Adelaide Hall
January 30, 1988

Adelaide Hall’s concert at the Studio Theatre, Haymarket, Leicester, 30 January 1988

Interview with Gavin Bryars

(Photo 1: rehearsal with Mick Pyne, piano; GB bass)

(Photo 2: performance)

David Gothard, Associate Director at the Haymarket, had the idea of getting Adelaide Hall to perform and for me to put together the band. I had lot of good students at the time – I was Professor of Music at De Montfort University and Associate Director of Music at the Haymarket – where there was a good feel for written-out Jazz.

First I had to meet Adelaide. David put me in touch with her. She was playing at Pizza on the Park and we met at the interval. I subsequently met her at her apartment Baron’s Court. She was always game to try something new but was most comfortable with the repertoire that she knew. She had a number of existing arrangements that we could use, and I would write new arrangements for the student band. Although we needed a pianist I  decided not to use her regular pianist who I’d heard at Pizza Express because he was pretty frail. But she had worked with another pianist, Mick Pyne, whom I knew, and so Mick joined us. He and his brother Chris, a great trombonist, came from Bridlington and knew Gerry Rollinson the pianist I’d worked with when I was playing Jazz in the 60s.

I would play bass and direct to some extent. I had John Runcie on drums, and Conrad Cork on saxophone (the jazz trio Nardis I worked with in Leicester), and added a group of student players. I explained to Adelaide what I planned, and she was full of it, completely game. She came up to Leicester, we rehearsed, we did the concert. The concert was a huge success. The minute people knew Adelaide was in town, it sold out. And the Haymarket Studio Theatre was a place where incredibly interesting things happened – quite experimental, small scale performances  and it had a sort of innovative aspect to it.

Adelaide couldn’t move about very easily. A lot of the time she’d sit on a high stool but then occasionally the spirit of the music would get to her to and she’d start dancing on the spot. She was really full of life; she was absolutely incredible. I’ve got a recording of the whole thing (some of which is in an Audio Journal on this website) The spirit in her performance is just stunning – there’s a kind of bubble in her life, she was absolutely fantastic.

She loved also working with these students, these young kids one of whom was almost a fifth of her age!. And after the performance we went to Dino’s restaurant, a very good Italian restaurant next door to the theatre where I often ate, and we were there until 3 or 4 in the morning. Adelaide was sitting next to me. She had her hand on my knee: she was excited and said we should get married and so on. She was really all go and it gave her a huge kick to do this show.

The show started with a Duke Ellington piece ‘Take the A Train’ with just piano, bass, drums. And then the moment the piece ended, the band went into her most famous piece ‘Creole Love Call’. And everyone knows the unique way it starts, with three clarinets playing the harmonised theme. In the first performances with Duke Ellington in the 1920s, Adelaide was in the wings and started to sing scat as she waited to come on. So here we did the same thing: Adelaide had a mic offstage and you could hear her and, and then she walked on, singing. But the moment they heard her voice, the audience burst into applause. They were with her, right from the beginning.

I felt that she really came alive in that show: she was spot-on, she was really on the boil the whole way through.

Many memorable things happened in the performance. There’s one bit where Mick and I play the intro to a song – I think we played the intro to ‘I Can’t Give You Anything But Love’ – and she started singing ‘A Foggy Day’ instead, which actually has the same sequence at the beginning. Then in the second half, ‘A Foggy Day’ was part of a medley of tunes. There’s a sequence where she sings ‘Almost Like Being in Love’ and then goes straight into a ‘Foggy Day’. And the moment she started singing a ‘Foggy Day’ she suddenly realised she’d already sung it in the first half. She looked back at me and gave the biggest grin because she knew she’d sung the wrong song earlier. So, then we simply put “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love’ towards the end of the second half – in the way it should have been sung in part one..

It’s clear from the recording that she has the audience eating out of her hand. Right at the end the audience is singing along with her. She knew exactly how to work it. It was completely genuine. You can hear that in her voice. You can tell at the beginning she’s quite nervous, but the adrenalin takes that away. She tells little stories between the songs and, once, in the second part tells the same story again. She suddenly realises and laughs. The song that she was going to sing was by  pianist Eubie Blake who had lived to be 100 and famously thing said that, ‘if I’d known I’d live to be 100 I’d have taken better care of myself.’

It’s not a perfect recording: she’s very close on the mic and quite far forward in terms of the mix. There’s a kind of narrative in the show, singing ‘Getting to Know You’ as her opening song, introducing herself. Then starting the second half with ‘The More I See You.’

She never once stumbled on her words. She sang the whole show without notes or music, she knew all the words completely.

 A song such as Duke Ellington’s ‘Prelude to a Kiss’ is a quite complicated song to sing: the melody is awkward, and it moves round the chords, there are some tricky changes, and you can hear very clearly that she has worked with Ellington because she’s got exactly that idiom so precisely. The flute solo is quite touching and Adelaide noted that Alison Neal (then a first year student but now a serious jazz player) was just 18 years old, a bit under a fifth of her age (Adelaide was 86 at the time)…

We had to double the length of the playout at the end as the applause went on for ages. She’s so close on mic that you can hear all her little asides and you can feel her little anxieties when, for a brief moment she’s unsure about something or something’s just not clear.

Whenever I listen through this recording, I can really still feel the occasion. I think that, even for someone who wasn’t there, you have a sense that something is going on, it’s quite special…

                                                               Thursday 6 March 2009

Gavin Bryars