Louise Balkwill dancing in the dark at Pizza Express Jazz Club

Having been totally bowled over by Louise Balkwill’s incredible vocals and engaging stage presence on a jazz summer course a few years back, I was keen to see how she and her Trinity College compatriots sounded as a fully-fledged jazz band at a Sunday lunchtime gig at Pizza Express Jazz Club on Dean Street. Balkwill opened on classy form with ‘Welcome to the Club’, had just got through an appealingly warm version of ‘You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To’, when the club was plunged into darkness. The power cut out in the middle of the lovely ‘Garden in the Rain’, and we were all left blinking at each other in the dim emergency lighting. A test for any performer, but when it’s your first date at one of Soho’s leading jazz venues, what’s a girl to do?

Undaunted and with no mic, Louise carried on regardless, as if this kind of thing was a normal part of any weekend gig, ably supported by Sam Vine on piano, Tom Duggan on sax and Dylan Goldring on drums, who needed no amplification. When it came to Stefan Melovski’s turn to play, the audience’s attention stepped up a notch to hear the softest of guitar solos. Luke the soundman then produced some rather harsh arc light torches from somewhere, and the band played out their first set, finishing appropriately enough with ‘Dancing in the Dark’. Balkwill even treated us to some improvised lyrical commentary on the unexpected situation, and when the power came back on, she hardly needed the microphone, having adjusted to the new unplugged acoustic with ease.

Louise-Balkwill-Band

By comparison, the second set was a doddle – the band swung their hearts out through some lesser-known gems from the American Song Book along with a fresh take on some that were more familiar like ‘They Say It’s Wonderful’ and ‘You’re Looking at Me’, all lovingly transcribed and arranged, giving rise to some sparky solo moments from every player, but particularly Tom Vine on bass. There is an evident feeling of relaxed camaraderie among the band members, who seem to have a very productive and collective approach to their song selection and development. I look forward to seeing each of them take more extended solos in future gigs, including Balkwill herself, who showed a wide range of fine vocal skills, but was at her most impressive when she produced an immaculate up tempo chorus of vocalese on ‘Pennies from Heaven’.

– Sarah Chaplin
– Photos by Megan Benfield

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