Remember the good old days when every pub was filled with people catching up with…
Jazz with a Feeling: The Wirral Musical Whirlwind that is Becky Bell Thomas
Becky Bell Thomas is a musical whirlwind. Musical director and driving force behind the Out of the Blue Jazz Orchestra (as well as the Heswall Concert Band). She is on a one-woman campaign to bring jazz and live music into our lives, with a Wirral residency as well as gigs and recordings in Liverpool and around Merseyside.
Becky has been involved in bands since the age of 14 and had a long and exciting career in music in London before moving to Wirral a few years ago. What prompted her to start Out of the Blue? “Well, a good friend (Ian Wray) pointed out that after having children and moving up here, it was a great time to start a new big band on the Wirral. So that was it”.There is an amazing musical back story: “I joined my fist big band, The Brassery, in Nottingham as a schoolgirl. We even went on Blue Peter. When I turned up at university there wasn’t a big band. I couldn’t imagine three years without playing swing music, so decided to start one, Hull University Big Band, known as HUBB. We went on a sell-out tour to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. And the band is still going strong”.
Completing her degree in music, Becky moved to London. “To be in London in my early twenties was amazing. I had a ball. I started as a medical secretary on Harley Street. Bizarre but fun. I can now spell a load of random medical terms though I have no idea what they mean. But it gave me a foot in the door to London life. I played in the pit band for various productions and then led a big band who had a residency at the Bulls Head in Barnes – a legendary jazz venue in London”.
After leaving Harley Street, Becky became the business manager for Harrow’s Music Service. Through working with some of their Indian music specialists she ended up at the Glastonbury Festival, sleeping under the stars surrounded by sitars and tabla’s. Then it was on to the Royal College of Music, meeting musical stars like Ashkenazy, Haitink and John Wilson: “I started as the PA to the Director, Colin Lawson, who is a phenomenal clarinettist. I was a little star struck. Then I moved across to fundraising and organising events and looking after the VIPs including HRH The Prince of Wales. It was the time of my life, absolutely loved it and made some wonderful friends. Sometimes I have to pinch myself that that part of my life even existed!”
Following on from the Royal College of Music Becky worked for leading disability arts charity Heart n Soul. This included Becky being involved in large-scale events at exciting venues such as the Southbank Centre and Olympic Park, working alongside the British Council and the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Another great chapter in her life.
Becky moved to Wirral with her husband in 2014 to settle and raise a family. Musically that was Wirral’s good fortune. Starting work as a clarinet and saxophone teacher, also conducting the Heswall Hall Concert Band from 2017 (which she continues to do).
In 2019 it was time to start that new big band. Band members for Out of the Blue were found through word of mouth and people that Becky had already performed with. There is an amazing array of instrumentation: saxophones, trombones, trumpets and a full rhythm section, with guitar, drums, percussionist, keyboards and bass. “The band is a team, one big happy family”, says Becky, “It is the only way to make outstanding music. We have a huge range of people in the band from all walks of life and varying from 17 to 70 years old”.
Our singer Joan Fearon has worked before with musicians in a soul band in Liverpool. “Joan’s voice is just divine” says Becky “I could listen to her sing all day, when I grow up, I would like to be a jazz singer just like Joan!”
Out of the Blue plays all types of jazz, swing, blues and soul music. It’s a totally eclectic mix of music, hard to categorise fun, toe-tapping stuff you want to move to, music that makes you feel good. At the start of 2022 they started their new venture with Heswall Hall, ‘Tuesday Jazz in the Big Room’, trying to create an open, accessible fun space for people to come down and experience different types of jazz. Each month has a different theme: in March they celebrated the music of the 1940s big band leader Glenn Miller. Then in complete contrast in June they welcomed guest saxophone player Alex Clarke (BBC Jazz Musician of the Year Finalist) for a journey exploring soul and funk jazz, a completely different experience to early swing music.
Becky loves all music, classical, rock, indie, pop, country, folk, jazz and blues. Put her in a room with live music and she is at home: ‘You name it, it just has to be live. Nothing matches the feel and sensation of live music’.With such wide musical tastes, you might be surprised to hear what sort of music Becky listens to at home. “Funnily enough, she says, I don’t listen to much music at home. Both my children are learning to play instruments, so silence is precious. I once heard a fascinating talk by Germaine Greer, asking why music is constantly present in our lives, whether we like it or not, in shops, in lifts and so on. We need space and silence too”.
Out of the Blue play Heswall Hall on the last Tuesday of every month. You can check out their website and listen to their recordings here:
Quote from a fan:
“If you have never been to an ‘Out of the Blue’ gig then you’re missing something BIG in your lives.
Just a fabulous big band sound, oozing foot tapping, swinging jazz of every persuasion. Loose yourself in blues, be wooed by their sumptuous vocal and instrumental soloists in a laid-back cabaret setting led by their warm, witty and engaging leader Becky Thomas.
Go on indulge yourself. What could be better – soothing sounds from a truly professional band, worthy of the big time, yet here, on your doorstep for your utter delectation”.