Across to Glasgow to see the Stan Tracey Quartet, one of the concerts in the Glasgow Jazz Festival. I got there early to pick up the ticket and then off to the Babbity Bowster for supper: stovies and a pint of Guinness. If you seem to think I always go to the Babbity Bowster when I am in Glasgow, you are probably right: it is near the City Halls, which is where I seem to go for concerts, I know where to park and it is a very reliable pub.
That said, it was heaving last Wednesday – busy and very loud. I was by myself, and I felt a bit self conscious as I sat reading Granta, supping my pint; so I didn’t linger. I went for a walk around the Merchant City, kicking myself for not bringing a camera: there some interesting buildings in the evening light.
The concert was good though not brilliant: Stan Tracey is a seminal figure in British jazz, and he must be in his seventies. (I have just checked: he is eighty this year. Wow – to still be touring at eighty? Jeez.) He used to be the house piano player at Ronnie Scott’s in the 1960s, and played – and was recognised as great – by many of the stars who played there. I have seen him many times, in various bands – he lead a glorious big band in the 80s and early 90s.
The gig itself seemed a bit low key; it may have been me, too – I was feeling tired, and the concert wasn’t very full. It was in a large, hanger-like venue called the Old Fruitmarket; in case you are wondering, it was once the old fruit market, and has a lot of ornate Victorian ironwork; the names of the fruit wholesalers are still painted on panels beneath the balcony. The floor is tarmac – since the structure is basically a covered road; there used to be double yellow lines painted (and there is also pavement and kerb stones, carefully positioned so that you trip in the dark as you return carrying drinks back from the bar), but the place has been done up as part of the rebuilding of Glasgow City Halls, and when it reopened in May, they seem to have removed the yellow lines. Although cavernous, it has a lot of character, but the way they had it set up – with “cabaret” tables and a lot of space in between – made it feel a bit empty; perhaps a smaller, more intimate venue would have helped the band to really shine.
The music was good but not as intense as I have seen him play; it seemed a little formulaic, though it is a good formula. He had Bobby Wellins on tenor, Alec Dankworth on bass and Clark Tracey – most certainly a relation – on drums. Most of the set was bebop or Monk – “I Mean You” featured – with a couple of Ellington tunes in there, too. Dankworth’s bass was excellent – it is a while since I have seen him play (there was a while in the late 80s and early 90s when he seemed to be in every band I saw, but he rarely makes it north of the border). Wellins was good, too – it was a good band – but maybe lacking in passion. A native of Glasgow – and the audience was clearly pleased to see him play – he has been part of Tracey’s bands on and off for four decades – he played on the historic recording of Tracey’s “Under Milkwood” suite in 1965. Tracey jnr (who was, erm, four when Under Milkwood was recorded; he wasn’t in the band) was effective and controlled; he’s a good drummer. They weren’t allowed to play an encore, despite braying demands from the audience. So it was a good, not great, evening.