The Funk Brothers-a must watch for any Soul and Motown function Band !

The Funk Brothers-a must watch for any Soul and Motown function Band !

Just watched again (for the 10th time!) ‘Standing in the Shadows of Motown,’ a DVD that recognizes the achievements of the Funk Brothers. Formed in 1959 by Berry Gordy, the Funk Brothers were essential to the Motown Sound of the 1960’s – they were the session musicians who actually played and recorded the tracks for most of the Motown Artists and the songs we all know so well. They defined the sound for Soul Bands and Motown Bands and some of the greatest musicians ever played in this band (the line up changed throughout the years).

The band played on more Number One hits than the Beatles, Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys and Elvis combined.

The Funk Brothers were considered the unsung heroes of the Motown label, playing on hundreds of hits such as the Supremes’ ‘Stop in the Name of Love’ and Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Heard it through the Grapevine.’

The band defined the Motown sound of the 1960’s, which fused gospel, soul and pop, included Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and the Four Tops.

Sadly, a number of the “Funk Brothers” have passed away; but the surviving members appeared on a Thursday night at the Apollo Theater in Harlem in 2002, as part of the premiere for the launch of ‘Standing in the Shadows of Motown.

The group played backgrounds on the Motown songs:

‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg’, ‘My Guy’, ‘For Once In My Life’, ‘Wonderful One’, ‘I Was Made To Love Her’, ‘The Way You Do The Things You Do’, ‘Dancing In The Street’, ‘Your Precious Love’, ‘I Can’t Help Myself’, ‘My Cherie Amour’, ‘You Keep Me Hanging On’, ‘My Girl’, ‘Shop Around’, ‘Going To A Go-Go’, ‘Get Ready’, ‘Heatwave’, ‘How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You’, ‘Baby Love’, ‘Cloud Nine’, ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’, ‘Bernadette’, ‘Mercy, Mercy Me’, ‘Signed, Sealed Delivered, I’m Yours’, ‘Where Did Our Love Go’, ‘What’s Going On’, ‘Ooh, Baby Baby’…..the list is endless.

If you like Soul bands, Motown Bands or any king of Soul Music, then this is a must watch DVD.


Daunting Sinatra Classics

Daunting Sinatra Classics

Certain swing and big band songs are synonymous with Frank Sinatra  and a pleasure to sing, nevertheless it can sometimes be a daunting  privilege  performing some of his timeless classics with our Rat Pack Swing Band at functions.
Yet I can’t begin to imagine how Brian Duprey, of American formed tribute show “The Rat Pack is Back” must be feeling. I mean, how do you revive, or even begin to replicate that  trademark charisma, upon the legendary Vegas stage that Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Junior, Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford and Sinatra graced in the 60’s.  I listened to Brian and he’s one of the best I’ve heard. Apparently on The Howard Stern Show, Howard played a track of Brian singing  Come Fly With Me and special guest Nancy Sinatra thought it was her Dad singing.

That legendary stage in question refers to the well-trodden boards of the Sands Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip;  an historic and premier venue where the calibre of clientele could have pretty much been described as America’s aristocracy. Oh what I’d have given to have been among the audiences of 1964, when the very much alive and kicking Rat Pack, were nightly sell outs.

By the way, Humphrey Bogart is central to Rat Pack history. Although several explanations have been offered for the famous name over the years, according to one version in 1949 Sinatra lived just blocks from Bogart’s house and the story goes that when Bogart’s wife, Lauren Bacall, saw the drunken crew all together in the casino, she told them, “You look like a goddamn rat pack.”

Booking the band or the bandleader?

Swing Singer for Weddings StirlingAustinThere are only a few occasions in life when one needs to hire a band to provide music for an event, but just how does one go about this task? Excluding the obvious – hiring a band who performed at a function you attended and who you really thought would be ideal for yours – where do you start looking, what does one need to look for and how to choose wisely?

The interesting thing is, its not just about the music. You can book amazing sounding bands that look dazzling online, but delivering on the day has nothing to do with the website.

Lets use the example of a caterer. You would not simply hire a company to produce all the food for your guests without discussing the fine details at length with its representative, understanding what goes on behind the scenes for what they will prepare, making sure that expectations are understood on both sides and feeling comfortable that you are working with a solid partner who will make sure your guests have a great experience. Otherwise you might as well order online for delivery.

