As well as producing a full programme of events over the August Bank Holiday weekend, the team behind The Rye International Blues and Jazz Festival also present one-off exclusive concerts and it is thanks to that team that we are now waiting to enter the stunning grounds of Tonbridge Castle, under a clear blue sky, to hear “The Voice” Russell Watson and his supporting artistes.
The gates open at 1.00pm and soon picnic chairs and blankets are filling the natural amphitheatre in front of the stage. The crowds flood in until pretty much all the space is filled and, at that point, the Paul Richards Latin Trio take to the stage and fill the air with the rhythms of South America.
They offer up a fairly understated performance which, as people are still tucking in to their picnics, is ideal. Playing the music of some of the greatest Latin American guitar composers, their set is very soothing and perfect for the sweltering heat that continues to build.
Following on from the music of Latin America, Hastings-born Liane Carroll takes her seat at the grand piano and blasts out a wonderful selection of some of the greatest jazz classsics. Hoagy Carmichael is her personal favourite composer, so we hear a couple of his compositions and Liane uses her tremendous skill to create medleys out of the most unusual song combinations. Her comedic introductions are superbly timed and really suit the afternoon well.
The stagehands work quickly to ensure that there is enough room for The Masquerade String Quartet, a four piece band, The Fidelity International Choir and, taking his place at centre stage, Russell Watson.
The audience welcome Russell very enthusiastically and are rewarded as he opens his performance with a stunning version of the world famous O Sole Mio. He continues with a tribute to Mario Lanza, more operatic masterpieces like Funiculi – Finucula, and Nessun Dorma! before mixing in Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours, Robert Goulay’s If I Loved You and I Dreamed a Dream, Empty Chairs at Empty Tables and Bring Him Home from Les Miserables.
After a short break, and as the wonderful summer sun begins to disappear behind the stage, Russell returns to entertain for a second half which finishes with a “Pomp and Circumstance” section featuring Jerusalem and Land of Hope and Glory and, for his encore, a fantastically rousing version of the Josh Groban / Westlife hit You Raise Me Up.
From start to finish the concert is well organised, well presented, well received and is a credit to the small but dedicated team, led by Ian Bowden, who deliver the perfect concert for a summer’s afternoon – and a great prelude to main festival in August.
**** Four Stars