Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1068

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Feature

James Langton: A Solid Vintage

James Langton @bluesandsoul.com PHOTO: COPYRIGHT J.Langton
James Langton @bluesandsoul.com PHOTO: COPYRIGHT J.Langton

Internationally renowned as a re-creator of the Big Band Swing sound, UK-raised, New-York-based band-leader/vocalist James Langton is unquestionably one of the primary attractions of this August’s Vintage At Goodwood Festival. As his performance at the weekend’s specially-constructed, Forties-style nightclub The Torch will excitingly see him reuniting with his classic 18-piece UK Swing band The Solid Senders Orchestra especially for the event.

“Yes, The Solid Senders actually began as a project for a Masters degree I was doing, which involved studying the Swing era - and especially studying the clarinettist Artie Shaw”, begins a talkative and knowledgeable James from his now-East Coast US home: “The initial project was to actually recreate The Artie Shaw Band in a recorded performance - which would then be submitted as part of my final exercise for that degree, along with the thesis. So for that we actually played - and recorded - our first gig at The Hunger Club in London… And then from there The Solid Senders kind of started to take on a life of its OWN! I decided to expand the repertoire of the band, though at the same time it never officially existed as a fixed touring entity. It was more a place where a group of enthusiasts would meet to play this kind of music. You know, the guys in the band would make their actual living from playing in the West End, or session work, or whatever - and then we’d just basically get together whenever I’d got a GIG for them to play at.”

“And I guess the main way The Solid Senders differs from other bands, is that almost all the music we play has actually been gathered together by me from American universities, from the original - as we call them in America - ‘books of the Big Bands’”, he adds proudly: “You know, I’ve got copies of the actual original arrangements. As opposed to most bands - who either play original arrangements that they’ve made-up themselves, or play transcriptions where somebody sat down, listened to the record, and tried their best to guess and recreate what was originally done. And so the fact The Solid Senders does have this library made up of the original arrangements does lend us a greater degree of AUTHENTICITY. Plus, with us the music is still very much ALIVE! In that, while we do have guys who play in that style of the original arrangements, at the same time we don’t recreate solos, we don’t recreate slavishly note-for-note… And so in a way I think the personal raison d’etre for me putting the band together in the FIRST place - aside of my degree - was to experience what it would actually be like, and sound like, to really stand in front of a band in 1935/1939/1942… You know, The Solid Senders was the closest I could ever hope to get to DOING that!”

While arguably best known internationally for his six-year stint (1996-2002) as bandleader/vocalist/musical director with the internationally-acclaimed English contemporary jazz/swing band The Pasadena Roof Orchestra, British-born-and-raised James has actually been a US resident since 2002 - a situation he today expresses mixed feelings about: “Well, I settled in America because I have an American wife. And, after 9/11, she wanted to move BACK there. It was as simple as that”, he reveals openly: “So, though I was very happy with my musical life in the UK and touring with The Pasadena Roof Orchestra, I was basically faced with move-to-America or divorce! And I have to say, it has taken a long time to establish any kind of musical side to things over here in New York. Because the horrible truth about the US musically, is that the Americans generally are not terribly interested in anything old! You know, it seems to me here - across the culture - that new is what is important and there’s a great suspicion of what we’d term ‘MUSEUM music’. So for me it’s not been easy.”

“And even the Big Band music scene that DOES exist here is not really my cuppa tea”, he adds honestly, as our interesting conversation draws to a close: “I mean, in New York at least it’s almost like a touristy kind of thing. Where the bands that do play are almost only doing so to fill clubs with tourists who think that some kinda Swing should be heard because New York was where it all HAPPENED. You know, it doesn’t feel ORGANIC in the same way as it does playing in England. So it’s definitely not an easy scene for an outsider like me to break into. It’s basically very small pockets and enclaves with very, very few musicians doing it, And those who do guard their territory pretty jealously!... So yes, I’m definitely looking forward to coming back to the UK to perform at Goodwood! You know, several people have already contacted me and told me they’re going to be there. So I’m just really excited about seeing once again all my musician friends, my dancer friends, my listener friends... And I hope it’s gonna be a tremendous success!”

James performs with The Solid Senders at The Torch, Vintage At Goodwood on Friday, August 13

You can catch the rest of Pete Lewis' enthralling interview with band-leader/vocalist James Langton in a special printed edition of Blues & Soul available this August 16 - order from this site now.

Buy your tickets to the Vintage festival tickets now.
Words PETE LEWIS

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