Showbands were once a powerful and highly rated feature of Scotland’s dance halls and live music scene. Now a uniquely formed Scottish group is bringing back the best of the Showband era with their show “Something in the Air…”
IT was the sound that launched a generation of romances, got feet tapping and kept Edinburgh’s dance halls thriving.
Showbands, with their brass section blaring one minute then gentle and mellow the next, filled the floor at venues at the Palais de Danse in Fountainbridge and the Excelsior in Niddrie Street.
The style eventually faded – although Showbands remain popular in Ireland, elsewhere in the UK, live music shows these days, tend to be dominated by tribute bands playing homage to a single act.
Now however, there’s a chance to return to those days and to experience the fun and feel of live Showband music – and discover or rediscover what made it so popular.
“We want to reintroduce that showband experience, the unique dynamics of live performance that studio recordings can never replicate, the tremendous range of style and genre that arose in popular music from the 1930’s to 1990’s, and importantly, give audiences a chance to hear some of their favourite melodies and songs performed in a way that isn’t just a carbon copy the original record,” explains Roy Mac, vocalist and guitarist with Spatz & Co. “Our shows are really a modern twist on the showbands of the past, not performed in Dance Halls, but in Theatres where we can interact with the audience and bounce off one another, and have fun in the process.”
There can’t be many bands that can confidently boast a repertoire that spans seven decades of musical perfection.
Or many that can trace their individual professional links to some of the biggest names in the world, from Al Jarreau to Petula Clark, Deep Purple to The Drifters, Jamie Cullum to Johnny Dankworth, Lulu to the Average White Band, to name but a few.
With eight members capable of playing 20 instruments between them and each more than able to hold bandleader’s slot, Spatz & Co is not your average, every day kind of band.
“We are a band for stage and shows” says Roy, “every member an accomplished solo performer, and a specialist in one musical genre or another. We pick up audience reaction after our shows and a common comparison seems to be that we are compared very favourably with a Jools Holland show”.
On stage, the clarinet shares space with the alto saxophone and the trumpet. The deep soulfulness of the string bass is offset by the delicate and soothing flutter of the flute; the sharp twang of the electric guitar complimented by the jazzy tinkling of the ivories.
The 2018 Roadshow tour entitled “Something in the Air…..”, is a carefully constructed mix of musical styles, expert performances and evergreen entertainment with Showband roots in those once packed dance halls. It’s a formula that came together for their highly successful tour of the show “Midnight at The Oasis”, and it clearly works – the band tends to sell out wherever they perform.
They got together three years ago, each with a background in music that has taken them either across the world or into studios to perform with some of the world’s biggest names.
Together they have more than 200 years of musical experience, which means the band can easily stretch their wings and perform a vast array of styles and familiar songs across the decades, from the 1930s right up to the Nineties.
Adds Roy: “The music we perform is timeless, everyone will recognise both the instrumentals and songs. But we don’t just copy the original, we’re not a tribute act, we focus on the melody and then add a Spatz and Co twist or spin. We include great numbers like Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind”, ELO’s version of “Roll over Beethoven”, Acker Bilk’s “Stranger on the Shore”, Glenn Millers “In the Mood”, Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street”, Gary Moore’s “Parisienne Walkways” – that should give you a taste as to the variety, but also the emphasis on strong melody.”
“This style of music has influences on today’s modern music, you can hear it forming the backbone of music that’s being created today.”
Showbands often take the format of one lead performer, such as Duke Ellington, Jools Holland, Acker Bilk. However Spatz & Co’s musicians share the limelight, showcasing their specialist instrument and their individual talent.
“Everyone is a band leader in our band - that’s pretty unique,” says Roy. “We mix the tempo, genre and groove so no one in the audience gets the chance to be bored. And being in theatre means it has to be it a visually compelling too, with a bit of tasteful humour thrown in for good measure.”
The band’s musical arrangements are farmed out among band members and is pulled together by musical director Gordon McNeill, the band’s tenor sax player, who has travelled the globe as MD on cruise ships and performed in concert locations as far flung as Las Vegas and Thailand.
Spatz & Co is counting down to its very first Edinburgh gig at The Church Hill Theatre in Morningside on April 14.
Adds Roy: “The closest to Edinburgh we’ve come is the Brunton Theatre in Musselburgh. Last year we sold out some weeks before the show and in fact had to turn away around 100 people because there just wasn’t space.
“So we’re really looking forward to performing in Edinburgh for the first time.”
See Spatz & Co in their first Edinburgh performance at The Church Hill Theatre, Morningside on Saturday, April 14. For tickets, contact Usher Hall box office on 0131 228 1155 or click here for more details.