Edinburgh Fringe 2017

Songs From the Deep South

Shelagh Westwater

Genre: Live Music, Music

Venue: St George's and St Andrew's West


Low Down

Another delightful hour of jazz singing from Shelagh Westwater to follow up on her success at last year’s Fringe.


Assembling the likes of Fraser Urquhart, Jerry Forde and Colin Steele as your instrumentalists, on piano, bass and trumpet respectively, is very much a case of landing the “A” team in terms of jazz talent in the UK, never mind Scotland.  Urquhart could play the piano in his sleep, and swing seems to be in his DNA.  Forde’s bass is ploddingly ever present and Steele has the talent to steal any number, but, ever the team player, made sure that the focus of each song remained firmly on Shelagh Westwater, the girl with the silky-smooth, pitch perfect, jazz contralto voice.

And what a sound this combination made.  The emphasis this year was firmly on the slow, the languid, the reflective, the sultry, all of which are tailor-made for Westwater’s range and vocal delivery.  She smouldered her way through a number of Hoagy Carmichael songs, including “Lazybones” and produced a pleasing take on Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)”.  We also had numbers made famous by Louis Armstrong and his band, including “St James’ Infirmary Blues” (also covered rather memorably by Jules Holland and Tom Jones) and “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans” to finish the show.

Add to that classics such as “Basin Street Blues”, “Up A Lazy River”, “Swing It Brothers, Swing”, and “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me” and you get a good sense of what Westwater loves to sing and what her trio had such fun playing along to, taking time out in each number for a little jamming as the mood took them.

However, where Westwater really shone was in the two numbers where she only had the piano for backing.  The lyrics of “Summertime” (Porgy and Bess) are actually drawn from a lullaby, although the song is rarely sung in this vein.  Westwater’s gentle, measured, almost soporific delivery was a revelation, delivered with control and a real empathy for the lyrics.  Then, later in the programme, she sang Jo Stafford’s “You Belong To Me” in a similar style, just letting the music fall gently around us.

This was an hour of high class jazz and jazz singing.  Shut your eyes and you could almost have been in a bar somewhere downtown in New Orleans.  All that was missing was a thick fug of cigarette smoke and a bar-tender shaking a cocktail for you.  Perhaps St Andrew’s and St George’s could lay that on next time.

Westwater is a better singer than she thinks she is, which is why she needs a bit more pizazz (or one of those cocktails) when doing the segue ways between numbers.  I’m sure that will come with just doing more performances but it was a pity that we lost the details she was trying to give us in terms of what she was performing and why she had chosen those songs.  It’s a minor quibble though, as a switch flicks inside her as soon as she hears the opening bars of the next number.  The sound that follows make her an act that’s well worth watching out for.