A disrupted beginning to the second day of the 2018 Derry jazz festival was a temporary setback as the festival welcomed a string of big names and basked in sustained sunshine.


Hotel guests disrupted by a bomb scare

Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Well, it was much ado about nothing very much although at the time it was an irritation when a bomb scare disrupted day two of the Derry jazz festival. The BBC later reported: ‘Two shows were cancelled on Friday evening after police received reports that bombs had been left at a garage and a hotel in the city. PSNI Superintendent Gordon McCalmont said the caller used a recognised codeword associated with dissident republicans.’


Rolling out the barrel at a brewpub near the Guildhall

I stood with other guests at that hotel, Da Vinci’s, having checked in a few hours earlier, in the sunshine before many of us were ferried in a small fleet of taxis through Creggan and eventually Free Derry Corner in the Bogside to the temporary refuge of the City Hotel passing, myself a couple of friendly hotel staff and a Japanese visitor, on the way the ‘wee shop’ which features in ratings busting hilarious Channel 4 comedy Derry Girls, the friendly taxi driver pointed out. ‘The hoax won’t be anything,’ he said and he was right, just an inconvenience on day two of the five day festival which this year was headlined by Van Morrison.


The historic walled city of Derry approaching from the Strabane side of the city

I was in Derry to take part in the live BBC Arts Show broadcast presented by Undertones bassist Mickey Bradley to take place over at a café on the Quayside. Wondering what the situation was knowing that the Strand Road was also disrupted and the city rapidly in a state of traffic meltdown and attracted in by the sound system of the Grand Central bar, I took a breather after the cabbie dropped us off. The barman was friendly and realising given I said that I was in town for the festival put on, amusingly although refreshingly enough, some Bing Crosby and then said he didn’t know anything about jazz and so gestured to reach over and select something else, I plumped for ‘The Bottle’ by Gil Scott-Heron which seemed to go down OK enough going by the ‘thanks buddy’ I had somehow earned before continuing on. Pubs that have speakers facing the street like some do in Derry over jazz festival weekend really add to the atmosphere and the festival certainly has it in buckets with plenty of community participation and dozens and dozens of bands playing all over the place.


Van Morrison was a headliner and featured on the festival poster

Dashing out after this quick pleasant reset the police cordon blocked any hotfoot progress to the recording. It was annoying for the technical crew who had to hang around and retrieve their gear before returning to Belfast. Things were quickly returning to normal.


The Foyle looked superbly calm in the fine weather

In the lobby of the City Hotel I could just about make out Rick Swann and then timing now back on track and a short walk later at the Metro bar down by Shipquay Street I headed over next for an early set and the Derry debut of Ballina based US soul singer Buck Taylor.


Bennigans, home to the Derry jazz club where Kurt Rosenwinkel performed

There was a quiet contentment when the gathered punters there realised just how lucky they had found themselves there to hear Buck. One friendly fan, Gerry he said his name was who told me he suffered from Parkinson’s, proudly showed me photos of his US based daughter pictured with the former US presidential candidate and civil rights icon the Rev Jesse Jackson. He was loving what he then heard, his face lit up, and rightly so.


Liam Brennan and Buck Taylor at the Metro setting up

Buck performed with backing vocals provided by county Mayo’s Liam Brennan who doubled as DJ and soundman and the sheer quality of Buck’s James Brown-like voice immediately won the room over. People were dancing, even the up to that point seemingly non-dancing types, without any encouragement which is a rare thing to witness and especially at such an early time in the evening. A lot of people who looked like office workers came in pretty quickly and the place was filling rapidly. I wanted to stay but could only manage the first hour although much later in the evening had a brief chat with Buck and Liam over at the very busy late night Silver Street venue on Shipquay Street as we were relaxing by listening to The Ska Beats. They seemed happy with the way the set had gone and were scheduled to play more over the weekend.

The main event for me on this occasion was over at Derry jazz club Bennigans where heavyweight guitar great Kurt Rosenwinkel was performing for the first time in high powered company as a featured artist with not one but two former MOBO jazz act nominees alongside him: the first Art Blakey influenced drummer David Lyttle leading from the kit and fresh from touring with the Dutch guitarist Jesse van Ruller; the second, long time London based US bassist Michael Janisch who also runs the superb new Cool School and bebop rooted Whirlwind label.


John Leighton in the red T shirt about to introduce Kurt Rosenwinkel left, Michael Janisch and obscured David Lyttle

Their set was pretty relaxed at first, Benny Golson’s ‘Along Came Betty’ setting the mood and allowing Rosenwinkel enough room to show his mighty chops. Janisch had his work cut out and responded well. The three players achieved a natural flow which is the name of the game and at the heart of quality jazz play. I’d compare Rosenwinkel stylistically fitting his approach within the big marquee of mainstream jazz as a Pat Martino or more adventurously inclined Yotam Silberstein. Kurt’s best album for me is still the dazzling 2005 record Deep Song when Rosenwinkel was an unknown and proved a revelation. His very different Brazilian sound on a record like Caipi which also features his vocals, absent here, has also seen him record with Randy Brecker and Eliane Elias’s talented singer daughter Amanda as well as featuring Eric Clapton on one track.

There were quite a few guitarists present in the sold out John Street pub who included among their number Derry’s new jazz star in the making Joseph Leighton, who I had chatted to earlier as he donned dark glasses on the steps of the City Hotel.

The Ben Waters and former Rico guitarist Cris Gill and his teenage son Rory who plays in Fermanagh’s promising Bourbon Street Jazz Trio could also be spotted and saxophonists Meilana Gillard and Tom Harrison were also in attendance as was the Berts resident pianist Scott Flanigan. Ireland’s top newspaper jazz writer Cormac Larkin of The Irish Times was also present. The Lyttle trio were introduced by Bennigans owner pianist John Leighton who was billed to host the jam session later.


The Motown Brothers at the Quays Bar

Day done, almost, skipping the jam this time, the impressive Motown Brothers over at the Quays Bar later in the evening entertained a dancing soul crowd and the night was still young. Derry had become the right place at exactly the right time once more for a great feast of jazz in its many guises. Stephen Graham

photos: marlbank