Moving tribute concert by the Mercury bay Big Band to commemorate ANZAC Day

27 Apr 2021

The Mercury Bay Big Band (MBBB) delivered a stellar concert of the greatest wartime hits last Sunday afternoon in front of a packed audience in the Whitianga Town Hall. The concert, titled “Lest We Forget,” was staged in honour of ANZAC Day.

The audience thoroughly enjoyed seeing and hearing the 15-piece band perform a selection of songs that reached peak popularity during World War II. “These are the songs that soldiers had with them, the songs they turned to for comfort when they were away from their loved ones,” said Kevin Robinson, the MBBB’s new band leader.

The set list of more than 20 songs was put together by Kevin and guest conductor, Alistair McMillan. “We did a lot of research to seek out the songs that were most popular in that era of uncertainty and grief,” said Kevin. “Some of them were written before the war, but ended up becoming extremely popular later during the war.”

Big band jazz orchestras were at their most popular during the 1930s and 1940s, composing and performing music that was energetic, easy listening and dance worthy. Their songs became wartime classics listened to on radios in army camps, factories and hospitals, helping to boost morale, provide solace and lift spirits. “If we think about what it’s like with COVID-19, people not seeing their loved ones for long periods of time,” said Kevin. “Imagine what it was like back then, not seeing your family for five or more years. The music kept them going.”

The concert featured performances of Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood,” “Moonlight Serenade” and ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo,” Count Basie’s “April in Paris” and “One o’Clock Jump,” the Andrew Sisters’ “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” and jazz standard tunes “My Funny Valentine,” “Stompin’ at the Savoy” and “Sentimental Journey.”

The toe tapping, uplifting tunes were greeted by murmurs of recognition from the audience and were carried out with expert musicianship, each song complimented by solos on either alto saxophone, bass saxophone, flugelhorn, trombone, trumpet or clarinet.

Guest vocalist, Jenny Jackman, performed a medley of well-known Vera Lynn songs, emulating the iconic singer’s rich and sonorous voice. Vera Lynn became popular during the World War II with her songs of love and longing. She became known as the “Forces’ Sweetheart” and remained active in the music industry for an incredible 96 years. She passed away last year at age 103.

“This is the first time the MBBB has put together authentic arrangements of these songs,” said Yvette Audain, who plays alto saxophone and clarinet in the band. “It feels very fitting to be performing these songs on ANZAC Day, such an important day for New Zealanders.”

Once the audience returned to their seats after a short intermission, former MBBB band leader, Trevor Hildreth, handed a life membership award to band founder, Helen Lee, in recognition of her unwavering commitment to ensuring the success of the band.

That was followed by a member of the audience encouraging everyone to give Helen a standing ovation. “My wife and I have lived here for 40 years and Helen is a huge reason why Mercury Bay is the place it is today, she’s contributed so much to the community,” the audience member said.

The grand finale had Jenny Jackman back on vocals to perform the Vera Lynn classic, ‘We’ll Meet Again,” an emotional song which had everyone on their feet and singing along.

“We didn’t get to perform at all last year,” said Kevin. “But after today’s performance and the overwhelming support from the community, we will definitely be back again on ANZAC Day next year.” 

Pictured: The Mercury bay Big Band after their “Lest We Forget” ANZAC Day concert in the Whitianga Town Hall last Sunday.