I will be the first to admit that this wasn’t something that I would usually pay to go and watch, but it turned out amazing.
A 1930s swing-style ensemble led by a glitzy looking man in a black and white tail-coat, with slicked back hair, accompanied by two ladies in silver sequin dresses that looked like something out of a Marilyn Monroe flick.
The King’s School in Canterbury was the perfect place to accommodate Alex Mendham and his Orchestra’s two-hour swing performance. The Shirley Hall, located just off The King’s Mile, was sophisticated and unique, as paintings of the school’s previous headmasters were dispersed all over its gold-leafed walls, dating back to the early 1700s. Upon entering, the grand stage stood embellished with custom monographic ‘AM’ band stands, metallic saxophones and trumpets, as well as a huge patterned cello and 1930s style microphone, to give a certain vintage charm.
As the band was welcomed to the stage, my viewing experience was unfortunately disturbed by a rather robust and long-legged German man sitting behind me and jabbing me in the back with his knee. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the smooth renditions of ‘Jeepers Creepers’ and ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing’ originally sung by Ella Fitzgerald and composed by Duke Ellington in 1931, however covered by Alex Mendham, alongside the Dunlop Sisters, Serena and Hannah. The sisters’ voices perfectly reflected those of the ‘smooth age of Hollywood music’, soft and melodic together, they seemed to share a fantastic professional and familial bond, whilst singing ‘Cheek To Cheek’ by Fred Astaire (1935).
At one point during the second set, one of the band was announced to have a ‘special talent’, the audience sat back and watched as the ‘special talent’ was indeed presented to them in the form of one of the trumpet players being able to whistle along to an up-tempo song. I wouldn’t really call that a special talent, as the song wasn’t that complicated. I would rather have seen him whistle along to Yolanda Be Cool vs DCUP’s ‘We Speak No Americano’, but maybe that’s just me.
The musicians were genuinely amazing to watch. They knew their craft so well as to make some in the audience shout for an encore, but alas this did not happen. The cellist’s hands were a blur, setting out the fast and booming beat to most of the songs performed. He recovered well when almost all of his sheet music fell to the floor and under the hot lights, did not sweat profusely like someone that would not have dealt well with the pressure. I did feel sorry, however for the before-mentioned trumpet player, as he had most of the long drawn out notes and so his face looked rather flushed. During a ‘The Broken Record’ the musicians and singers physically broke down in between the music sets, as to give the impression that the record was broken, this was a little confusing to me at first but I did catch on eventually.
Unsurprisingly, most of the audience were seniors and could probably remember the films that most of the songs were featured in, and consequently enjoyed it more. Despite this, the evening was filled with a complete culture shock for those who had little experience with this style of music from the ‘Golden Age’ of Hollywood cinema and a nostalgic look back for those who did. This surely was a classy close to the Canterbury Festival of International Arts 2017, I recommend watching Alex Mendham and his Orchestra’s latest tour ‘On with the Show’. Their latest tour dates for this can be seen on their website: www.alexmendham.com/dates