IN times of stress, a little nostalgia goes a long way. And nostalgia doesn’t come any better than the Pasadena Roof Orchestra’s evocative excursions, mainly into the 1920s and ’30s.
PRO’s ten players, many doubling on a second instrument, were led by singer-compère Duncan Galloway, who also proved a mean tap-dancer. They feel this music in their bones like no other group I know.
Believe It Or Not (‘I’m Walkin’ On Air’) got everyone going and soon we were into Zing Went The Strings, with pianist Simon Towneley lending his voice to Galloway’s in this James Hanley hit from 1934.
From exactly that era came the short-lived Alex Hill’s I’m Crazy ‘Bout My Baby. English composers were not neglected either, with the dreamier What More Can I Ask?, which Ray Noble wrote to words by Anona Winn.
Irving Berlin’s first really big hit was Alexander’s Ragtime Band, which was launched as early as 1911 by the contralto Emma Carus, although when Al Jolson took it up in New York it really went viral.
Two of Berlin’s big film tunes also found their way onto PRO’s menu: Puttin’ On The Ritz (1929) and Top Hat, White Tie And Tails (1935). All three were given terrific verve.
PRO boasts some of the best soloists in the business, none finer than banjoist Harry Wheaton, who brought lightning fingers and considerable sparkle to Frosted Chocolate. His is a rare talent these days.
Oliver Wilby’s tenor sax brought swinging life to Body And Soul, the number that made Johnny Green’s name in 1928. Percussionist Dominic Sayles gave a more than passable imitation of the legendary Gene Krupa in Drummin’ Man (1939).
Malcolm Baxter’s trumpet took the lead several times, none better than in a six-man Dixieland group that gave a vigorous account of Indiana (‘Back Home Again In Indiana’, 1917).
The best slow smooch came in Duke Ellington’s Black And Tan Fantasy of 1927, although Sam’s tune from Casablanca, As Time Goes By – actually Dooley Wilson in the film – ran it pretty close.
Duncan Galloway has a slick way with these vocals, and his diction improved notably in the second half when the microphones were made to work properly, spearheaded by Cole Porter’s Anything Goes.
It ended with Tiger Rag, a medley of four tunes that hark back to New Orleans of the 1890s. It was right up PRO’s street and brought this stimulating evening to a rousing finish, not forgetting the band’s signature tune, Pasadena, which was actually made famous in this country by the Temperance Seven.
We may be hugely grateful that the Pasadena Roof Orchestra is keeping these traditions alive and kicking. They are welcome back in Yorkshire any time.
Review by Martin Dreyer