Jack Peat reviews the musician’s musician at the 606 Club, Chelsea.
There’s no better way of exposing the absolute mundaneness of everyday chart music than an evening with Bobby Wellins. Indeed, it is altogether impossible to fathom how such music exists when there is such a rich musical alternative readily available. Structureless in nature, but all the more intriguing for being so, tonight was the evening I fell back in love with jazz.
The 606 Club in Chelsea is a typical jazz club that has the feeling of a smoky, bourbon infused atmosphere even though both cigarettes and spirits are not permitted in the venue. A Concert Grand piano (or perhaps Parlor Grand, the room is deceptive) straddled the stage accompanied by a lone microphone and drum kit that lay in front of the dark curtains that are emblazoned with the 606 Club’s emblem.
Candlelit tables lay across the main floor of the venue and a waft of food had already started to permeate from the kitchen that lay towards the back of the room as we walked in. Our table was comfortably two back from the stage, close enough to get a good feel for the music but far enough back so as not to feel as though you’re serenading your parents who are down for the weekend.
We enjoyed a two course meal – the food is ridiculously overpriced – and a bottle of La Cadence Carignan – also painfully marked up – before the show started. I reassured myself that it’s not what your drink but where you’re drinking it, but the mid-weight red had put a bitter taste in my mouth before the musicians had took to the stage.
Thankfully, from that moment what you ate and drank became inconsequential. With dimmed lights and a familiar jazz club ambiance, you sink back in your chair as soulful tunes fill the basement room, left wondering why you ever gave a toss about the food in the first place. When you’re fed and watered and sat facing a modern British jazz icon, you can forgive serving a decent fillet of salmon with MASHED POTATO!
The Wellins quartet
Seventy-eight year-old Bobby Wellins is a Scottish tenor saxophonist renowned for his collaboration with Stan Tracey on Under Milk Wood and particularly the saxophone improvisation on Starless and Bible Black. After a long submission to a variety of addictions in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the Glaswegian rekindled his love of jazz and has enjoyed several years back on the scene leading the Charlie Watts Big Band as well as a number of other groups, a redemption documented in a film called Dreams are Free, directed by Gary Barber.
He was welcomed to stage by the 606 owner who described him as being integral to the growth of the club, featuring in several of its nights over an illustrious 25 year history which was celebrated last year with a 12-day festival involving 42 bands, including Bobby, of course!
The first half of the set was at times wild and at others wonderfully calm. The support band jammed as though they were reading from sheet music, spectacularly improvising in synchronization, creating beautifully composed and controlled randomness. The drummer used each piece of the kit in equal measure, the pianist every key and the bassist ever note on every inch of his strings. The pitch ebbed and flowed, the rhythm was sporadic and all the sonic qualities made complete sense despite being completely irrational.
After a short break in which most of the room’s louder parties managed to find their way out to the bar we were treated with more solos and more of the melodic and beautifully controlled saxaphone compositions for which Wellins is famed. The veteran of British jazz at times lit up the stage but also felt comfortable stepping aside to allow other members of the band to do the same. It was a wonderfully stimulating evening of music and a real privilege to see such talent (plural) perform live.
Even my hastily prepared fish dinner couldn’t spoil that!