Ten days of jazz – the Manchester Jazz Festival – were about to commence and I was due to leave town three days in. I also wanted to attend at least one session of the concomitant Beer and Blues Festival and had a previous commitment to spend a day at the cricket. Suffering from FOMO (fear of missing out) I had to get organised in order to bag a few gigs, otherwise the bird would have flown and left me bereft. So I sat down calmly to get my ducks in a row. That was when I noticed the cruelty of the metaphor. Surely, I thought, there’s an appropriate figure of speech that doesn’t refer so casually to the killing of birds? But I couldn’t think of one.
Anyway, my ducks refused to line up so I decided to absolve myself of the pressures of planning, go with the flow, wing it, free as a bird to attend whichever gigs happened to coincide with my available time-slots. I didn’t even study the programme in detail, but reasoned that a random approach would open my ears and awaken my senses to music that I had previously been deaf to or unaware of. In any case it’s a low-risk strategy: jazz is such a catholic genre that any festival worth its salt will include a variety of styles and interpretations, some of which I was bound to like. Besides, as we know, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush
The first performance I got to was a rather dreamy set by Solstice, fronted by the singer Brigitte Beraha. Although this kind of vocal jazz is not my favourite thing, I discovered that it’s not necessarily always for the birds. The circumstances of a warm Saturday afternoon, a glass of rosé and a marquee full of appreciative listeners lent the music a pleasantly soothing effect and, in one fell swoop, I felt my nerves calmed and my reasoning justified.
I returned for the next act, a Spanish outfit called De La Purissima, also fronted by a female vocalist. Julia de Castro, however, is chalk to Brigitte’s cheese. She takes a very theatrical approach to singing, using posture, gesture and costume to startling effect. Well, I at least was startled at the sight of this raven-haired beauty wearing an elaborately braided matador jacket, a tightly-fitting yellow tartan miniskirt and a tall peineta on her head. I would have liked more of a bird’s eye view but my ticket entitled me only to that of a worm.
The next day I was at the cricket with several fellows from the Heaton Moor Jazz Appreciation Society (birds of a feather do flock together) none of whom had been at the Purissima gig. I described how, after the second number, Julia had declared the temperature inside the marquee overwhelming and had asked some hapless old geezer in the front row to step onto the stage and assist her in removing her jacket. He did so with due gallantry, although he wobbled a bit returning to his seat and looked up in alarm when she later threatened to remove her skirt. None of this got much reaction from my pals: either they were sceptical about it having anything to do with jazz or there was something interesting happening on the cricket pitch which my uninformed eye had failed to notice. I tried again.
“I had a good night at the Beer and Blues Festival,” I said.
“There was a singer called Kyla Brox, daughter of Victor. Remember him?”
They all remembered the legendary Manchester bluesman. I had their attention.
“She was terrific,” I said “and the beer was good too.”
You could say I had killed two birds with one stone, I noted to myself.