The same goes for a function band and its bandleader. It’s not just about listening to the music or watching the videos.You need to be talking to the bandleader to find out more substance, because it is he (or she) who makes the difference between simply having an attractive shopfront and delivering great musical entertainment. It is the bandleader who gets the best out of his musicians, who makes logistics work behind the scenes, reading the room, ensuring continuity during the sets and in band breaks, and  generally knowing what works in entertaining a crowd as well as dealing with any situation that may arise.

A good bandleader should take their responsibilities of performing at your big day seriously. If they and the musicians do this as a hobby then are you really booking the best?

A real professional will know about venues, timings, logistics, how to work with other wedding suppliers, band access, logistics –in short, someone who cares as much about the smooth running of the event as you do. Whether its a Swing Band for weddings, a wedding planner, a photographer or a caterer, it’s the same as with any business – you need to have confidence in the management.

If you’re booking through an agency, ask to speak to the bandleader first. You might get a totally different impression than what the sales agent is telling you. After all, they list hundreds of bands, they can’t possibly know them all and they are on commission…..

I’m always available to talk through events and I work really hard to cover every single detail beforehand to achieve your vision. On the day I’m totally hands on and I make sure things work, a bit like a musical event planner. Of course I hope you book my band, but whoever you choose…before you sign on the dotted line, make sure you choose the right bandleader who meets your expectations. Same as you want to book the right chef.

Because you only get one chance to get it right.

Best price for a corporate gig

Best price for a corporate gig

Well now, that depends on what the going rate is.

As I mentioned in another blog post a couple of days ago,  there’s some really famous acts who play corporate functions and weddings. But their rates have gone up over the years.

According to a News Corporation report last year, Elton John serenaded 400 guests to celebrate the marriage of Rush Limbaugh to Kathryn Rogers in the Ponce de Leon ballroom of Florida’s fabled Breakers hotel in Palm Beach. Sir Elton’s fee was apparently $1 million. Now that pays for a lot of nappies. However, the kind dad actually donates all earnings from private concerts to his charity, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, rather than pocket the huge sums. That’s very honorable.

I also read in the New Zealand Herald that the worlds most expensive performers at corporate functions and weddings, according to a poll commissioned by Living TV are as follows:

1. The Rolling Stones – up to £5 million
2. Sir Elton John – up to £2 million
– Kylie Minogue – up to £2 million
4. Christina Aguilera – up to £1.5 million
5. George Michael – £1.3 million
6. Amy Winehouse – £1 million
–  Sir Paul McCartney – £1 million
–  Leona Lewis – £1 million
– Jennifer Lopez – £1 million
10. Barry Manilow – £750,000
11. Rod Stewart – £600,000
12. Duran Duran – £500,000


If I become a famous wedding singer

Swing Singer for Weddings StirlingAustinA nice lady called Kate asked me on one of my blogposts; if I become famous, will I still do functions? That’s an excellent question. Well, yes I would.

Firstly you should expect no less of me than X Factor champion Matt Cardle, who is keeping his promise to the manager of The Bull pub in Halstead (where he used to work) to play at his wedding. Good on you Matt. Also, a lot of people don’t know that in 2000, Bublé’s career breakthrough came from being…yes, you guessed, a function band singer!

An aide to former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney saw Buble’s performance at a corporate event and received a copy of his self-financed independent album. He showed the album to Mulroney and his wife and Bublé was subsequently invited to sing at the wedding of Mulroney’s daughter Caroline, where he sang Mack the Knife. At the wedding, Bublé was introduced to David Foster, a multi-Grammy Award winning producer and record executive. Well as they say, the rest is history.
Now when I play my next corporate gig or wedding perhaps we should introduce that well known classic hit from Bros “When will I be famous”.
So if I do become famous and Prince William and Kate Middleton ask me to play at their wedding..well you see, I’ll still be a wedding singer.


Swing Revival: Putting The “Cha-Cha” Into Charleston!

1102KM1_3710HurtleyWedding240813HoneybunnPhotographyNeo-Swing made an unprecedented comeback during the late 1990’s, and while many thought the revival had peaked post-Millenium; our own continued popularity for both function, and wedding coverage is proving that swing bands are still seriously in demand.

But why swing and soul bands, among the many choices for wedding receptions? Sure, the mien of a function band influences the party atmosphere, and the affectation of the genre’s lively rhythms can really get people in the mood to dance. But judging by two of our latest booking confirmations, the reasoning is actually a little more personal.

Now, I’m not sure if this new fixation with choreographed first dances has come about due to the YouTube Sir-Mix-A-Lot Wedding viral video, or if it’s simply a case of more couples seeking to stamp their individuality on the wedding reception. One thing is clear – the trends for choreographed wedding dances such as the Charleston and Lindy Hop are surpassing even our expectations!

