In accord with The Hat's almost one-man campaign to get more exposure for the great contemporary blues and jazz keyboard players, I recently took myself off to Hebden Bridge to listen to Dale Storr playing at the 2014 Hebden Bridge Piano Festival. Unlike the main stages where Debussy, Bach, Chopin and Mozart held sway, there was none of your Reverential Hush here – as Dale was playing in The Cafeteria to a wide and diverse audience of polite tea-drinkers ranging in age from eight to eighty. I last saw him playing to a standing-room only crowd of exhuberant fans. This was a rather different challenge!
A squillion years ago, The Hat used to play in pubs in Chelsea and knows well the train-crash that awaits you if you misjudge your audience. Although the piano was not best placed in the Cafeteria and many were reluctant to cross the shiny noisy floor for a better view, Dale nevertheless offered up a short master class, not only in stunning piano skill but in getting your agenda absolutely spot on. There was no microphone, no singing and not a lot of foot stomp but from his opening very cool 'Dance a la Negres' Dale took his unusual audience with him on a classic New Orleans piano journey.
In a set based largely on his live CD – 'New Orleans Piano' – he left it till a few numbers in to open up his kaleidoscopic swing version of 'Sunny Side of The Street' that had the teacups swinging with him. Once in his grip, he didn't let them go and when he finally broke out the boogie with the self-penned 'Radiatin' The 88s' it was a delight to watch young and old responding visibly to his blinding left hand. There was also a fun relaxed 'musos' moment at this point when Dale invited Daniel Smith – a terrific boogie pianist in his own right – to come and join him briefly at the top of the piano.
No such performance would be complete without an appearance from Fats Domino and after a stonking version of 'Blueberry Hill', Dale finished his set with a long and beautiful Booker style arrangement of 'A Taste of Honey'. It was a delight to see both young and old politely queuing to shake his hand and thank him for a wondrous entertaining hour or so. A real professional musician sharing his talent – and it would be nice to think that this could be the spark that will get some of those young people up and running and out there playing and singing, like Dr John, 'Oh, Such A Night, Such A Night'...