughing. And approval was cemented by his own verse of The Lady Is A Tramp.

He crooned: "I come from Grimsby, the fish is divine. They know how to serve it and the prices are fine. Fish, chips and peas for £1.99."

The event raised more than £200 for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), thanks to a fundraising raffle, and the Immingham-born singer complimented young members of theatre group Cast for their behind the scenes help. To guarantee fans felt uplifted, he ended his set with the optimistic numbers Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries and You're Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile. Katie Norman for the Grimsby Evening Telegraph

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In Cabaret at The Volupte Lounge, London

Last Thursday, I had a pleasurable musical experience. Gary Williams, who has made some 150 appearances in The Rat Pack – singing/playing Sinatra – is a Grimsby-born vocalist, with an unerring sound and I was privileged to hear him perform at Volupte, a great cabaret room just off High Holborn. Backed by Tom Mark’s good bass (not to be confused with above joke) and a really excellent jazz pianist in Clive Dunstall*, Gary sang two sets of some two dozen songs, interspersed with patter and jokes, which – unlike most of those in The Rat Pack – were amusing e.g., when he saw George Melly perform, Melly was approached by a lady from Hatfield, who told him "30 years ago, in Hatfield, you let me hold your hat." Replied Melly: "Just as well we're not in Cockfosters . . ." The arrangements, by Paul Campbell, were excellent and Gary’s mellifluous style flitted easily around Arlen, (The Witch Is Dead), Berlin (I Love A Piano), Kern (Long Ago & Far Away), Porter (Anything Goes), Rodgers & Hart (Lady Is A Tramp) and many more including a rarely heard Harry Warren composition, Nobody’s Heart Belongs To Me. He also did a sweet duet with Donna Canale but most impressively, Gary involved his audience by singing a song originally written for Matt Munro, titled How Do You Do? – and coming down into the audience and shaking hands with most of them. He also talked to different individuals in between songs. Gary is a man after my own heart! (How often do singers make a positive effort to liase with their audiences?)

Jack Jaffe

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Songs for Swingin' Lovers. National Concert Hall, Dublin

Vocalists Gary Williams and Allan Harris conjured up benign ghosts during a performance of the musical arrangments of Nelson Riddle at the NCH, writes Gerry Colgan. Frank Sinatra used to call his early recording years (under the baton of Axel Stordahl) the Old Testament, by way of contrast with the later collaborations with Nelson Riddle, naturally dubbed the New. The two came together in the mid-1950s, when Sinatra was trying to climb out of a mid-career slump. Together they were a revelation and the eponymous album is recognised as one of popular music's brightest gems. At the weekend, the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, conducted by David O'Rourke, gave two performances of a concert dedicated to the musical arrangements of Riddle, mostly featuring his work with Sinatra, and including some of the hits he created with Nat King Cole. Two exceptional vocalists, Gary Williams (UK) and Allan Harris (New York), added lyrics, but not in imitations of the dear departed. They did better; nestling into the Riddle sound, they conjured up benign ghosts.

The first half included well-known favourites such as Please Be Kind, Lonesome Road and a couple of near-forgotten songs in Gabrielle and French Foreign Legion from the Sinatra oeuvre. Nat King Cole got a good innings with Mona Lisa, Unforgettable and Straighten Up And Fly Right, ranging from the lush to the bouncily effervescent.

After the interval, a feast of standards was offered, including Don't Worry 'Bout Me, Learnin' The Blues, I've Got You Under My Skin and One For My Baby. The vocalists interpreted their songs with brilliance, among them I Get Along Without You Very Well, I Thought About You and My Heart Stood Still. There were also pyrotechnical solos from trombone, guitar and clarinet. This was an unforgettable journey down Memory Lane.

Gerry Colgan for The Irish Times

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Hollywood Rhapsody with John Wilson conducting the Lahti Sinfonia

In the Sinatra programme two years ago there was swing music, but this time we heard familiar tunes from Hollywood productions. When there wasn't the passionate swing pulse, Williams got more time for his pleasant and lyrical voice. For example 'The Heather On The Hill' and 'I Love You Samantha' purred now with style. Williams mastered also the other repertoire well. The true primus motor of these Brits' entertainment concerts is conductor John Wilson, who, by listening to recordings has written down an enormous amount of orchestral arrangements of entertainment music. Wilson's hearing is amazingly acute, and also his arranging skills deserve recognition. All the orchestral music heard on Friday was bathed in glamorous Hollywood colours - exactly how we have used to hear them in films."

