Spitfire and high fliers

Paul Carrack
Paul Carrack

FROM the Spitfire flypast on opening night through to the flag-waving Last Night at the Proms finale, Sheffield’s Music in the Gardens struck all the right notes for the thousands who flocked to the Botanical Gardens on four successive evenings last week.

It was the most ambitious programme in the six years of the charity event organised by the Rotary Clubs of Sheffield with two big-name headline acts in Paul Carrack and Courtney Pine.

Pictured at Music in the Garden at Sheffield Botanical Gardens is Jazz Saxophist Courtney Pine

Pictured at Music in the Garden at Sheffield Botanical Gardens is Jazz Saxophist Courtney Pine

First up was the Big Band Night featuring festival regulars the Keith Peters Big Band which got off to a rousing start from the very first number from opening act, the University Big Band. A couple of bars into 633 Squadron and the Spitfire appeared to perform a couple of loops above the Gardens to salute the evening in aid of Help for Heroes.

The Christmas season is usually well under way when Paul Carrack makes his traditional annual appearance at the City Hall.

So the contrast was striking as the Sheffield-born singer and musician pitched up with his band under canvas on a cloudless summer’s evening on Thursday playing to an audience, a good proportion of which was there for the picnic as well as the music.

Much of the fare on stage was familiar, as the 60-year-old – all in black apart from a jaunty white trilby – dipped into an extensive songbook covering Ace, Squeeze, Mike and the Mechanics and his solo career. Well, it wouldn’t have been a picnic without the likes of Tempted, Living Years, Over My Shoulder, How Long, Eyes of Blue and Silent Running. Beautiful World was introduced as being, appropriately, on “a beautiful night”.

Memories of growing up in Crookes and playing drums in the attic to The Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers were evoked before Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying.

Then brother John, in a Panama hat, bounded on stage to join in on The Searchers’ When You Walk In The Room. With Paul’s son Jack on drums, it was quite a family affair.

As the temperature dropped, the audience warmed increasingly to the entertainment and left their collapsible chairs for a bit of a dance. The atmosphere was convivial in the extreme and the full house, if gardens can have a full house, appeared refreshed on all fronts.

Three women had travelled all the way from Watford, and lapped up proceedings with glasses of champagne in hand. It was that sort of occasion.

Paul Carrack will be back in Sheffield at the City Hall on December 17. Don’t bring a picnic.

Friday’s jazz night brought out the hampers, camping chairs, Pimms and Pinot Grigio again. The last time so many middle-class Sheffielders gathered together in such vast numbers was probably the protest against Nick Clegg at the spring Lib Dem conference outside the City Hall.

It was more Glyndebourne than Glastonbury, with the hard-core jazz fans packed in at the front of the stage while many more were there for the evening ambience provided by the sunshine and the verdant loveliness of their surroundings.

As picnic bags were unpacked and rugs unfolded, supporting artist Omar Puentes and his talented band provided the warm-up. Omar, with his electric viola, played beautifully alongside the gorgeous plait-haired pianist and built up a lively rapport with an appreciative crowd.

Then it was time for jazz legend Courtney Pine, saxophonist and clarinet player extraordinaire, who told us he’d been around for a couple of years: well, since 1986 as it happens.

The 47-year-old star launched into a set comprising largely of his new album, Europa, a celebration of the continent of his birth, and a host of numbers from his 25 years of a career at the top of the jazz pantheon.

As the sun set and the dew gathered and Courtney drew out the last dissonant note from his mighty clarinet, the audience reluctantly packed away the remnants of their spreads and headed for home, but not before one chap was heard to remark: “I don’t know if I’m ready to be that middle class…”

Finally came the classical night on Saturday once again featuring Dodworth Colliery Band and the ever-improving Sheffield Philharmonic Orchestra. By the end of the night everyone was on their feet waving Union Jacks and singing along to Jerusalem and Land of Hope and Glory, led by Sardinian tenor Antonello Arca and Sheffield’s own mezzo-soprano Charley Oakley.

Last year the event raised £45,000 for local charities and organisers are hoping to at least equal that with donations earmarked for Sheffield Children’s Hospital, Weston Park Cancer Charity, Help for Heroes and Shelterbox.

“We had more people than ever this year but our costs were considerably higher with the calibre of the artists and installing the big screen but everyone agreed it was bigger and better,” said Rotarian Geoff Marston from the organising committee. There are more big plans for next year.