REVIEW: Big Ian’s A Night To Remember, York Barbican, February 29
DEMENTIA is a team game, says Ian Donaghy, now as much a motivational speaker at conferences as a showman, fundraiser and event host.
Not only Dementia Projects in York, but also St Leonard’s Hospice, Bereaved Children’s Support in York and Accessible Arts and Media benefit from these nights to remember.
Saturday, sold out as ever, was the eighth such night, nights that had raised £150,000 so far. Big Ian is yet to confirm this year’s total, but £5,700 was taken in bucket collections alone.
Yes, the fundraising is important, but Big Ian puts the fun into that fundraising, as well as the heart and soul, in a community event that, no matter what hell of a world is going on outside right now, always brings out the best in York.
Here’s the news, delivered in a specially recorded Look North spoof bulletin from Phil Bodmer, devotee of Big Ian’s Guestlist nights at York Racecourse. This would be the biggest gathering of A Night To Remember yet: not only the old father time of musical directors, George Hall, on keyboards with his band of bass, guitars, drums and percussion, but 14 brass players to boot, four from Big Ian’s band Huge and a whole heap of shiny young players from York Music Forum, gathered under the tutelage of Ian Chalk.
What’s more, the musicians and singers had an 80-year age range, from those fledgling brass talents to 93-year-old Barbara from the Singing For All choir, a force of nature who summed up everything joyful about this celebration of the power of music throughout our lives.
Big Ian took the lead, brass assisted, on Elton John’s I’m Still Standing and, yes, he would still be standing three hours later, still urging us to fill those buckets.
Simon Snaize’s rendition of Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer, with the brass section breathing fire, was an early highlight; Boss Caine’s mine-deep voiced Dan Lucas turned Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 from daytime to night-time hours; Jess Steel, as vital to these nights as Big Ian, climbed the first of several vocal mountains with Barbra Streisand’s The Way We Were.
Songs were interspersed with Dementia-themed video clips, usually recorded on Ian’s phone, some bringing tears, others cheers, all indeed making it a team game.
Kieran O’Malley’s fiddle bow was a wand of magic whenever he played, whoever he accompanied; Heather Findlay and Simon Snaize’s duet for Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain had exactly The Chain reaction it deserved, guitar solo and all.
Ken Sanderson, alias Las Vegas Ken, normally restricts himself to a solo slot, but for the first time, he was joined by Hall’s band, at Big Ian’s urging: another hit at this “Gang Show with people we really like”.
Later, a fellow staple of these shows, 6ft 3 folk stalwart Graham Hodge, newly turned 70, would be seen as never seen before, again at Donaghy’s suggestion, as he eschewed folk balladry for a dinner jacket to knock Cry Me A River out of the park with the vocal performance of the night. Better than Bublé? No troublé!
What better way to open the second half than radiant York singer Jessa Liversidge leading her Singing For All group, ebullient Barbara and all, in fact all the audience, as we sang I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing. In perfect harmony, of course! “I’m a bit c**p these days,” said Barbara, but singing is about so much more than the act of singing, and you could see how much it means to her after all these years.
From Annie Donaghy’s Careless Whisper to Beth McCarthy’s U2 and Guns N’Roses mash-up, Hope & Social’s Gary Stewart turning into Paul Simon for You Can Call Me Al, to Annie, Beth, Heather and Jess, all in black and white, for Shania Twain’s I Feel Like A Woman, the show-stoppers kept coming.
Out came the phone torches on Big Ian’s command for Lionel Richie’s Hello and a big, big finale followed up the apt Don’t You Forget About Me with Jess does Dusty for You Don’t Have To Say You Love M and, what’s this? A video message of support from Rick Astley that arrived in Ian’s in-box from Sydney, Australia, at quarter to five that morning.
Cue a Never Gonna Give You Up singalong, and no, you just know Big Ian is never gonna give up on these special nights, his belief in making every life vibrant and vital to the last. Well done big fella, well done sound techie Craig Rothery, well done York.