Tour diary 1: Swing Into Christmas Scotland 2023

Published: 22 Nov 2023

Today Mike looks back on a terrific week in Scotland – as we kicked off Swing Into Christmas 2023 in style!

We’ve just returned from the first leg of the 2023 Swing Into Christmas tour, which saw us travel up to Scotland – where we performed 4 shows throughout the country. 

The tour started with the long trek up to Inverness, for our first ever performance at Eden Court Theatre. We were all travelling separately, on a variety of trains, planes and vehicles – most of us arriving late on Saturday night. One of the best things about the Orchestra tours with the “extended” Down for the Count family – including our strings, percussion and big band horn section – is that we sometimes go a few months without seeing each other, so when we converge for the start of the tour there’s always lots of catching up to do with some old friends… so we wasted absolutely no time before heading to a glamorous Travelodge bar for a good old chat!

Down for the Count Orchestra in Inverness

After recovering from the long journey, we all headed to the theatre on Sunday afternoon to run through our Christmas repertoire – before performing it live for the first time in 2023 a few hours later. As this show was happening on Remembrance Sunday, we also included Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade” featuring Alex Western-King on clarinet. 

Very few of us had been to Inverness before, and we weren’t completely sure what to expect – but quickly fell in love with this beautiful city. The audience reception on the first night was something to remember and as soon as the show finished we knew that Inverness will be near the top of the list of venues for us to return to in future years. 

The next day was Monday, which was tour rehearsal day. We headed back to Eden Court Theatre, but with no audience this time – the plan for the day was to learn some new festive and non-festive songs for our repertoire, and to re-introduce some older songs to our repertoire. We want to make sure that audiences have a different experience each time they come to see us, and we love learning new songs to perform on each tour. 

One of the traditions on our Christmas rehearsal days is to wear tasteful Christmas jumpers – check out my giraffe-themed offering here!

After a hard and productive day of work, it was time to unwind – and our tour manager Ali Brown knocked it out of the park with a restaurant reservation at the amazing Encore, where we feasted on haggis, seafood and sticky toffee pudding.

The next day was a big one – our first ever performance at the 2475 capacity Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. We woke up early to meet our coaches and minibuses for the beautiful drive south through the Cairngorms, arriving at the venue at midday. 

We were met at the stage door by Alistair and his fantastic technical team, who quickly unloaded the vans and helped us set up in this amazing space.

Down for the Count Orchestra setting up at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Everything went smoothly and Mike even had time to relax on the grand piano in his dressing room before the afternoon rehearsal. 

Conductor and pianist Mike Paul-Smith

After a thorough soundcheck, it was time to get ready for the show – a certain Frank Sinatra was on hand to see us on to the stage which was a lovely touch (albeit a slightly daunting one).

Frank Sinatra picture at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

The show went better than any of us could have expected, with the acoustics of this purpose-built concert hall perfectly suiting our slightly expanded 34-piece Orchestra. We could have played it safe for this show, given the size of the auditorium – but instead we introduced new songs to the show, performing two of Mike’s original arrangements in public for the first ever time at the show. 

The audience was just as wonderful as we have come to expect from Glasgow – with a strong contingent there from Eastwood Park Theatre in Giffnock, where we’ll be returning in May 2024.

The Down for the Count Orchestra performing at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Pictures from our Glasgow Royal Concert Hall performance (courtesy of Julie Broadfoot)

After some well-deserved post-show drinks, Wednesday saw us drive up the coast to Aberdeen, to the Tivoli Theatre – a venue that has a special space in our hearts, as it was the first venue we ever performed at in Scotland. You get a sense of the history of this space the moment you walk on to stage, and not even the difficult load-in up the narrow stairs nor the parking tickets we picked up throughout the day dampened our spirits!

We’re back at the Tivoli with our 10-piece All-Stars band for A Century of Swing on Wed 1 May 2024 – tickets available here.

After another great show to the fabulous Aberdeen audience, we rushed off to one of our favourite post-show haunts for some cocktails, before heading back to the Travelodge for a lie-in – as Thursday was a day off! 

We spent the morning travelling to Edinburgh, and then spent an afternoon and evening enjoying Scotland’s historic capital city. Some of us stopped off en route for a mountain hike, whilst others walked up (or even jogged around) Edinburgh’s Arthur’s Seat for spectacular views over the city.

Down for the Count Orchestra on tour

In the evening our pianist Alex organised a ghost tour – taking us into the vaults under the city’s bridges, where two hundred years ago the poor would attempt to hide from the authorities on the streets above.

On Friday morning we woke up relaxed and refreshed, ready for a final show of the week at The Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh. As this was our third show at the venue in 12 months, we decided to freshen the set up with yet more new songs – so spent the afternoon looking at some more original arrangements to perform that evening. 

As always the Edinburgh crowd was knowledgeable and appreciative, and we can’t wait to return to The Queen’s Hall with our All-Stars band on Monday 29 April 2024.

After the show we loaded up the vans one more time and then headed back to the hotel for some more chill-out time with friends old and new.

Down for the Count Orchestra on tour

Now that we’re back home and have had a chance to get our breath back, we’ve been able to reflect on a fantastic week in one of our favourite countries. In particular, the show at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall was a real highlight for us – it was one of the largest audiences our Orchestra has ever performed for, and the standing ovation at the end of the show will live long in our memories.  

The whole week was a wonderful experience from start to finish – thank you to all of our Scottish audiences who came out and enjoyed the show, brought CDs and programmes, and helped us spread the joy of live swing music this Christmas time. 

The Swing Into Christmas 2023 tour continues in Colchester on Wed 29 Nov and then travels around England from 6-28 Dec inclusive. Check out the full list of dates and purchase tickets here.

 Conductor Mike Paul-Smith with the Down for the Count Orchestra at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall 



About the author

Mike Paul-Smith

Mike Paul-Smith is the musical director of Down for the Count. He formed the band in 2005 and since then has directed them for performances at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club, Cadogan Hall London, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, The London Jazz Festival, Twinwood Festival, and at countless other theatre and jazz club shows.

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