Ian Shaw has won the BBC Jazz Awards “Best Vocalist” twice and is critically lauded by the press – “Has few rivals” (Sunday Times); “Our finest jazz singer” (Time Out); “A recipe for bliss” (The Telegraph). Is he really that good? Listen to John Fordham at The Guardian:
“Shaw’s humanity, technique, wit and willingness to take an insane gamble has always kept him in the jazz loop. What you get with Shaw is always really him – sometimes funny, sometimes resigned, sometimes wounded, sometimes over the top, but always technically perfect.”
Yet these days when he packs up his music at the end of a gig (charts for The Great American Songbook, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, as well as his own compositions), Shaw is likely to be heading for a place that sees few UK musicians of any stripe – “The Jungle” in Calais, the multinational camp for refugees, migrants, call them what you will, who hope to cross to the UK.
For the past three months he has been visiting regularly, initially because he was outraged by the conditions in the camp he saw on television. Once out there – having taken out much-needed clothes and sleeping bags – he discovered there were decent players among the refugees who had lost their instruments along the very tough way. So later he loaded his car and took over drums, guitars and basses (including one that once belonged to Jack Bruce of Cream, donated by Jack’s family). But he now also helps build, fund, organise and raise awareness of what is going on just a few miles from the Kent coast. And he has put his money where his mouth is. There has been one benefit already, at The Vortex in Dalston, with Sarah Jane Morris and Carleen Anderson, and another is due at Phoenix Artist Club, Soho (Nov 18th, two shows, fabulous line-up, £25, see http://phoenixartistclub.com). All the money raised goes directly to helping the refugees (“I’ve spent all my own,” Shaw confessed from the stage of The Vortex) in practical ways.
Shaw is keen that people know about life in The Jungle, to share the story of the people he has met and the sometimes terrible things that have happened and are happening (the camps are being de-populated, but the refugees are being moved to windowless containers). He is also keen to refute what he calls the “vile lies” about the camp, such as the inhabitants having so many clothes from charities, they burn them for fuel. In fact, charities are very thin on the ground – there isn’t a large UK one active in The Jungle at all. Just an ad hoc group of musicians (as well as a larger contingent of non-musicians) who aren’t doing it for the cameras or some high-profile telly marathon.
From the creation of sublime music in a slum camp to the building of a church from bin bags, from professors to war-battered paupers, Shaw has seen all sorts. And he will be over there in the coming months because, to quote Game Of Thrones, Winter Is Coming, and things aren’t going to get any better. If you wish to help, and get a great gig in to the bargain, head for the Phoenix next week. And he still needs musical instruments.