So Lionel, tell us a bit about yourself and your interest in music . . .
I have lived in Tunbridge Wells for many years, and my passion for music was initially inspired by my parents as my mum played the piano and my dad was constantly playing records. I started playing drums from the age of 11 and never looked back! I have always had a very keen interest in jazz music, but I also have a fondness for blues, funk, soul and everything in between. When I got married and had children, my musical exploits naturally took more of a back seat, but as time went by I steadily took up an interest again. Around 15 years ago I came across The Nicky Moore Blues Band, and enjoyed them so much I bought a new drum kit. They definitely reinvigorated my passion for practising and performing.
Can you tell us more about the bands you regularly perform with?
In recent years I have focused my energies playing percussion with two bands, Over The Edge and Unit 7. I really enjoy playing in both groups, and with Unit 7 we have Jools Holland’s sax player Derek Nash, The Darkness drummer Darby Todd and on vocals Noel McCalla. Noel’s long association with the brilliant Morrisey Mullen Band and Manfred Mann earned him the title of one of Britain’s best soul singers.
So what’s your new collaboration with local jazz singer Laura Lawton all about?
At the start of 2019 local opera singer Laura Lawton approached me with the idea of collaborating, as she expressed a desire to explore her interest in jazz music. We were soon joined by revered pianist Iain Rae and renowned bassist Paul Beeching, and so Laura & Co was born. What makes this new project so interesting is that it is essentially popular music set to swing time rhythms, offering unique interpretations of popular standards. We are something a bit different, and that really excites everyone in the band; there is great energy and dynamics within our style and sound, and we can’t wait to perform live!
You’ve been an integral part of Jazz on The Pantiles, how has it developed and evolved over the past quarter of a century?
Believe it or not, Jazz on The Pantiles has been going for 26 years. In the early years, it took place on Thursday evenings during July and there were restrictions imposed such as only hosting duos and trios – and very little amplification was permitted. In terms of audience, the numbers would be in the region of 50-60 people per event, and there were no restaurants involved at this point. Generally, audiences would sit on chairs in a horseshoe formation, creating a relaxed outdoor theatre vibe, and the music was of a traditional jazz nature. David Jacobs was the organiser back then, and he sadly passed away after running it for five years.
What happened when you took over the running of the event?
After David’s passing, I offered to take over the organising of the music and have been running it ever since. It is a team effort and I am indebted to all The Pantiles Traders involved – particularly Julian Leefe Griffiths, owner of The Pantiles Hotel. Without his commitment and support, Jazz on The Pantiles would have fallen by the wayside. Over time the event has evolved greatly for the better, and it is now one of Tunbridge Wells’ most popular and well-loved events. The programme now runs from May to September, and we have professional sound and lighting.
The music on offer is truly exceptional, and spans genres such as jazz, blues, funk, soul and Latin. We have had bands of all shapes and styles on The Bandstand, some as large as 18-piece in size. The restaurants and bars have now become fully involved, with their tables and chairs available outside their establishments, and audiences can enjoy the alfresco vibe – we even have our own ‘dance floor’ area. On a warm summer’s evening up to 3,000 people will attend, it’s simply amazing! This year’s Jazz on The Pantiles promises to be the best one yet.
Which musicians do you admire the most and inspired your own playing?
From a drumming perspective, it has to be Buddy Rich; his flair and speed were unrivalled, and he was incredible to watch. These days the likes of Steve Gadd and Dave Weckl are two of my favourite drummers, but I really admire the drumming of Darby Todd of The Darkness and Jethro Tull. He is so versatile, I have never known a drummer like him, Darby can play any style, any genre, and performing alongside him in our band Unit 7 is a true privilege. Personally, The Nicky Moore Blues Band have played an integral part in my music development; they are the main reason I bought my current drum kit. When it comes to vocalists, Liane Carroll and Claire Martin both have astonishing voices.
Outside of The Grey Lady and The Jazz on The Pantiles where would be your music venue of choice?
For me personally it has to be Ronnie Scott’s. Over the years I have had the privilege of watching many of the world’s finest musicians, and to see them perform in such an intimate and iconic setting like Ronnie’s is simply breathtaking!
Laura & Co perform at The Grey Lady Music Lounge on Friday March 13 at 8.30pm. Tickets are priced £7. To book visit www.thegreylady.co.uk Tables for the evening can be booked by calling 01892 544700.
Follow Paul @PaulDuntonmusic