Children's Christmas Swingalong, Usher Hall, Review
The Children’s Christmas Swingalong incorporated music spanning 200 years, played swing-style and with a lot of know-how by the fabulous RSNO Big Band, accompanied by hosts Olly and Owen on percussion.
Oliver (Olly) Cox and Owen Gunnell won the Best Music Act of the Fringe in 2003 and 2004 as the percussion duo ‘O Duo’. They have since performed at the BBC Proms with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, toured the world picking up awards and accolades and for the last couple of years have been the Artistic Directors of the Children’s Classic Concerts series in Scotland.
According to Louis Armstrong, Swing music came about when the Ragtime, Blues and Jazz music of black artists such as Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway was introduced to a wider, white audience. The Big Band style was then taken up and applied to a range of familiar and popular tunes of the day.
Swing music did away with the string orchestra and instead incorporated a strong rhythm section of double bass and drums that formed the ‘anchor’ of the music, with a brass section of trombones, trumpets and sax providing the lead. By the mid-1930s ‘the Swing era’ had arrived and no matter what you called it, it always had a strong groove and it was always, above everything else, cool.
As the RSNO Big Band played the opening number, In The Mood, Olly and Owen strutted on to the stage dressed in trilby’s, braces and spats and would not have looked out of place on the set of Bugsy Malone.
Having firmly evoked the mood of swing and emphasised the necessity of looking cool, the musicians ironically donned Santa hats to play that famous ‘jazz-swing tune disguised as a Christmas song’, Jingle Bells. We were all encouraged to rattle our keys and sing along.
There were a couple of medleys that we all joined in with and having been handed a song sheet on the way in, there was no problem remembering the words. There was also a tap dance to Chatanooga Choo Choo, taught by Olly, that had us all up on our feet.
This was an eclectic mix that spanned centuries and proved the point that anything could be played swing-style - from the Pink Panther, accompanied by the Manor School of Ballet who performed a dance routine as pink panthers in Santa hats, to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. We saw Santa arriving (in shades, of course) and huge white balloons were sent bouncing into the auditorium for the William Tell finale.
With the trombones swinging along from side to side and Olly and Owen’s mad-cap banter exciting adults and children alike, this was not an all-Christmas song fest but was more a swing fest with a festive vibe. Glow sticks and flashing stars (sold in the foyer) twinkled across the auditorium and it really felt that perhaps Christmas was finally here and that it was cool.
Performance seen at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall on Sunday 4th December
Performing at The Royal Central Hall, Glasgow on Saturday 10th December