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In January 2005 I heard them perform as a duo at the Havant Arts Centre and clearly the right time had arrived to book the Newton-Hanson Duo. We now had a piano at CJC and I was assured that by next season it would be ‘properly played in’. Talking of pianos – I often do – Dave played keyboard at Havant Arts Centre and this was definitely a constraint on the duo: the instrument’s characteristic lack of response and its poor sound quality definitely seemed to drive Dave to ‘embroider’ his playing. I was convinced that adding a piano to the accomplished, enjoyable performance at Havant would produce a special evening at CJC.
The reality far exceeded my expectations. Although I had enormously admired and respected them over the years, Dave’s piano and Mick’s guitar had always to my taste displayed rather too much of the qualities attributed to them by some critics: formality and conventionality. I hoped they’d shake some of this off and that I’d enjoy them even more when playing a more relaxed manner. They certainly did, very soon ‘cutting loose’, playing in a variety of moods, styles and tempos - sometimes within the same number! The switches were astounding, initiated by either player and very difficult for the audience to anticipate.
The music was wide-ranging with standards like Might As Well Be Spring, My Foolish Heart, and Night And Day; a fine version of Fats Waller’s Honeysuckle Rose; Dave Brubeck’s Alice In Wonderland (how fortunate that he has had so many fine pianists to play his magnificent compositions); Dave’s solo version of, most of the time at least, Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell; Mick’s solo version of his own Wee Gone; and an amazing version of Kurt Weil’s Speak Low, with an uncountable number of quotes from other tunes fired back and forth between Dave and Mick. As the evening was drawing to an end, the excitement reached a peak when Dave and Mick launched into a long blues (unnamed) that had both men playing with wonderful and unrestrained drive and passion. When the applause had subsided, Dave announced the final number – a mystery. I guessed the title (eventually) - A Girl From Ipanema. Fervent closing applause followed for what was certainly a contender for ‘Best Ever at CJC’, the music being complemented by the witty and relaxed announcements, mainly from Dave, as well as the banter between both musicians.
There was time after the gig for a post mortem – totally the wrong word! - with the musicians. Mick agreed emphatically that the key to the duo’s success was their mutual understanding - from the length of time they’d played together - coupled with the freshness generated by never having played together very often. The duo has never had a single rehearsal and had played four of the evening’s numbers for the first time. There is a lot of improvisation in their work but pause for emphasis: ‘We always play correctly and musically so that we always know where we are – unless we get it wrong!’ Oh, and I almost forgot, they both loved the piano! Dave is understandably passionate about such things – quite rightly too – but Mick added a new dimension to the praise our piano has received, telling me that he was so happy to play alongside a piano with such a lovely, bright tone - ‘if the piano’s tone is wrong, it distorts the guitar’s frequency’.
I confidently predict that both Dave and Mick will be back at CJC before very long.