From the mid 1920’s, to the late 1940’s, Swing gave birth to a number of sub-genres, mostly identified by geographical influence. In Harlem, U.S.A, Swing influenced an African-American style of dance known as the “Lindy Hop” – a two-partner dance characterised by the simple 8-step count, that was often subject to improvisation on the street. The Balboa; a dance which is seeing a considerable revival in the choices for wedding dances is distinguishably faster, and favoured due to the closer embrace required of partners. The Charleston is also popular, due to the lively moves which are often given a contemporary urban twist by dance choreographers.

Seeking out dance lessons, for that first wedding dance isn’t a new concept. Couples have been doing it for years, yet the new motivation seems to be about giving something back to the guests. As my most recent client put it, “we want to give our guests a memory of our day that won’t fade too quickly, and the element of surprise is a bonus”.

So, why did she book us? “With all the work that hubby-to-be and I have put into learning the right steps, dancing along to a CD just didn’t have the same appeal. This is about giving something back, and we know a live swing band will create the kind of ambience our grandparents remember from the first time around”. She also divulged that there was something pretty romantic about learning something new together, and celebrating the achievement with that memorable first dance.

Far from being a brief fad for on-trend wedding receptions, choreographed wedding dances look set to grow even more in popularity. Judging by the guest’s faces at the last wedding we covered, they certainly weren’t expecting a journey back in time! I wonder what kind of dance our next betrothed couple has rehearsed?

Ladies, why wait? The wedding proposal is your privilege!

Ladies, why wait? The wedding proposal is your privilege!

Ladies, if Valentine’s Day this year was promising and your man declared his love for you, then why not seize the opportunity and propose? After all, on February 29th it is your privilege!

Although some could argue that marriage proposals are no longer the  exclusive domain of  the guy, any one more shy and reticent waiting for the “get down on one knee  OMG this is it” moment  can use the day as an  officially sanctioned moment (in folklore) to pop the question.

There are different versions of where this tradition of women being able to pop the question on February 29  came from, depending on who you ask.   I read that some say St Patrick agreed the deal with St Bridget who supposedly bargained him down from every seven years to every four, whereas reckon that as the day stands outside the normal run of things and even has a debatable place in the law, it was natural for something unnatural (some may say) to be allowed.

So if you feel like your relationship is ready for the next stage and you  want some commitment so that you can book a band for your wedding, you can always refer to this blog claiming that as the choice of band is  really important, you need to know now so that we can block the date!

Corny but true!

Are you sure its just a swing band you want to book?

Swing Singer for Weddings StirlingAustinSwing music is great entertainment, and many clients have the image of a swing band providing a sophisticated atmosphere for their event. However unless your event has a purely swing theme, e.g. a rat pack evening, then in many cases there will be a requirement for a more “party time” part of the evening later on. Although swing music is great to dance  and jive to, there’s only so much you can do with “Mack the knife” and similar songs to really get an audience  to  “boogie on down”!

My point is, that many people, in search of something different and sophisticated, think they want a swing band. But what they really  need is a band that can play swing music well, reminiscent of Sinatra, Bobby Darin, the Rat Pack and so on, but then also have the ability and flexibility to play other styles more towards the “pop” genre that appeals to a wider audience.

Not all musicians play more than one style well. Indeed, to play swing music from big band style musical charts requires professionally trained jazz musicians. Not all jazz musicians are naturals at playing pop, however depending on the style of song they will be more likely to be able to turn their hand to other genres, whereas (untrained) pop musicians won’t be able to play swing chart arrangements.

What this all means is that if you book a swing band and you want them to really carry the evenings entertainment, then it’s worth spending some time scrutinising how well they play other styles and whether those other styles will really keep your dance floor busy. Playing the latest Buble song is not the same as a Stevie wonder dance floor hit, and after one and a half hours of swing it’s important to be able to work the crowd and please as many people as possible and keep the energy flowing.

I find  that in many cases  one of a bride’s key concerns is whether or not the band can keep the evening moving. In our case I can confirm that’s why (6 years ago) we expanded the repertoire to cover soul,  Motown and classic pop, genres that blend naturally with swing and  rat Pack.

Whether its a Swing Band in Manchester, London, Scotland or Singapore, it means that clients can be reassured that their swing band is also a party band.

Noise Limiters: Making and Breaking Sound Barriers?

Noise Limiters: Making and Breaking Sound Barriers?

