Simon Ward reviews QT Presents Ray Gelato at The Green Room
Sometimes you find yourself in a world that you never knew existed. Or perhaps you suspected that it did, but didn’t think you could ever be part of it. Those movies where Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby are always meeting up in clubs where they eat and drink while the band plays around them. And maybe the woman they both fancy will start singing. Well, it turns out, such places do exist outside the movies, and The Green Room at the QT bar in the Middle Eight hotel is one such. Hosted three times a week by jazzman Leo Green, the bill usually features Leo himself but occasionally guests get to take over, in this case, tonight’s star Ray Gelato and his band the Giants.
The Middle Eight is built on the site of Kingsway Hall which, in spite of interference from tube and traffic noise, was an important music recording facility for much of the twentieth century until it fell into disrepair and was refurbished as a hotel. The current owners have taken it on relatively recently and have chosen a name which reflects its rich musical heritage, and clearly their commitment extends to encouraging the tradition of mixing food, drink and jazz in their ‘speak-easy’ bar.
The bar is indeed a contrast with the brightly lit wood and glass of the foyer. As you descend the staircase and open the door to exposed concrete pillars and brickwork, you can feel the reality of being underneath the Covent Garden streets and not far from the rumble of the Piccadilly Line. Take a moment to note the His Master’s Voice illustration on the wall, an homage to one of the many companies that used the place in its former life. Marvel as the hardest working band member, the drummer, has to spend twenty minutes assembling his drum kit. Enjoy the self-deprecation of Ray’s logo. And don’t forget to order something to eat and drink while you are waiting.
When Ray and the Giants take the stage, they launch immediately into their rendition of the classic ‘That’s Amore’ popularised by Dean Martin but here rendered in Ray Gelato’s own style as a fast, and, yes, foot-stomping, romp. The evening progresses in this mode with jazz standards interspersed with Ray’s own compositions, which more than hold their own. Charming, witty but without too much chat to interrupt proceedings, Ray makes an engaging host. And the band can really play. Made up of only drums, keyboards, two on saxophone, a trumpet and trombone they nevertheless manage to generate a big sound. The band members demonstrate their versatility on backing vocals and extra rhythm duties without ever missing a beat. It’s a real joy to behold, and their own enjoyment is palpable. An hour or so whizzes past, and you can’t help but leave with a huge grin on your face.
As for the venue, the food was very good, in the line of posh-things-on-sticks, and the service was well-intentioned, if not always as polished as one might hope. No doubt that will improve over time. It feels like a new venture aiming to bring something different to the London scene and that’s something I would like to applaud.
QT Presents The Green Room runs every Thursday, Friday and Saturday at QT Bar, Middle Eight Hotel, 66 Great Queen Street, London WC2B 5BX