Markus Luukkonen for Etelä-Suomen Sanomat, Finland

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In the Lounge with Gary Williams - Album review for In Tune

This 17-track and 48-minute selection is one of the most relaxed albums that I have heard. I attribute this to the superb combination of the vocalist, musicians, arrangements and material lending itself to the gentle swing that is achieved throughout the set. The experience of entertaining at London’s prestigious Royal Garden Hotel on a regular basis has added to an already sparkling style of vocal presentation. The songs are ideally suited to the atmosphere that Gary wanted to achieve and he gets 10 out 10 for achieving just that. Stand out tracks, and it is genuinely difficult to single out just a few, are the opener “Music to Watch Girls By” with its subtle vibe’s from Andrew Cottee likewise “A Swingin’ Affair” last seen as part of the stage musical “Summer Holiday” (great double bass from Dave Chamberlain and Clarinet from Luke Annesley.) Always a favourite of mine is “I’m Glad There is You” a vintage song with a meaningful lyric and beautiful piano playing from Graham Harvey and gentle percussion from Matt Skelton. Given a running time of 4 minutes and 30 seconds this is taken at just the right pace. A definitive reading I suggest. And who couldn’t be pleased with “Let There be Love” a timely reworking of the Nat “King” Cole hit. All the accompaniments are charming throughout.

Gary pens an interesting liner note and there is even a note from author and music lover Alexander McCall Smith. This latest CD makes a beautiful companion to his earlier “Alone Together with Gary Williams and the John Wilson Orchestra on Vocalion CDSA 6809. A worthy Top 10 of 2006 CD in my book.

Clive Fuller for “In Tune” Magazine

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Songs for Swingin' Lovers with the RTE at The National Concert Hall, Dublin

Its said that when arranger Pat Williams was presented with the Nelson Riddle charts in order to choose items for the “Duets” project he was overcome with emotion on seeing these historic arrangements. I am sure that many attending “Songs for Swingin’ Lovers at The National Concert Hall in Dublin felt the same emotion at hearing Nelson’s charts being performed by The National Concert Orchestra plus Big Band under the baton of David O’Rourke who has an empathy with this music. A Dubliner by birth and jazz guitarist, who has made a name for himself in the States, he seems to have adopted the role of caretaker of these charts with the blessing of Rosemary Riddle Acerra. The concert opened with a Cole/Sinatra medley followed by three movements from Nelson’s composition “Cross Country Suite”. We tend to forget the Riddle contribution to the world of the movies and David showed us his arranging skills with a piece written for Audrey Hepburn’s character “Gabrielle” from “Paris When it Sizzles” featuring Fintan O’Neill on piano and Hugh Buckley guitar. The ever-popular Gary Williams and a new performer to the Dublin stage Allan Harris performed many of the Sinatra/Cole/Martin hits to the delight of a packed hall. Ciaran Wilde on clarinet was the featured soloist on “Please be Kind” from Nelson’s first album and it is sad to think that arrangers were paid no royalties, just a flat rate hence Nelson’s entry into the album scene.

It was typical of Nat that when he learned that Nelson not Les Baxter had arranged “Mona Lisa” that he had the subsequent pressings changed to credit Nelson. It was marvellous to hear the award winning song with full string arrangement. The Sinatra Film Suite was featured in the second half of the concert. Stephen Mathieson was the trombone soloist on “You’re Mine You” from the Tender Touch album. One of the standout vocals of the evening was Gary Williams interpretation of “Don’t Make a Beggar out of Me” arranged by Axel Stordahl. Allan Harris brought the evening to a close with a fine version of “My Heart Stood Still”.

Credit is due to all concerned with organising this tribute to one of the great musical arrangers of popular music. Thanks to RTE. Rosemary Riddle and David O’Rourke and the ladies and gentlemen of The Concert Orchestra and Big Band. One small quibble, it’s a pity that a female vocalist was not featured in order to hear some of the charts that Nelson wrote for Ella, Judy, Linda etc. Maybe next time. Chris Hitchcock

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Sinatra's Magic is Captured by Gary

OI' Blue Eyes at Symphony Hall, Birmingham For millions of fans across the world the magic of Frank Sinatra lives on, eight years after the death of the showbiz legend. As Bing Crosby once famously said: “A voice like Frank's comes once in a lifetime. Why did it have to be my lifetime?”

Singer Gary Williams is one of the best interpreters of the style of 01' Blue Eyes and, with the lush orchestral backing of the CBSO last night, he created a very special concert.

Much of the credit for the overall success of the show must go to arranger John Wilson, who conducted last night's performance after painstakingly recreating many of the original Nelson Riddle scores from the classic Sinatra recordings.

From a technique point of view, Williams has a more flexible voice than Sinatra's - and a much more accurate sense of pitch - but no-one is ever likely to capture the texture of the singing legend's voice, nor his unsurpassed sense of swing. Williams offered very fine versions of classics including Come Fly With Me, My Kinda Town and My Way.

