Monday 21 June 2021

Ray Gelato at Ronnie Scotts - Lunchtime set 20 June 2021

Yesterday was a special day for me. Since I was fourteen years old, I've been spending every spare bit of time and cash going to watch live music. In a bad month, I'll see one band and in a good band I'll see eight (maybe with a show by my own band The False Dots somewhere in there). And then lockdown hit. On March 4th 2020 I went to see Judy Collins at the Union Chapel. I didn't really give it too much thought at the time. She was a legend and I love her work. It simply didn't occur to me that it would be the last gig I saw for 15 months (other than a couple of duo's at restaurants in Madeira last September).

We booked tickets for Ronnie Scotts last June, when they were due to open. I booked as soon as I possibly could. Sadly I got Boris'd. The opening date was put back. I told the club to keep the money on account. They needed it more than me. I have to admit, it made me cautious. We have tickets for eight shows that have been continually re-arranged, including Gregory Porter, The Damned and The Specials. Much as it hurt, I took the sad decision to buy no more tickets until I knew we could go. 

Ray Gelato back on home turf

So when we learned Ronnies was opening up, I scanned the programme looking for something suitable. As yesterday was the official start of my wife Clare's birthday week, I fancied a bit of Ronnie Scott action and was delighted to see that Ray Gelato and the Giants was playing a lunchtime set. I love a Sunday Jazz lunch at Ronnies and knew that Ray would be the perfect first gig back. We have discussed putting Ray on a number of times as a Jazz headline at The Mill Hill Music Festival. Our Jazz promoter, Brian Peerless was a long standing fan of Ray and had Brian not passed away in 2019 and we not had a Pandemic, he'd most likely be doing a show this Thursday on our keynote Jazz night. Sadly there is no festival this year. It did give us a chance to see if Brian was right and Ray would be a good night for the festival.

I have a ritual when I go to Ronnies. I always have a Peroni and a custard tart in Bar Italia before the gig. I used to work near Frith St and always nipped in for a beer or an Espresso and a snack. Now it is only when I visit Ronnies that I tend to go. To my delight, Ray also has a similar routine and nipped in for a coffee before. 

Having had a suitable sharpener, we made our way in. Ronnie's used to have the reputation for the worst food in London. Now the food is amazing. The Sunday lunch is fantastic, generous portions and well cooked. It is the perfect Jazz lunch. We shared a bottle of wine to boot. The club is operating at 50% capacity, but you wouldn't know from the reception.

I knew Ray was a decent crooner. He can sing and I knew he'd be entertaining. The only thing I wasn't too sure about was whether he'd be ring rusty. The gigs at Ronnies were his first since last September. I hadn't appreciated that he's a damn fine sax player as well and a half decent song writer to boot. The band were superb. I particularly liked the sax duet of 'La Rosita'.

Ray is well known for putting on an entertaining and lively show, but this was performed with great tenderness and sounded delightful. Of course we had the classic jazz standards such as Mack the Knife, but there were also a few tracks from Ray's new album. I was quite partial to his song about Meatballs.

After the show, we had a little chat with Ray. Like all musicians, the last year has been almost impossible  for Ray. You can't keep a good man down, but the whole music industry has received one hell of a kicking. Running a studio, I've seen the coalface of how bad it has been. Not being able to earn a living for fifteen months is not something anyone should have to deal with. I believe that society genuinely doesn't appreciate the work you have to put in to become a decent performer and put a live act together.  To become a Lawyer or an architect, you go to Uni for three or four years. To be a musician, from the moment you start playing, you never stop learning, it is a lifetime mission. 

To maintain a basic level of playing, I need to practise 30 minutes a day, to improve it's 2-3 hours a day, God knows how many years all of us have had sat in the bedroom, just getting competent and staying at that level. To keep the band 'match fit' we need to get together regularly and rehearse and play gigs. The effort Ray and his musical director have put in to refine their show would leave just about any other profession in the shade. You are never really not working. Evey time you hear a new lick you like or a new influence, it is logged, to be properly explored the first time an instrument is to hand. 

It's not just playing, a decent musician is always listening to new material, seeking new influences. As a fellow musician, I can only say that I take my hat off to Ray and all of the other stalwarts of the London music scene who will bring us back. Non musicians have a job to do too. It is a very pleasant one. All you need to do is turn up and have a great time. Here's the link!

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