Three months before Down For The Count’s annual live concert at Winslow Public Hall, Mike and myself embarked on a rather elaborate research trip to New York City, sadly not paid for on band expenses.
We had chosen to theme the event around NYC and put on a show of classic swing and Rat Pack tunes; we hoped to evoke the atmosphere of a night ‘on the town’ and so felt we should probably have one, or several, and experience both the glamour and grit of the Big Apple.
Day one, feeling less than fresh from the plane ride, but with excitement and adrenaline to see us through, we planned to dive straight in and visit one of the most famous and notorious jazz clubs, Birdland. We approached the venue with slight apprehension not knowing quite what to expect – should we have booked a table? Have we missed the start of the show? Will the drinks be really expensive? Will they know instantly that we are tourists and turn us away?
We arrived at the unassuming single doorway (a net curtain hiding any view of what was inside) for the ‘earlybird’ show. We were instantly welcomed and shown to small table. The show was clearly popular with anyone looking to dine early and be entertained by the fantastic house band, and not quite knowing the set-up, we asked the very British question ‘is it ok to just have drinks for now??’ We were pleased to hear the enthusiastic answer of ‘sure’ followed by several fantastic cocktails (pomegranite mojitos – lush) and an endless supply of tap water we didn’t have to ask for. I could completely get used to that all-American level of service.
The club was very simple with a darkwood polished bar, deep red velvet curtains, small tables lit by a single candle and black and white photographs of jazz greats adorning the walls. The atmosphere was welcoming and relaxed and the band continued that feeling as they simply stepped on stage, expecting no applause or announcement, and just started to play.
The band were The Louis Armstrong Centennial Sextet, and as the name suggests, played a great set of Dixieland and early jazz. With no bass, instead a tuba to provide the bass line, they really evoked the era with an almost marching-band feel, and finished their set with ‘Dinah’ which had nearly all band members sing along, clearly knowing the music inside out, and truly loving it.
Inspired by what we’d seen stateside, we set to adding as much NYC flair to Winslow Public Hall as we could. We printed classic black and white images of jazz greats and framed them in ‘expensive’ ornate frames (from Poundland) and made hanging paper chandeliers from gorgeous gold glitter card for the stage. The tables were simple – dark red tablecloths (Birdland had velvet, we had linen-effect paper!), with deep red candles. Whilst the bar drinks menu was decidedly less fancy, with wine instead of cocktails, drinks were poured from beautiful bobbled glass jugs and topped up with ice from the fab chrome ‘Big Apple’ shaped ice bucket.
We hope we gave our guests as close to a New York night on the town as we could in Buckinghamshire, and whilst Down for the Count may not have the kudos (or budget!) of Birdland, we hope we gave people a night to remember all the same.