On a beautiful sunny day on the very last day of April 2022, Cheltenham Jazz Festival was already in full spirits with festival goers enjoying free music and ticketed music in the gardens, enjoying a drink at the bar and spending time with friends and family.
Amidst the Montpellier Gardens sits a huge blue and white big top tent (Henry Weston’s Big Top Tent) all ready for some full on jazz music and where Ronnie Scott’s Big Band and Imelda May were about to play to a sold out crowd.
Two queues formed and went all around the main garden area but moved quite quickly.
Ronnie Scott’s Big Band were already on stage when we got into the tent and they started promptly at 2pm. Lead by Pete Long, the band kicked off in such wonderful style that you could feel every note being played. Something about Jazz music just makes you want to, at times, close your eyes and just take all of it in. You could be mistaken for being bored but that’s just the way many of us enjoy the sensational sounds from exceptional musicians. We, the UK fans, are known for appreciating music like this so much that we are incredibly attentive and quiet.
Not a note out of place and some of the worlds best musicians playing flawlessly with such passion made for such a memorable performance. The enthusiasm and wit from band leader Pete Long kept the crowd even more attentive.
A stand out moment was Soraya. A song we were unfamiliar with but thoroughly enjoyed.
45 minutes into their set Imelda May joins in.
“I almost forgot my queue” she says “I was enjoying the band back there so much”.
Thanking the festival and The band for having her. Imelda dives into song almost right away.
Two covers including Sway Imelda excitedly tells the audience that she used to sing these songs for years back when she played small bars and venues to people who paid her no attention. “Please humour me while I play these songs again, it has been a long time” Imelda says.
Imelda then explains that she will be singing some of her own music with arrangements by Pete Long. “Please allow me to turn around and just enjoy the music” she says when speaking of how delighted she is for having these amazing arrangements and an amazing band playing her music.
Starting with Made to Love, Imelda’s vocals soared throughout the big top tent. If you weren’t already in love with Imelda, you were now. Her voice was made to perform with a big band and she exceeded our expectations which were already high. After the song she speaks of how love is so important and what is there without it and how the bands drummer was playing despite the fact he needed stitches on his face after breaking up a fight in town the night before and says something along the lines of “that’s made to love right there”.
Dressed in a stunning floral dress, Imelda had great stage presence and was clearly very happy to be there.
11 Past The Hour, was next “this song has changed meaning throughout the years” Imelda says.
An already stunning song, Ronnie Scott’s Big Band brought even more life to the song. Thoughts of a Bond Theme came to mind. What a perfect pairing to do the next Bond theme!
Imelda’s music played to such fantastic musicianship was next level, truly exceptional!
Should’ve Been You put more bounce into the set. A song from her album Life Love Flesh Blood, the loud and sublime instrumentation blended with Imelda’s big vocals made us want to get up from the chair and dance, I wish we had!
Speaking of being in the car and hearing songs referring to someone being their baby or Princess, Imelda explains that that is not her so she said she “can be your human” and thus played Human next also from Life Love Flesh Blood.
“Is it the last song already?” Imelda gasps! In agreement with her, we realised how much we were enjoying the set by how quickly the time had passed. Finishing with her rockabilly styled song Mayhem from her rockabilly days and album More Mayhem it was really a shame for this to be the last song as I felt the crowd were just getting really into it and it wouldn’t have been long before most people were on their feet.
Still, the entire experience was amazing and pretty emotional. We have really missed live music and this was live music at its best. There is no feeling quite like the feeling of listening to insanely talented instrumentalists and with a remarkably magnificent singer/songwriter to join them. This was an unforgettable moment that we will likely never get to experience again and we felt incredibly privileged to have been a part of the crowd and to enjoy it.
What a show!