Thursday, November 28, 2013

Gig Preview and Interview with Ronnie Bottomley

Gig Preview and Interview with Ronnie Bottomley
Lee Gibson and RBJO@Leeds Irish Centre,
York Road, Leeds, LS9 9NT 
Thursday evening 12 December 8-11pm
£16/£14 concessions

This year Seven Jazz have moved their big band spectacular to the Irish centre York Road Leeds because the previous venue always sold out! I caught up with Ronnie for a chat (by email). Most people in Yorkshire who know about the jazz scene will have encountered Ronnie Bottomley, who was the inaugural winner of the Jazz Yorkshire Lifetime Achievement Award.
Ronnie who has years of experience as a jazz drummer, is also an educator and a band leader. Now in his 80s, it appears that he is working as hard as ever in all 3 guises.

On the 12th December he brings a fresh set of arrangements for the first set and then internationally acclaimed jazz singer, Lee Gibson joins the band in the second set.

Was it always going to be music for you or did you have other occupations before or during?
RB -  If I numbered all the jobs that I had had from being ten years of age to when I turned pro in 1960 you wouldn't believe it - looking back, even I can't believe it. At ten I had two paper rounds and washed mill owner's cars on Saturday morning. When I was twelve I added to all this by caddying on the golf course all Saturday afternoon then from midnight until Sunday lunchtime I cleaned inside mill chimneys and de-scaled mill boilers. When I came out of the navy I couldn't settle, I worked at Covent Garden as a potato porter , then at Billingsgate Fish Market pushing barrows up the hill opposite the gate, then sold Encyclopaedias door to door and on and on - I had twentyfive jobs in just over two years. I took a hairdressing course open to ex-servicemen and, as I'd had selling experience, ended up working for Raymond, better known as 'Mr Teesie Weesie', the TV personality. Due to befriending drummer Phil Seaman when I was in the navy in Portsmouth (and everyone who is a jazz fan should know who he was) I was playing around the North London area as a semi-pro during all this and, eventually, music won me over.

Has it always been Jazz that you have played?
RB - No, although jazz has always been my first love, as a pro one has to go where the money is so during the 60s, 70s and 80s I played for a variety of stars on the cabaret circuit from Matt Munroe, Johnny Ray, The (original) Drifters, Howard Keel, Edmund Hockridge, Alma Cogan, Ruby Murray, Dorothy Squires, The Beverley Sisters, Bruce Forsyth, Bob Monkhouse and toured Europe and Australia five times with Gene Pitney, at the time. I was also doing regular TV work on the Les Dawson Show, Emmerdale, The Royal and Stay Lucky. Added to which, fusion, or jazz/rock, emerged in the early 70s and I loved it and embraced it whole- heartedly.

How does running a big band differ from when you started?
RB - Well, every town and city had one, if not more, Palais de Dance halls like The Mecca and The Majestic Ballroom in city square where people danced nightly, so running a big band was quite different then (in the Bradford, Halifax, Huddersfield, Wakefield, Harrogate and Leeds area there were over forty, full time, seven nights per week drummers working, if the cabaret clubs are included). Now, to run a big band, it has to have in it, at least, sixteen members who, because they love jazz, are willing to travel miles and work for next to nothing just to play. These are now known as 'rehearsal bands' and, usually meet once a week to play, sometimes before an audience, sometimes not. My Jazz Orchestra is full of the top soloists in the country and travel from as far away South Wales, North wales, Cheshire, Nottingham and Doncaster, plus the local people from Leeds and Harrogate. All this means that we can't rehearse and so in all the concerts that have been attended in the past the musicians have had no more idea of what the arrangements were going to be like than the audience. It's all 'seat of your pants' stuff and makes for a very exciting performance but, they're all excellent readers and, so far, it's always gone without a hiccup.

How did you meet Lee Gibson?
RB - I first worked with her on a concert in Rotherham when I played in the Colin Yates Big Band twenty-three years ago. I then met Lee Gibson through her association with LCM as an external examiner. I worked there for thirty-three years and during that time whenever she came up she would bring quintet charts then we'd play somewhere locally in the evening or lunchtime in college or whatever.

What do you feel sets her apart from the other big band singers?
RB - Most other jazz vocalists usually sing with small groups which allows them more freedom but Lee is equally at home with both small groups and big bands.

What songs can we expect to hear on the night and why have you chosen those particular songs?
RB - I have yet no idea which songs Lee will choose sing on the night (I did mention that we didn't rehearse, earlier, didn't I) before the concert we will all meet to have a quick look at the programme and, perhaps, blow through some of the more tricky numbers and get the sound engineer to make any adjustments where necessary. For the first half I've written entirely new arrangements that feature certain members of the band, "Without A Song" (Joel Purnell, tenor sax); "Emily" (Neil Yates, flugel horn); "Prelude To A Kiss" (Tony Harper, baritone sax); "West Side Story Medley" (Dave Walsh, drums); "Billie's Bounce" (Derrick Harris, guitar); "I'm Not Yet Over The Hill"- very fitting - (a blues featuring Graham Hearn, piano) plus a whole lot of other numbers. Bill Charleson has arranged "A House Is Not A Home" which features Bill, himself, on alto sax).

Do you like marmalade?
RB - I do like marmalade, the one that has all bits in it like was originally. 

For more details of the gig please check:

For a taster of the gig here is a youtube clip from last year!

If you are looking for Ronnie he can be found on facebook!
Lee Gibsons website is:

Hope to see you all at the gig


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