Julian Smith in Concert

St George’s Bristol, the city’s most unique and atmospheric concert hall, lies in a leafy square just a few moments walk from busy Park Street. The building itself, a lofty converted church, establishes the dramatic and beautiful acoustic the venue prides itself upon, retaining all the magnificence of a spiritual site. Its multi-million pound refurbishment in 1999 made several important changes (such as replacing the bolt upright church pews with far more comfortable seating) to make it accessible, attractive and extremely active in the 21st century.

St George’s offers a more intimate experience than the larger, more famous Colston Hall, specialising in folk, jazz and world music. It was here that I came to witness the beautiful jazz tones of saxophonist Julian Smith, a runner-up in Britain’s Got Talent 2009. Despite hardly watching the programme, I did recall his tingling rendition of Leonard Bernstein’s Westside Story classic, Somewhere, and was eager to see how he would handle two hours on stage rather than merely fifteen minutes of fame.

The opening of the concert was a little disappointing; Julian did not appear onstage until over three songs in and we were entertained by his pianist accompaniment. However, we were not disappointed when he came shuffling onto stage in his signature beanie hat, treating us to some classic blues including a lovely rendition of Summertime. Julian grasped perfectly the saxophone’s ability to create easy listening; the audience were relaxed and enthralled simultaneously. The improvisational dimension of jazz was explored in the show’s finale as each member of his supporting band revelled in a three minute solo, allowing Julian to disappear off stage and work his way through the audience from the furthest away, merrily piping on his saxophone, as a lovely surprise.

Julian was a friendly and modest performer who, unlike many musicians, took time to really engage with his audience, happily responding to song requests, taking questions from the audience (we learnt he had queued for 12 hours for his first BGT audition) and demonstrating circular breathing, a device that allowed him to play a single, consistent note for well over 90 seconds. The spectacular venue only added to my huge enjoyment of the evening.

About the author

Rozzy Unwin is an English Literature finalist at Bristol University, currently Arts Editor of the Student Newspaper, co-presenter of a weekly student radio show and extraordinarily fond of all things theatrical.

Image credit: http://www.juliansmithsax.co.uk/

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