It takes more than a little verve and practice to pull off the kind of party performance expected of a professional function band – and the other night was no exception. The latest in a series of early new year corporate entertainment functions was for us, an exciting opportunity to play in a large venue where you can have great fun. and really get a crowd going. (All 600 of them) Excellent night.

There was just one  issue that we seem to re-encounter more often than over-enthusiastic stage invasions – the noise limiter! For a great deal of function venues we’re booked for, noise limiters seem to have become a compulsory device in order for the allowance of live music. Understandable from a residential point-of-view, when you consider the average DJ-covered wedding party can continue well into the early hours; and a handy reminder to over-zealous rock function bands that they may actually be playing above the level of lyrical comprehension.

But when it comes to corporate functions and weddings, venues are in the business of charging to host client events and in particular live entertainment. My experience in quite a few cases in recent years has been that clients book venues and pay a deposit, only to discover on the night that the noise limiter is 3 metres away from the band and set at at 85 decibels, a low trip level. So venues promoting live entertainment for private functions have a responsibility to ensure they are (to use consumer rights jargon) “fit for purpose”. No problem when you have only background music, but not when you’re having a party.Let’s face it, you wouldn’t organise a large business conference for a company and tell the keynote speakers to keep their voices down to avoid the microphone cutting out.

We’ve experienced our fair share of sound-monitored venues where the acceptable volume level has ranged from around 60 decibels (the equivalent of 3-4 people conversing), up to 90 decibels which can equate to an entire 50+ wedding dance floor shouting encouragement!  Not only do we have to consider our own sound emissions when in the throes of a Sinatra number, but also that of an enthusiastic audience. Rapturous applause could trigger a power outage in the closing bars of a song, if we don’t get the microphone levels just right. I remember one well known venue we played in Richmond, just as we reached the bridge in “All night Long” the power cut out. Lionel Richie would not be pleased and nor was the client.

It all depends how these devices are configured, and if they are not set-up properly then it can ruin the clients entertainment. A fundamentalist culture of health and safety  regulations, over zealous councils and  jobsworth venue managers are not conducive to helping clients who pay decent rates and expect live entertainment loud enough to get the party going.

I can’t see these contraptions disappearing anytime soon, so we’ve tried to become attuned to the sensitivity of noise limiters,without impacting upon  performance delivery. Not an easy feat, but it’s part of knowing your trade as a function bandleader. Having said that, I know some bands who refuse to play at venues where there is one, they believe it compromises their act.

So before you book a venue for your event you’d be well advised to check whether the venue also has correctly configured noise limitation technology in place which fits the style of music. Not all bands can do justice to their setlist within such limitations, so better to be safe than  subdued!

How to ensure your wedding guests won’t evacuate the dance floor

DSC_3630Who can’t recall attending one wedding reception in life that could only be described as a washout? The guests were idly sat making polite conversation; the wine was flowing, but the dance floor resembled an ice-rink in the height of summer. Even the kids preferred the stilted conversation of grandparents, to the mediocre efforts of the wedding band. It probably wasn’t their fault. No doubt they were just playing the usual set-list reserved for receptions, but if the music isn’t catered for the guests in question – it can alienate everyone!

Although there are classic songs that tend to be the most popular, it’s important to personalise set-lists for each and every wedding, because no two clients ever have the same requirements.

Whether you’re seeking a customised play-list for a themed party, for example swing, salsa, jive, rat pack, or you’d prefer an eclectic mix of hits, it’s important to compile a mixture of energetic up-tempo rhythms (guaranteed to get everyone dance-motivated) coupled with a few slow, melodic ballads for those romantic moments.

With the average wedding reception comprising in excess of 150 guests, it can be difficult to find music that will appeal to all, however consideration for the diversity, age-ranges and conservativeness of your guests can play a big part in getting the music right.

Not everyone appreciates the contemporary efforts of boy/ girl-bands, and not everyone can “get down” to pop, club or hip-hop so it’s recommendable to consider a broad range of genres, yet sticking to tracks people will be familiar with. Your secondary consideration relates to the age-range of your guests _ the elders probably won’t appreciate an endless night of Lady Gaga and the latest chart hits.

If music is the recipe for a well-remembered wedding party, then variety is the vital ingredient. The ability to read a crowd’s response is key to the instantaneous decisions made during a live set. An expert bandleader can make such decisions based upon his interpretation of the crowd, knowing that too much of one genre will ultimately alienate others. Bear this in mind when you’re working with your wedding band to compile the set-list and try to please everyone you’ve invited..