Iain Hunter and the Eliot Murray Big Band

Posted by Dick Playfair on Jun 20, 2014

Last year Iain Hunter sold out two concerts at the Tron Kirk at the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival, so this year was going to be a challenge with a move to a bigger venue, the Queen’s Hall, and new backing, the Eliot Murray Big Band.

Iain Hunter with the Eliot Murray Big Band

Iain is modest to say the least, a star with no pretensions, someone who regards where he is in the music world as more of a happy accident than any grand design. He tells in his mid-act banter how he discovered he could sing after being put on the spot to ‘do a turn’ at a family party, and his wife Pamela said he didn’t have a bad voice – but just to keep it in the car!

His repertoire, in the main the songs of the ‘Rat Pack’ and their contemporaries, is part of musical history and tradition, and Iain is keeping that alive with polish, feeling and finesse.

This is definitely not music to be sad to. Moved, yes – but sad, no. Even when its themes stray from love and happiness, and they do a lot (despondency – One More for the Road; Violence – Mack the Knife, Leroy Brown; resignation – That’s Life; contemplation – My Way) the genre is essentially light touch, foot tapping, finger clicking on beats two and four (like swing should be)!

The band, with its tight Eliot Murray arrangements, gave the production real depth, taking the sound into the realms of club-land and casino-ville, Vegas-style without the glitz; excellent and workmanlike to match and counterbalance Hunter’s flawless vocal delivery.

What stood out? Well, you could have heard any of the 25 or so numbers in isolation and they would have shone; there was such emotion in Mr Bojangles with its guitar-led introduction and featured alto sax; the two numbers stripped back to Iain with just Tom Finlay on piano (One More for The Road, and Unforgettable) were real highlights; the Nat King Cole classic LOVE, with trumpet break (thank you Kevin Ferris), and a song new to me, Summer Wind.

Too often these tunes are crooned badly, out of tune, by half cut dads and granddads. They have been inadvertently degraded by over exposure, poor arrangement and bad karaoke backing forcing the jazz purists to look down their noses at some of the most brilliant melodies of an era. But this performance was masterful in every sense – enhanced by Hunter’s repartee with a loyal (and often vocal) audience. “I’m going to go with this as far as I can take it,” he says. He doesn’t say he’s going to the top, or flying to the moon, he doesn’t even mention that he’s already sung in Vegas. Modesty again.

He had the audience at his feet and on theirs, persuading him back for two encores (My Way and the aptly titled You’re Nobody ‘til Somebody Loves You), and, from mid-way through the second set, for a little dancing – and you can imagine how challenging it can be to get a reserved Edinburgh crowd going.

Iain Hunter, buddy, one more for the road?