Speaking on the phone from London earlier in the afternoon Ian Shaw was preparing to rehearse for his already sold out birthday show next month that falls on the singer’s 60th
The ‘‘wonderful, brazen’’ actor Hadyn Gwynne (neatly cynical Alex Pates in the marvellous 1990s TV comedy series Drop the Dead Donkey), who is drawn to the music of Stephen Sondheim, had just confirmed as a guest.
Catching up on more of his latest upcoming activity for June Ian mentions directing Pianotalk, the one-man Jamie Safir Crazy Coqs show that takes place on 11 June not long after the birthday bash at the top Piccadilly cabaret and jazz spot close to Eros.
Safir is on Ian’s latest album What’s New? with the erstwhile Loose Tubes luminary saxophonist Iain Ballamy released just before the first Lockdown in 2020, the pianist enhancing the essence of the conversation between saxophone and voice, his accompaniment observational and knowing throughout. Ian mentions Jamie’s ‘‘tart witticisms’’ as a lyricist.
Who else to expect at the birthday show? First there is the popular BBC London radio broadcaster and long-time Shaw aficionado Robert Elms who will be on hand at Kings Place, a venue that Ian returns to after such previous gigs as launching his Shine Sister Shine album with the Citizens of the World refugee choir in 2018, its central location, championing of jazz and fine acoustics certainly plus-factors for such a special occasion. Ian notes that it is ‘‘a beautiful room.’’
Also among guests for the show are the actor Tim Woodward (Lord Suckerby in Peaky Blinders) and singer Carol Grimes, who goes back to the beginning of Ian’s 30-plus year career as a recording artist. They collaborated together on Lazy Blue Eyes.
Then there is regular collaborator the formidable jazz singer Claire Martin, Shaw band member guitarist David Preston who was on Ian’s fine 2008 album Lifejacket (Linn), iconic jazz singer Elaine Delmar, Sue Kelvin (Madame Morrible in Wicked), Ballamy & Safir, jazz singer Georgia Mancio known for her collaborations with Alan Broadbent, comic and TV star Julian Clary, Mari Wilson, Guy Barker – and ‘‘flying over’’ Ian’s great hero from his childhood, the great soul and jazz singer Madeline Bell of Blue Mink renown.
Ian says that the gig will be driven by him from the piano with no rhythm section. Turning 60 he says ‘‘to be honest I feel very grateful and lucky.’’ He is dedicating the concert to the jazz singer Tina May who died recently and whose photograph he is looking at as we speak, to comedian Tracy Kashi and to the jazz-loving former Waveney Labour MP Bob Blizzard who also passed away recently. Ian says ‘‘Bob was one of my heroes.’’
While born in St Asaph, Ian actually grew up on the north Wales coast in FFlint ‘‘two Fs,’’ he points out, ‘‘listening to a coffin-on-legs radiogram’’ at home. The place was ‘‘beautiful really. And then my eyes opened to the world outside’’. Back then he was into T.Rex and, what goes around… comes around: Madeline Bell. Shaw’s father played trumpet and cornet in the local brass brand. ‘‘My dad was not a blower, more of a section player. My mum used to iron to Radio 2.’’
Moving to London he has been a significant star of the jazz scene for many years, discovered jazz in various record shops and studied music at King’s College. We talk about homophobia and how it has affected him over the years in the wider world beyond the welcoming music industry when he says he was even beaten up. As for the insidiousness of others who might not resort to their fists '‘there is a layer of people who are all good but haven’t embraced LGBT. It’s mostly generational,'' he says, such blindness ranking alongside the prejudices of racism.
Ian has presented the Ronnie Scott’s Radio Show over the past 10 years, produced for 6-7 years with Mike Vitti who he describes as a genius and who has ‘‘taught me so much’’. As for interviewees for the show one who has interested him he mentions is the US singer Michael Mayo who he likes for his ‘‘unbridled’’ approach and is keenly watching his career. Last year’s Bones (Mack Avenue) was certainly a ground-breaking album.
As a singer Ian is much influenced by his friend the late US jazz singer Mark Murphy and he tells me that from ‘‘Murph’’ he ‘‘learnt truth in phrasing’’ and to ‘‘not be afraid to sound ugly’’.
During his career Ian has also worked as a stand-up comedian and mentions that his ultimate comedy heroes include Richard Pryor, Victoria Wood and Alan Bennett while as performers he is also drawn to Gina Yashere and Stewart Lee, who directed him in an acting role as the saturnine warm-up man in Jerry Springer the Opera. Back in 2012 marlbank caught what Ian termed his “sit down" comedy show A Bit of a Mouthful fresh from the Edinburgh festival Shaw on familiar ground at a venue he loves, Dalston’s Vortex, and where he appears often on New Year’s Eve. Frequently hilarious and deliciously rude a beautifully conceived list song featuring lots of Internet acronyms was a highlight that night. He says more generally that he finds ‘‘po-faced seriousness’’ funny and quotes in a voice not a million miles from Frankie Howerd his gig-suit dry cleaner whose humour he also likes.
As a performer Ian says his biggest thrill was a first rehearsal in New York for what became In a New York Minute (Milestone, 1999) with the jazz icon pianist Cedar Walton organised by Ian’s then manager Darren Crowdy who he says was a ‘‘brilliant manager'' and helped swing it for him to record in the US, not an easy feat for a UK jazz artist just as now. Walton he had met at Ronnie Scott’s. He says back then in the 1990s a time well before the roaring success of Jamie Cullum and Kurt Elling it was ‘‘bleak terrain and tougher for singers.''
Beyond jazz Ian is a tireless activist and advocate for refugee rights and is scathing about the recent Rwanda policy announced by the Government looking to scoop up and export immigrants rescued from the English Channel to send across to Africa, referring to the ‘‘sheer awfulness’’ of the plan.
So, 60. On the morning of his birthday if he happened to decide to put on a record before venturing out to the venue what would it be? Ian says without hesitation Miles Davis classic Bitches Brew for its ability ‘‘to confuse and thrill or Bill Evans album, Alone.’’ SG
Ian Shaw photo: Lisa Wormsley. Kings Place website