BUXTON FESTIVAL 2014: Fantastic Joe’s starring role

Joe Stilgoe
Joe Stilgoe

Buxton Festival has pulled off a scoop with not one but two performances from celebrated jazz singer, pianist, composer and entertainer, Joe Stilgoe.

Joe will be offering an exclusive concert co-starring singer-songwriter Natalie Williams, who first performed with him for a Valentine’s special at Ronnie Scott’s.

“We try to evoke that spirit of banter that people like Rosemary Clooney and Bing Crosby had”, says Joe. Musically, the evening is likely to include both standards and an age-defying mixture of soul, jazz and more contemporary songs.

He is also bringing his own new show Songs on Film, which will go on to Edinburgh and has a personal feel, recalling his first time at the cinema seeing The Jungle Book and his first date with his wife seeing Billy Wilder’s The Apartment: “It’s a film that defies the rules of the romantic comedy.

“There’s no kiss but it is all about the repetitive, boring nature of trying to get someone to fall in love with you”.

With an overture mixing everything from Reservoir Dogs to Top Hat, Songs on Film has a broad appeal but Joe does not flinch from his jazz label and is pleased by the genre’s revival.

“When I was learning about music no-one knew how to educate people about jazz. Now it’s on the curriculum and the number of jazz musicians coming through is astonishing.” Increasingly he has been fascinated by its history - “the liberation of black Americans in the South finding an art form in which they could express themselves.”

Joe has an impeccable musical pedigree; his father is Sir Richard Stilgoe, familiar at the piano on BBC’s That’s Life! but also a lyricist for Lloyd Webber.

His mother is opera singer Annabel Hunt. Joe recalls a recent incident in which a cat made him sneeze.

“Dad said ‘I didn’t know you had my cat-hating gene. That’s the only one you’ve got. You’ve got your musicality from your mother.’

“A lot of people do go up to dad and say ‘he’s a chip off the old block’ and my mother’s there saying: ‘What have I done?!’”

Joe’s shows are not short of laughs but he says: “I’m not a comedian… I don’t set out to do a comedy show with some music thrown in. It’s not like Billy Connolly dropping his banjo… I’m trying to do proper music so I have to be careful to not make it too silly.”

Happily his musical talents have been lauded by critics and celebrities alike with Sir Michael Parkinson, Tim Minchin and Sir John Dankworth among his fans.

A brilliant live performer, he is also a founder of Radio 4’s The Horne Section and was responsible for a memorable broadcasting moment when Homeland’s Damian Lewis sang Me and My Girl on Jingle Bell Joe, his Radio 2 show last December.

It will be a delight to see Joe in Buxton though he insists that the pleasure is all his.

“I’ve always wanted to be there… It’s a world famous music and arts festival so to be asked to be involved with it is a real honour.”

• Joe Stilgoe can be seen at the Pavilion Gardens Cafe on Friday July 11 at 9pm, and with Natalie Williams at the same venue on Saturday July 12 at 9pm.