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Stephan O’Goodson

by on 11 February 2021

No Panic, No Fuss, Just Warm and Leisurely

Stephan O’Goodson

Live Lounge, OSO, on-line via YouTube from 10th February

Review by Vince Francis  

We have all been changed by the lockdowns and it could be argued that some aspects of that change might be for the better, such as moves toward more flexible working arrangements.  What has also changed is the presentation of live performance and the usage of performance spaces.  OSO Arts is to be saluted in this regard, transforming their auditorium into a ‘Crisis Kitchen’ and shifting the performances on-line (and, apparently, outside when that had been possible).  It is into this on-line space that I was invited last night, to enjoy the performance of vocalist Stephan O’Goodson, accompanied by guitarist Paul Stead. 

Like many venues and organisations, OSO Arts have set up a YouTube channel, Live Lounge, to provide a platform for broadcast.  This allows at least a televisual experience, even if we can’t have the buzz of being in the room with other audience members and the “connection” with the performers.  Other clubs, societies and theatres have chosen this route and I tip my hat to them, too.

Now, I appreciate this might not be to everyone’s taste.  Indeed, it is outside the experience of some of my acquaintances and I know one or two people for whom television itself is a facility they have either given up on or never experienced.  If any of that describes you, skipping the next paragraph would be understandable.

The channel is configured with a chat window, which allows whoever is managing this part of the event to communicate with the audience, but also provides the audience with the ability to feed back in real time. The performances themselves remain available on YouTube after broadcast, just search for OSO Live Lounge.  There were five when I last looked.  I’m tempted to have a look at one or two of the others, if I can find a minute in my packed schedule (!).

Incidentally, I’m assuming that OSO Arts have addressed any copyright issues with YouTube.  I know from the experience of musician friends that this can be a bit of a minefield.

For this event, the performers had been set facing upstage, i.e. with the auditorium seating visible behind them.  The social distancing requirement created a space between them which was neatly punctuated with a floral arrangement on a small table.  My initial impression was that the emptiness of the auditorium was being emphasised, but, as the event progressed, I moved toward the view that warm colour of the seating provided some atmosphere and a welcome alternative to a black curtain backdrop.   It also served as a reminder that this is a theatre and it is still working.

Lighting was simple and effective and sound was well balanced, clear and at an appropriate level for broadcast sound.  Big tick there.

The only glitch occurred right at the end of the show, in which the picture “froze”.  I’m not sure whether this was a function of some time limit being exceeded, or just technology doing what technology so often does, but it meant that the final number was missing.  It is still missing on the retained copy on YouTube.  Shame, but I don’t think it was anyone’s fault.

And so, to business.

We were treated to an eclectic mix of styles and genres, from the apt and snazzy swing opener, I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm, to a rather clever, I thought, tango version of Amy Winehouse’s 2006 hit, Back to Black

Stephan’s high tenor range, which includes the occasional foray into falsetto, lends itself nicely to covers of female singers and the set was well populated with such.  No issue with that; we have been blessed with some outstanding women writers and performers and they have earned the acknowledgement they are due.  Ms Winehouse featured again in the set, as did Nina Simone, Billie Holliday, Whitney Houston and Dinah Washington. 

Overall, this was a great way to spend an hour or so in front of the laptop.  A couple of high-points for me were Stay with Me (the Sam Smith version from 2014).  This sits right in Stephan’s range and works very well, What A Difference A Day Makes, which was taken at a warm, leisurely pace (and incorporated a great solo) and the aforementioned Back to Black as a tango.  Nice hear Caravan in there as well.  It’s not often done as a duo number, but it worked well.

Talking of solos, Paul Stead accompanied these styles fluently and sympathetically.  Using an elegant Gibson archtop (E series, I think, but will happily stand correction), with all the fruity richness of tone that suggests, Paul piqued my interest in a couple of respects.  Firstly, he used the volume knob both to get out of Stephan’s way when he was singing and secondly to subtly alter the tone of the instrument in solos.  Secondly, he made good use of a “looper” pedal to provide himself with a backing track whilst soloing.  Finally, and most importantly, I found his ability to step outside the accepted cannon of jazz licks and incorporate different styles into a song really appealing.  For example, there was, I felt, a couple of country style phrases in one of the jazz standards which didn’t sound out of place and there was some quite funky soul-style rhythm playing in Otis Redding’s Respect

Stephan and Paul have worked together for some years and the understanding between them is apparent, even when the odd navigational difference occurred.  No panics, no fuss, just recover and move on.

Oh, and as a final, final thought on this topic, it is good to see younger jazz and jazz-oriented players. 

(N.B. As an aside, and in case you are unfamiliar with this, a looper allows you to record a short phrase and then play it back repeatedly, whilst at the same time playing over it. So, typically, the verse can be recorded as the singer is accompanied, then recalled and played back to support the solo.  There is a whole world of looper artists out there, who can create layers of sound and hugely complex and interesting arrangements.  I believe there is even a Looper Artist of the Year award.)

As I said at the outset, I congratulate OSO Arts on this and their other activities.  It is good to see the space in use.  I also congratulate Stephan and Paul for putting together an interesting and varied set.  Catch it on YouTube at your leisure.

Vince Francis, February 2021

Photography by Vernon Tomlinson

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