Watching Andy Sheppard with Hotel Bristol at a valedictory gig just before Christmas in the Hen and Chicken’s upstairs room was the full Sheppard experience. First there was the band, another of his (almost too many to count) collaborations. This one has been maturing over a couple of years, Denny Ilet providing the a bluesey not quite rocky edge on guitar; the peer-less Percy Pursglove on bass with dash of top class trumpet thrown in and Mark Whitlam blossoming on drums. Then there’s the music. A few raunchier (Illet?) compositions like All in Good Time and a burst of rock on Smut gave a platform for the tenor to burn. Laced through the set were the unmistakable melodic inflections and affecting themes and ample space for the band to invent and play. They were cooking.
And why valedictory? Well after more than 30 years as a part of Bristol’s jazz scene Andy’s leaving town, relocating to Portugal. Never mind the fact that in that time he’s built a global reputation, he’s still an active part of the local scene. The room was even more packed than usual to mark the occasion. Its also made me a bit reflective. The Sheppard sound, so unmistakeable, first piqued my interest and started me on a journey into jazz.
Not quite thirty years ago I was a music lover, living in Bristol, but not to my knowledge at the time listening to anything that could be called jazz. Someone, a friend I think, played me a record (and it was vinyl) by a great Bristol based band and the fluting soprano intro, world music inflected groove and barnstorming trombone solo on Java Jive (first track on the first Sheppard album), made me want to listen again. One thing led to another. Diving in, listening on the live jazz scene in Bristol, ransacking fairly randomly the record library (yes.. vinyl) and new vistas opened up including having some jazz piano lessons with Dave Buxton who I only later realised was the pianist on that first album
Andy got a fine send off on that evening and managed to fit in another appearance at The Fringe in January, where there’s been an irregular but frequent residency over the last few years. And he’ll be back. The Pushy Doctors are scheduled at The Hen and Chicken later in the year and the mouth watering prospect of a live score performed to Metropolis with a ten-piece band including Eivind Aarset and Michel Rabbia at Bristol’s Jazz and Blues Festival in March. It’s ‘au revoir’, then but a moment to pause and reflect. Drawing breath and reflecting seems an essential part of the Sheppard music. Trio Librero stilling the cavernous and packed Colston Hall with the simplest of melodies remains an enduring memory and stopping time at magical performance at the Bath Festival is another to put alongside the raucous joie de vivre of The Pushy Doctors and swagger of Hotel Bristol.