Credit must particularly go to drummer Matt Skelton, who drove the hard-swinging numbers with dynamic force. Review by John Watson - Wolverhampton Express and Star

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Friday Night Classics: Ol’ Blue Eyes

City of Birmingham Symphony OrchestraJohn Wilson-Conductor Gary Williams-Vocalist

What a wonderful way to start the weekend, a superb orchestra, brilliant vocalist and conductor plus a venue second to none. Well that’s how it was on Friday night at Symphony Hall when Gary Williams was once again the guest singer with the enormous City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. It was also good to welcome back John Wilson the young musical director who has probably done more than anyone to keep the American Song Book in performance whether through recordings or in concert performance. In a new programme of music from the best of the easy listening catalogue of the 20th Century we were treated to just over 2 hours of matchless vocalising and the finest of instrumental playing that the capacity audience just loved and even clamoured for more when it was time to end!

It is rare to hear this size of orchestra playing the music associated with Frank Sinatra and given the original arrangements by Nelson Riddle, Gordon Jenkins etc and fresh arrangements for all the instruments of the CBSO the sound achieved was magical. Symphony Hall is the perfect venue for this kind of show and the sound balance on the night was perfect. Unless you have heard it first hand it is difficult to comprehend just how all encompassing that sound is. I have never heard the equivalent on a CD and this is why these concerts are so popular and with such a wide age group too.

All of Gary’s vocals were excellent and the added bonus of a large brass section on “Let’s Face the Music and Dance”, vibrant percussion on “I’ve Got the World on a String” and even the harp played so gently by Robert Johnson for “Swingin’ Down the Lane” not to mention Mark Crooks on alto sax for the classic “I Get a Kick Out of You”, lifted these performances to a level that was exceptional. After the interval came even more with great trombone work and strings on Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” and Matt Skelton doing the honours on his drum kit for “Cheek to Cheek”. And so the evening continued with superb song after superb song including the saloon favourite “One for My Baby” with beautiful piano from Andrew Potting until we sadly reached the official end of the concert with “Mt Kinda Town”. But clearly the audience had no intention of letting things end there and back Gary came with “New York, New York” and finally a perfect reading of “My Way” still as fresh as the day it was written and still as emotionally powerful. A fitting end to a purely magical evening.

Look out for more of the CBSO, Friday Night Classics that take you on a journey through the popular classics and the finest of contemporary music from the 20th Century. And let’s keep our fingers crossed for an early return of Gary Williams and John Wilson.

Clive Fuller for Encore Magazine

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John Wilson Orchestra, with Gary Williams - The Standard review

John Wilson Orchestra and Gary WilliamsLive! On the Park, SW1 3 out of 5 stars Review by Jack Massarik

The men in black live on!

Back in the Fifties, when Saturday nights witnessed a million slow-dancing courtship rituals at the local Palais, every town had bands like this. John Wilson, one of those retro young men who wears a black tuxedo as comfortably as pajamas, wants to bring them back.

Among the 17 men in black dusting down their Hollywood scores so stylishly last night were a few strong jazz soloists, notably trombonist Mark Nightingale and saxophonist Andy Panayi, but the emphasis was on a tight ensemble sound, complete with unison breaks for the saxes or trombones.

Hipper arrangements included Sixteen Men Swingin', a Basie favourite by Ernie Wilkins, and a speedy version of Hello Young Lovers, sung Sinatra-style by Gary Williams. Music to Watch Girls By also got the ring-a-ding-ding treatment from Williams, for whom an OBE must mean the 01' Blue Eyes slot in a Rat-Pack tribute show. Indeed, with so many Frankophiles around, the time has surely come for Las Vegas to host an annual convention for them, Elvis style. A Sinatrathon.

Until then it's too early to talk about a danceband revival, but there's something very British about obsessive young men playing quaint old music. Remember the Trad boom?

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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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An Evening to Remember

A charity night in a palace with Sir Cliff Richard was an event to remember for one Grimsby entertainer. Gary Williams was invited to the Cliff Richard Tennis Foundation charity auction with celebrities including Cilla Black, Ainsley Harriot and Jasper Carrott.

Gary grew up in Grimsby, attending Immingham’s Eastfield County Infant School. He first came to the public’s attention after appearing with the BBC Big Band on television playing tribute to Vic Damone. Since then he has gained more fans by appearing in London’s West End in The Rat Pack.

After dinner, Gloria Hunniford and Virginia Wade started an auction for the charity. Gary said: “One of the lots was dinner with Cliff Richard, which went for £22,000 – a little out of my price range.”

The evening, held at Hampton Palace earlier this month, culminated in Sir Cliff singing carols accompanied by James Galway and the band of the Queen’s Guards. Gary said: “The event was magical from start to finish.” Gary is next in Grimsby on Mothering Sunday, March 26, at the Roy Kemp Suite in Grimsby’s Central Hall, to raise money for the RLNI. Joining him will be Leo Solomon.

Grimsby Telegraph

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