• Miles Hedley

NEW REGENCY ORCHESTRA at Woolwich Works


It was appropriate that the Fireworks Factory stage should be the setting for the New Regency Orchestra to play the first public gig at the Woolwich Works arts complex because the band lit up the venue with a fabulous display of musical pyrotechnics.


In the course of 100 thunderous minutes, 18 über-talented instrumentalists gave us an unbeatable and irresistible overview of the joys of 1950s Afro-Cuban jazz and its brightest stars, including Machito, Poncho Sanchez and – more recently - Tito Puente.


The programme of non-stop mambo and salsa tunes, performed with a distinctively London edge, had the crowd jumping – and by the end of the gig we were dancing in the aisles to the infectiously relentless rhythms. No wonder the likes of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were mesmerised by the genre and helped spread the word around the world in the grey postwar years.


The New Regency Orchestra is a great, great band. At the Firework Factory, which was only their second gig together, four trumpets, five saxes, three trombones, a piano, a double bass and four percussionists - including a vocalist – took us through a 12-tune set that opened with a thrilling Puente mambo before moving on to Afro-Cuban classics such as Asia Minor (loved the hypnotic baritone riff!) and Tanga and songbook standards like Love For Sale before finishing with a storming version of the iconic Mama Guela. It was an exhibition of brilliant musicianship and showmanship.


It’s no exaggeration to say the audience went wild. What a band! What a concert! What a venue!






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