Review of the Jay Rayner Quartet at The Crazy Coqs
By Clive Davis
December 9, 2015
Some mistake, surely? The big, bearded bloke from MasterChef? Is he a jazz pianist too? Well, it’s true that no one would mistake Jay Rayner for Oscar Peterson, but that isn’t the point of this engagingly laid-back show.
The jazz world is awash with stamp collectors and train-spotters, those well-intentioned folk who know the catalogue number of every bebop record made since 1946. What it really needs is people who can engage with a public that is terrified of the j-word and assumes that listening to a Duke Ellington tune must somehow be the equivalent of sitting an A level.
Rayner, a restaurant critic and boulevardier, is the perfect communicator. Sidling up to his audience with a ragbag of jokes and family anecdotes, not to mention an imaginative repertoire, he conveys the sheer joy of playing and exploring the music he loves.
Sensibly enough, he keeps his solos short and brisk and has signed a couple of accomplished sidemen in the double-bass player Robert Rickenberg and the saxophonist Dave Lewis. Rayner’s wife, Pat Gordon Smith, takes care of the vocals. Even if she came slightly unstuck on a daring, bare-bones arrangement of Love and Affection — a Joan Armatrading ballad that would tax even the best vocalists — she was a throaty, bluesy presence elsewhere.
Peel Me a Grape, Dave Frishberg’s droll portrait of uptown ennui, sat alongside the vintage treat Save the Bones for Henry Jones. There were risqué tales, too, of Rayner’s mother, the late agony aunt Claire Rayner, whose daily postbag could give any teenage boy enough neuroses to last a couple of lifetimes.
Herbie Hancock’s hit Cantaloupe Island may have had only a tenuous connection with fine dining, but the band gave it a suitably funky treatment. Rayner is taking the show on the road in the new year.
©News UK Ltd. The original piece is on The Times website here. (Pay wall.)
As the impeccably tasteful Clive Davis says, we are on tour in 2016. You can find out more here.
Please help! It’s for charity! No really. It is. Sort of.
Settle down. Get a cup of tea. I’m going to have an embittered rant about what I regard as a less than appealing attempt by some (happily small) parts of the Public Relations industry to work the charity angle in the service of their clients.
But first, some background. If you have a public profile eventually you are likely to be approached by the charitable sector looking for help with their cause. This makes sense: people are more likely to get involved with a campaign if a person they recognise is also involved. Sometimes they don’t even have to like them. If they’ve seen them on the telly that will do. Different well-known people deal with this in different ways. Some decide they’d rather not make their charitable work public, which is their right. In my case I was getting so many requests from so many equally deserving causes, big and small, I decided the best way forward was to find one charity – in my case the brilliant foodchain.org; please do click on the link – and dedicate almost all the time I have for fundraising to them. You will see me tweeting about them regularly.
In my experience, direct approaches by charities are always above board, the intentions and motives completely transparent.
But there is another kind of approach, by Public Relations companies on behalf of their clients (businesses rather than charities) which are far less so. It is an attempt to use a charity angle as a means of getting free ‘celebrity’ involvement with an activity and thus, in turn, generating cheap PR for a client.
A couple of example of approaches I’ve had: a new restaurant app is being launched. Will I come and host a charity auction at the launch? Obviously, as the auction is for charity, I will not get a fee. That way they’ve got the involvement of a ‘face’ – not a very pretty one, to be fair; god knows who’d already said no – for free, and they can shift PR pictures to the media which otherwise they would not get. The launch of the app is mentioned in the coverage. Hurrah!
On another occasion I was approached by a lap dancing club. Yes, really. Would I host a dinner at said lap dancing club for a hunger charity, so they could send out lots of PR pics from the event? The charity knew nothing about it and wanted nothing to do with it. Neither did I. Frankly I wouldn’t want to sit down in one of those places, let alone eat off the tables.
And then today, another one. I am approached by the agency for a major UK group of shopping centres. They are asking baggy-arsed celebs like me to come down to one of their sites to take part in a skating competition on the rink that is always installed there at this time of year. The winners get to make a donation to the charity of their choice. And because the people involved are recognisable there will be lots of PR opportunities which will happen to include the shopping centre where the skate off is taking place. Who are of course the agency’s client.
