The Bearded Gentlemen
I love happenings like this. A few months ago, that peerless promoter Paul Bream got in touch. He wrote a lot, but all I saw was
I have [...] Mat Maneri coming to Newcastle [...] Would you be interested?
To which the answer was a resounding yes. Mat and his late father, the saxophonist Joe Maneri are responsible for making some of the most creative and open music around over the last few decades. And so—that was decided. I was definitely going to do this gig. Simple as.
The journey to Newcastle is always a soothing one: I've really taken a shine to the place since the first time I went up to Gateshead, across the Tyne for WOMEX. As you know I find the city very friendly, and constantly interesting to look at and walk around. The Bridge Hotel is a short-ish jaunt from the station; and it so happened that Mat and guitarist George Burt were arriving around about the same time as me. Paul met us all at the station and we had a gentle stroll over to the venue. Bassist Andy Champion came down with the fine singer Zoe Gilby joined us a bit later, and we were able to have the all-important "getting to know you" drink.
And what an enjoyable drink that was: the real ale always tastes better with good company, and Mat's one of the most soulful, peaceful and enlightening guys you could meet, no ego considering his accomplishments in the field, and totally inspiring. George's knowledge of the music, and the arts is vast and open; Andy likewise, and all were passionate about their local scenes and music making in general.
And they all had beards.
My vague, scraggy effort at facial hair notwithstanding, these were men who had taken time and care in chin-specific hirsuteness. After the meal, our band name had pretty much been decided. We were set for the gig!
And what a gig. We all gelled very quickly and [for me] that exciting moment when you can hear musicians listening came into focus; not just running what they know but really taking in the world as sound, and responding or reflecting. The first set was wonderful. We were laughing and smiling pretty much from the start, and that to me is always a good sign. Mat began the second set with a sublime take on an old spiritual that his dad used to play; and then we were all back on to produce more joy. Our merry-making lasted after the gig, talking and laughing about life and music.
Many thanks to Jazz North–East for the opportunity: let's hope it happens again!