The F.T.O. Big Band at the Wyvern Theatre, Swindon. 21/11/2021
The Fulltone Orchestra (a.k.a. FTO) was formed back in 2017, the vision and brainchild of its Musical Director, Anthony Brown. Since then, the orchestra has performed across Wiltshire playing a wide genre of orchestral based music, from iconic movie themes to Bernstein and Gershwin, then Russian composers and The Planets, and most recently a firework extravaganza of classical music (with no actual fireworks folks!). Then there has been its involvement with “The Invitation Theatre Company” (a.k.a. TITCo) with the inaugural, and this year’s “Fulltone Festivals”, and the incredible “Jeff Wayne’s Musical version of the War Of The Worlds” reprised in 2019 in Swindon’s Wyvern Theatre.
And of course the amalgamation of choirs in Devizes for the poignant and beautiful “Armed Man” by Karl Jenkins.
For these performances the FTO has fluctuated in size of orchestra depending on requirements – musicians coming from all over Southern England, and even have included a passing Hungarian cellist. Anthony’s vision always seeks the next, exciting opportunity and this year has seen the birth of the “FTO Big Band”. Cutting its teeth at the “Fulltone Festival” on August bank holiday weekend 2021, now the FTO took its latest progeny back to the Wyvern for its “Big Band Night” on Sunday 21st November.
And what a night it was! Five saxophones (also doubling up on clarinet and flute), four trombones, four trumpets, drums, bass, guitar, and keyboards joined by three female and three male voices crooned and smoothed and belted their way through a cornucopia of delights. From Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller (who else for a big band night after all?!) to Ella Fitzgerald, Julie Garland and Jackie Wilson numbers. And that was just the first half! The second half kicked off with “The Pink Panther” and “Big Spender” and crooned away deliciously after that with Frank Sinatra, more Judy Garland and even a spot of Marilyn Monroe.
The band, as ever with the FTO, was absolutely spot on. The ever-present Dominic Irving this time left his keyboard and violin at home and whipped out his trumpet (oo err missus!). Louise Cox a persistent FTOer on the drums was her usual impeccable, percussive self. Devizes born and bred Archie Combe tinkled the ivories (I played rugby with his dad y’know!), and Vickie Watson amazed in her juggling of sax, clarinet, and flute throughout the entire show. But its churlish to only mention a few by name, where in fact the entire band were simply amazing. A whole bunch of horns and sax appeal for sure for starters!
And the singers? Well… I guess they did all right… 😉 Truth be told – of course they were brilliant. Confession time – for those that don’t already know, these people are my friends, and I am honoured to stand on stages with them often. So you can understandably think now “oh well, sycophancy rules, OK” at this juncture. But – everything I write here is true. These people WERE amazing tonight. Truly awesome. Jemma Brown with her consummate ease of poignancy in such numbers as “Ole’ Devil called Love” to power in “Big Spender” and Chris Worthy similarly between “Nightingale sang in Berkley Square” to “Reet Petite”. Then of course Sean Andrews, well known for his strength of projection unsurprisingly absolutely creaming “Luck be a Lady” … but showing a crooning side with “Come Fly with me”. Then there’s Will Sexton. Well, if you’ve never heard Will you bloody well should. And if you have you will know there are insufficient superlatives available. He calmly, coolly, sang his way through “Blue Moon”, broke hearts with “My Girl” and finished us all off with “Cry Me a River”.
But these were not alone on the stage… enter stage right Ella Mangham. WHAT A VOICE. Made for this style of music, “Black Coffee” and “Fascinating Rhythm” held us spell bound. Ella had debuted with the FTO Big Band back in the summer, but tonight saw the first appearance of a super young lady – Ruby Phipps. Now Sean had clearly bought his fan club with him as we heard when introduced, but Ruby had family and friends travelling from all over – and no surprise. Sublimely duetting with Jemma on “Get Happy”, “Over the Rainbow” and “The Trolley Song” she lit up the stage with her excellence and grace. Then the whole group appeared as Will completed the evening with – what else? – “My Way” and joined in… showing that the FTO Big Band truly did this THEIR way, in style, panache and not a little excellence.
What a night. But there’s one more person that deserves a HUGE pat on the back. I’ve mentioned this entire project, from orchestra to big band spin off, is the brainchild of Anthony Brown. But Anthony (a.k.a. O.T but never EVER call him “Tony” !!!) is more than just a M.D. (a.k.a. Musical Director). He is the passion, the life force, the visionary that has produced an orchestra that dares, and now a Band that is truly BIG. He AM da MAN.
So – if you were there tonight and saw it, how lucky were we? And if you weren’t or think I’m just a sycophant for my raving review all I can say is – my eighty-four-year-old mum absolutely loved it. And get a ticket for the next Big Band night and make up your own mind!
Meanwhile – live music is back. And don’t you forget it!
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