Now then why would a shopping centre want cheap PR, involving famous faces, in the run up to Christmas? Incidentally in their pitch to me the agency did not say what sum would be paid to the charity of my choice. Well of course not, because this notion didn’t start with the charity angle did it. It started with the PR angle. And I wonder: how much will the agency be getting for running the campaign?
Businesses have long been involved in making donations to the charitable sector and so they should. A robust Corporate Social Responsibility policy is an important part of any reputable business’s involvement with society. But they shouldn’t be doing it because it’s good PR. Or at the very least they shouldn’t be doing it with the PR angle first and foremost in their minds. They should be doing it because it’s the right thing to do. The vast majority of PR companies recognise this. They understand what constitutes reasonable behaviour.
But too many do not. So here it is: trying to strong arm people with a public profile into involvement with a campaign because there’s a small pay off for charidee is just plain cheap.
Once more with feeling: our last Crazy Coqs gig of 2015
We’ve got to that point in the year when we start to count off the lasts. For us it’s the last JR Quartet gig of 2015, back where so much of it started at the Crazy Coqs, the cabaret venue inside Brasserie Zedel off Piccadilly Circus. Obviously I’m be a fan, but if you haven’t been you really should, if not to see us then to see someone else. It’s a genuine cabaret/ jazz room in the old style. Elbow to elbow it seats no more than 90. The sound’s terrific and the performers are all but sitting on your lap. Except for me, because I know how much I weigh. I sit by the piano.
Start with dinner in Brasserie Zedel, which I regard as a gift to London. Here’s what I said about the place when it opened in 2012, before they’d paid me a penny piece to play their jazz room. Hell, the soup is still less than £3 and there’s a three course menu for £12.50. Follow that with the late show. We’re on from 10.30pm. We do food and drink songs, and I tell filthy stories. One involves my mother and a life size carving in wood of a fan’s penis. Don’t judge me. These are the events that have made me the man I am. In case you’re wondering what we sound like, here’s a recording of Black Coffee (or click on soundcloud panel below).
In the new year we’ll be playing all over the country and you can find out more over on the live show page here.
Meanwhile this is where to get tickets for the Crazy Coqs gig.
See you there.
Popbitch publishes cobblers, shock.
So, the latest Popbitch emailing has a story in which it claims that, at the launch of my new book, The Oyster House Siege, I forced guests to listen to my delicious jazz stylings. (See screen grab).
Only thing is The Oyster House Siege was first published in 2006, four books ago, and I didn’t have a launch party for it. But otherwise, good on you Popbitch.
Meanwhile if you’re curious about the whole jazz thing you can find info and listings here.
A bargain for which you don’t have to apologise
I’ve just learned that the eBook of my novel, The Apologist, is at a bargain price of just 99p for a few more days. You can get it by going to the books page and clicking on the cover
Meanwhile, here’s some stuff from the original press release, issued at eBook publication last year.
It was the book that predicted a whole political movement, imagined a field of academic study that became a reality and inspired an internet craze. Now the 10th anniversary of the cult novel The Apologist, by acclaimed restaurant critic Jay Rayner, is being marked by its publication for the first time as an eBook.
For politicians the past ten years have been the sorriest decade: Tony Blair said sorry for slavery; Gordon Brown apologised for the treatment of code breaker Alan Turing; Barack Obama asked forgiveness from Guatemala for the way prisoners there were used by the United States in medical tests; and David Cameron apologised for almost everything, including the Tory Party’s demonisation of Nelson Mandela, the homophobic Section 28 and even an ageist remark to an elderly Labour MP.
For award-winning writer, journalist and broadcaster Jay Rayner, this outbreak of official penitence was a case of fact aping fiction. His 2004 novel had predicted it all. The Apologist follows the adventures of restaurant critic Marc Basset, who never said sorry to anyone until a chef to whom he gave a bad review kills himself. Wracked with guilt he apologises to the man’s widow, and discovers he enjoys the experience so much that he decides to apologise for everything he’s ever done wrong. He’s so good at it that his talents come to the attention of the United Nations which appoints him their Chief Apologist, to travel the world apologising for the sins of slavery, apartheid, the holocaust and much else besides. This he does by cooking luscious meals – so the book is not just political satire but a foodie romp.
At the heart of the novel is the irascible Professor Thomas Schenke and his academic papers expounding his theory of Penitential Engagement. It was supposed to be satire but in the years following publication Jay discovered that official penitence had indeed become an academic discipline, producing papers with titles like The Age of Apology: Facing up to the past; The Role of Apology in International Law; and Official Apologies and the Quest for Historical Justice. What’s more, many of those papers referenced Jay’s novel.
‘The idea that saying sorry, the thing our mums taught us to do, could become an area of academic study was meant to be a joke,’ Jay says now. ‘But in the past decade it’s become a serious business, with numerous academics building their whole reputations on it.’
The new eBook edition comes complete with an afterword that traces the origins of the novel in the hit US sitcom Friends, the way it launched a cult ‘apologising’ website where thousands from around the world said sorry for their own misdeeds, and how Hollywood attempts to bring the story to the screen were scuppered by the great Brad Pitt–Jennifer Aniston-Angelina Jolie love triangle. ‘Most satirical novels capture a precise moment in time,’ Jay says. ‘But The Apologist managed to be ahead of the curve and predict a whole political movement, which is why I’m delighted that, for its 10th birthday, it will finally be available as an eBook.’
Praise for The Apologist
‘A very funny book about apologies by someone who has a lot to apologise for.’ Anthony Bourdain
‘Worthy of a standing ovation.’ The New York Times
‘It is a brave writer who apologises for his novel in the preface, but Jay Rayner has apology taped … the timeliness of the novel is a terrific coup.’ The Independent
‘Laugh-out-loud funny.’ InStyle
‘It’s difficult to imagine why anybody wouldn’t like The Apologist.’ The Guardian
‘A darkly humorous satire about the emotional state we’re in … like all the best comedy, the novel has a serious point to make.’ Time Out
The Kitchen Cabinet is open for business again…
So the 12th series of BBC Radio 4s Kitchen Cabinet starts recording again next week and as ever we need audiences. The first one – to be broadcast on December 19 for the winter solstice – will be recorded in the Visitor’s Centre at Stonehenge. Tickets are free but you do need to apply for them.
You can do so here
And if you don’t know what I’m talking about – WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?
The Kitchen Cabinet is culinary panel show a bit like Gardener’s Question Time, but with slightly looser bra straps. Our panellists are food writers, cooks and generally greedy people; the likes of Andi Oliver, Tim Hayward, Rachel McCormack, Tim Anderson and Robert Owen Brown (and many others). We also talk food science with Professor Peter Barham and food history with Dr Annie Gray. You can listen to a previous episode, From Hampton Court, here . But only for two more days.
During the rest of this series we will be at Tintern Abbey, Reading University, Stoke-on-Trent, Audley End, Sevenoaks and Billingsgate Market in London. I’ll attempt to post ticket info for all of those too.
Welcome to the place where I can bare all.
A few years ago I received a call from one of my editors on the Observer. ‘I want you to get all your pubic hair removed,’ Nicola said. ‘It will be great.’ Then she hung up. This was her usual strategy: propose an outrageous story but not leave you with any time to argue. She knew that, if the idea was good enough, I would come round eventually.
She was right. Two days later I phoned her back and, with a deep sigh, said ‘Okay, where am I going to have this done?’ The assignment – go along to an all male grooming clinic and find out what it was like to have every last hair removed, because apparently so many men were now doing it – would be painful. But it would be a hell of thing to write about afterwards.
I have similar feelings about launching my own site. I’ve resisted doing so for a long time because it seems a strange and rather grandiose thing to do. Plus, unfiltered by editors, there’s always the chance I’ll post something stupid, as I’ve found from to time over on Twitter. (I am an inveterate journalist, always looking for wiser minds than mine to save me from myself). And of course, bits of this site might not work. I feel as if I’ve just acquired a second home, with a roof that could leak.
Then again, the live show part of my working life has expanded and I need one place in which I can collect all the information for that. And there’s the books and the Kitchen Cabinet and so on. Hence jayrayner.co.uk. So welcome. Do have a look around. And if you find any of it that doesn’t work – say, on a particular type of tablet or phone – let me know via the email on the contact page and we’ll get it fixed. I’ll try to keep everything up to date, while attempting not to say anything stupid.
Meanwhile I need to link to something from here, so it might as well be that piece about getting all my hair removed. In places it’s an uncomfortable read. But that’s nothing as compared to actually having it done.