THE HOT FINGERS TRIO at the Playhouse, Cheltenham

Hot Fingers Trio

It’s been a bit of a musical week – vintage music at that. First Irving Berlin, then the ballet with a 1930s piece and, not a million miles from either of them, the week was rounded off very nicely last night at the Playhouse Theatre in Cheltenham with a hot performance from the very hot Hot Fingers Trio.

What’s unique about jazz is that it able to take any tune from any era of any type and give it the treatment. I wonder how long it will be before they get round to modern rock ‘n’ roll and do Elvis songs. That’s no too far fetched. Many years ago I met, photographed and designed a record sleeve for Arthur Crudup, a very elderly Chicago blues singer. Crudup’s claim to fame was that he had written Elvis’s first hit It’s Alright Mama. But I digress.

The problem with a lot of so called jazz is that it gives it the treatment but not the soul and as a result becomes a sort of easily digestible, mainstream pap – witness the recent Cheltenham Jazz Festival.

Tom ‘Spats’ Langham and his Hot Fingers Trio take tunes from all eras and of all sources and give them the treatment, but what is more important, vital even, is that they do not lose the essence and they do it with soul and respect. The trio, consists of Spats himself, who hails from Gloucestershire’s own New Orleans, Stow-on-the-Wold, on banjo and guitar with Malcolm Sked on bass and tuba. Multi-instrumentalist Danny Blyth completes the line-up. They play everything from Fred Astaire to Sonny Terry and Brownie Magee with a couple of numbers from Broadway musicals thrown in. All the tunes are played beautifully with wit and aplomb and are held together by their unique style which is similar to that of the Bonzos, the Temperance Seven, Bob Kerr’s Whoopee Band and others, many of which Spats and other trio members have played with. The three guys were joined for several songs by vocalist Emily Campbell who looked as good as she sounded.

But it is very much Spats’ band and his virtuoso musicianship is astounding. His playing of a couple of Django Reinhardt tunes was breathtaking as was his adaptation of an old Jo Privat French accordion tune. However, humour was never far away and his rendition with ukulele of Cliff Edwards’ If You Can’t Land ‘er on the Old Veranda, You Can’t Land ‘er at All was magic. The song also gave a clue as to where that doyen of eccentricity, Tiny Tim, got his inspiration in the 1960s. The song beautifully demonstrates the humour of the 1920s and 30s, much of which was very risqué but quite tame by current standards. However, times have changed and now, so called, politically correct lunatics see fit to sack a veteran BBC presenter for playing the classic 1920s song The Sun Has Got His Hat On for containing a word that begins with “n” to describe black people. Thought I needed to get that in.

Tom ‘Spats’ Langham and his Hot Fingers Trio are all wonderfully accomplished musicians playing authentic tunes from the first four decades of the last century. They do it with style, finesse and a great deal of humour. I loved them. They are a local band and often play in this area. If you haven’t seen them yet, I urge you to do so, you’ll love ‘em too. ★★★★★ Michael Hasted

More info on the band at http://www.hotfingers.co.uk/