Ahead of his December Xmas Cracker performance, singer Ian Shaw tells us why he’s excited to be performing alongside award-winning singer and friend Madeline Bell.
From records bought with pocket money to gigs in the Costa Del Sol, Ian looks back on his relationship with Madeline and tells us what he loves about her voice…
My first single, bought with my own money, was from the record stall, run by a traveller called Abe, at the Friday market behind the town hall in Fflint, North Wales. I belted down from school at dinner time (lunch to most these days), stuffing myself with a half portion of chips-on-a-tray, got from the chippy next to the shop where mum worked.
It was 35 pence and it was called Banner Man by a band called Blue Mink. I’d heard it on Radio Luxembourg, under my eiderdown, on Tuesday night. The words were strangely familiar to me ’…as we listened to the baaaand…’ and ‘the tubas oompahed all the way’.
I played in my dad’s brass band and Roger and Madeline seemed to know this. It was that strange pop period in the early 1970s, just ahead of Bolan, Bowie, The Sweet and Slade. For a couple of years, everything suddenly burst into colour and the monochrome sixties gave way to yellow dungarees, Crystal Tipps And Alistair, as well as my very own stereo with separate speakers. Hi fidelity indeed.
The second I heard Madeline Bell’s voice, I so desperately wanted to be her Roger one day. Over the years, with the help of my incredible father, I’d rooted out everything she’d recorded (including Live At The Talk Of The Town, where she sings a chilling version of I Who Have Nothing alongside an audience-a-long One Smart Fellow, He Felt Smart). I saw her, beaded and braided, on the Les Dawson Show, and heard her in Young Messiah. She was in cabaret the night of my 18th birthday at The Talardy in North Wales… then pow…
At 21, I was discovered by Cana Variety, after a ropey audition at Pizza On The Park.
‘You got a passport son?’ asked Jack Fallon, the legendary Canadian bassist, then, at 75, with his wife Jean, running a piano-bar agency from his large house in Southgate…’and some, er…decent stage gear?’
It was 1983, and I was head-to-toe in Post Punk chic. Not very Marbella. Which is where I was drafted in March that year. I played 4 sets a night at Duques Pianobar, an extraordinary joint on the waterside of the famous man-made 80s playground of the Costa Del Sol. It was run by an eccentric Oklahoman, ex-navy, country-singing cowboy called Duke (after John Wayne) and his delightfully potty Canadian, flame-throwing wife, Jocelyn.
I stayed in their poolside cottage on the road to Istan. We slept till midday and one morning, Duke hollered across the pool, ‘Hey Iaaaaan. Get dressed. Madeline Bell is coming for lunch. Get your fat arse…’
I was showered and dressed in minutes.
Madeline and her beautiful late husband, the great drummer, Barry Reeves, appeared through the bougainvillea-covered garden gate. They were the most handsome, un-showy, funny, warm-hearted, hugely musical life-pairing I’d ever met. I loved every subsequent meet-up with them. Over the years I learned practically everything I cherish as an entertainer from Madeline.
I’ve watched her in studios, at Ronnie Scott’s, crawling out of a tiger cage at The Hippodrome. We sang Melting Pottogether at the Hackney Empire together for the Anti-Racist Alliance. We’ve sung together with orchestras, big bands, we’ve saluted Aretha and Billy Strayhorn with Guy Barker for Radio 2. She introduced me to the amazing Tommy Blaize. She brings me toffee vodka from airports and I’ve interviewed her for The Ronnie Scott’s Radio Show. We happen to share a mutual love for the great singer-pianist, Liane Carroll. Each year, we salute her old pal, Dusty Springfield, for Simon Bell’s Dusty Day, which is the most heart-warming gaggle of musicians and friends I have ever experienced, and to play for Madeline to sing A House Is Not A Home remains an utter joy.
I was hugely privileged to share some tremendously precious moments with her beloved husband and soul-mate, in his last year, playing him Stevie Wonder and telling him that Mad was on her way. Her positivity and love for him will remain with me always.
And then there’s that voice. The gospel-informed phrasing, the laser timing, the lushest vibrato since Jaqueline du Pre played Elgar, the honesty, the falsetto. And the sheer bloody connection to her audiences. She has an outward-reaching, spiritually rooted holler, not the empty, eyes-closed riffing of many of today’s clamouring and cloying wannabees.
It shook my bones as a child with a record player, forty years ago in deepest Wales. It still does.
We’re singing together at The Purcell Room in December. Some festive songs, a bit of blues and jazz, some great pop. Some belly laughs and obviously, some Stevie. She makes me sing better, that Madeline Bell.
Ian Shaw’s Early Xmas Cracker With Very Special Guest Madeline Bell
Friday 12 December, 7.45pm
Purcell Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall