Composer Gavin Bryars in conversation about Adelaide Hall’s concert

at the Studio Theatre, Haymarket, Leicester

David [Gothard, Associate Director at the Haymarket] had the idea of getting Adelaide Hall to perform and for me to put together the band. I had lot of good students at the time [GB was Professor of Music at De Montfort University (1986-1994) and an Associate Director of Music at the Haymarket] – there was a good feel for written-out Jazz.

First I had to meet Adelaide. David put me in touch with her. She was playing at Pizza on the Park and we met at the interval. I went to Baron’s Court. She was always game to try something new but was most comfortable with the repertoire she knew. Some we would use the existing arrangements, some I would write new arrangements for the student band. I also decided not to use her regular pianist… because he was pretty frail. But she had worked with another pianist, Mick Pyne, whom I knew. He and his brother came from Bridlington where I was playing Jazz in the 60s.

I added a group of student players. I explained to Adelaide what I was going to do and she was full of it, completely game. She came out, we rehearsed, we did the concert. The concert was a huge success. The minute people knew Adelaide was in town, it sold out. And the Studio [Theatre] was a place where a lot of sometimes quite experimental, or small scale but often incredibly interesting things [happened]. The Studio had a sort of innovative aspect to it.

[Adelaide] couldn’t move about a lot. A lot of the time she’d sit down but then occasionally she’d … the spirit of the music would get her to get up and she’d start sort of like dancing on the spot. She was really full of life; she was absolutely incredible. I’ve got a recording of the whole thing. I’ll make a copy of it if you like. In fact I was listening to it last night and the spirit in her performance is just stunning – there’s a kind of bubble in her life, she was absolutely fantastic.

She loved also working with these students, these young kids. And after the performance … next door was a very good Italian restaurant … and we were there until 3 or 4 in the morning. Adelaide was sitting next to me. She had her hand on my knee she was excited and said we should get married and so on. She was really all go and it gave her a huge kick to do this show.

She came on stage. The show started by us playing a Duke Ellington piece ‘Take the A Train’ just a piano, bass, drums piece. And then the moment we stopped, the band went into ‘Creole Love Call’. And everyone knows this three clarinet way it starts. And Adelaide had a mic off stage and you could hear her and she walked on singing. And the moment the sound of her started, the audience just started clapping. They were with her, right from the beginning.

I’d a sense she really came alive in that show. In this show she was right spot-on, she was really on the boil the whole way through.

There are all sorts of great things happened in the performance. There’s one bit I remember where Mick and I play the intro to a song … I think we played the intro to ‘I Can’t Give You Anything But Love’ … and she started singing ‘Foggy Day’ instead, which actually has the same sequence at the beginning. Then in the second half, she had ‘Foggy Day’; [it] was the second half of a medley of tunes. So there’s a sequence where she sings ‘Almost Like Being in Love’ and then goes into a ‘Foggy Day’. And the moment she started singing a ‘Foggy Day’ she suddenly realised she’d already sung it in the first half. She looked round and gave us a big grin because she knew she’d sung the wrong song. So we then put “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love’ towards the end of the second half.

What you’ll hear in the recording is she has the audience eating out of her hand. Right at the end the audience is singing along with her. She knew exactly how to work it. It was completely genuine. You can hear that in her voice. And she’s telling these little stories. You can tell at the beginning she’s quite nervous. She tells the same story twice. She suddenly realises. And it’s about this song that she sang by this Jazz pianist Eubie Blake. The famous thing that he said, he lived to be 100, ‘if I’d known I’d live to be 100 I’d have taken better care of myself.’

It’s not a perfect recording. She’s on the mic and quite far forward in terms of the mix.

[Playing recording] There’s a narrative [‘Getting to Know You’] - I’m introducing myself. Later on she sings ‘The More I See You’ - in the second half.

She never ever stumbled on her words. She sang the whole show, knew all the words completely.

[‘Prelude to a Kiss’] it’s quite a complicated song to sing, the melody’s really quite awkward, it moves round the chords, changes a lot and you can hear that she actually has worked with Ellington because she’s got exactly that idiom.

We had to double the length of the play-out; [applause] it went on for ages. She’s so close on mic you can hear all her little asides and you can hear her little anxieties from time to time where she’s not sure about something or she’s just not clear about something, you know.

Listening through this last night, I can really still feel the occasion. I think even for someone who wasn’t there you have a sense that something is going on, it’s quite special…