What happens when one of the UK’s leading saxophonists gets together with “one of Britain’s best soul singers” (Blues & Soul Magazine) and they recruit some of the most celebrated UK jazz and pop musicians to form a new band? The result is, literally, Some Kinda Wonderful! Not a tribute band, per se, but a collective of musicians performing the songs of Stevie Wonder. The band has been delighting audiences with their incredible interpretations since their first gig in March 2017. Always honouring the originals with respect and integrity, they add their own dimensions to classic dance hits including ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered’, ‘Superstition’ and ‘Higher Ground’ and to beautiful ballads such as ‘If It’s Magic’, ‘My Cherie Amour’ and ‘For Your Love’.
Derek Nash had been a long-standing admirer of Noel McCalla since his Morrisey Mullen days and, in 2016, he approached Noel to see if he had any interest in forming this band. Noel’s initial reaction was an emphatic “no!” Even for someone of his divinely-given vocal talents, there was an initial reluctance to approach what he considered to be “sacred musical ground” and “only an idiot would do Stevie Wonder!” As a fellow professional musician, Derek totally understood where Noel was coming from, he said: “there is always something; some aspect of your playing that you feel you could be better at and you are always on this eternal quest to be a little bit better, a little bit faster, a little bit smoother, a little bit sweeter, a little bit of whatever direction you are going in.”
Understanding yet determined and persistent, Derek (aided and abetted by his wife, Beverley, and Noel’s wife, Heidi, who both work tirelessly behind the musical scenes) continued to water the seed and, given a couple of months to think, Noel came back with a “let’s do it!” He explains, “the couple of months gave me the time to really listen to the material and the fact that Stevie Wonder is such a genius became even more relevant. As I started to learn, I started to really enjoy it, but I would not be doing this if not for the other great musicians in the band and, also, how the audiences receive the show. We’ve been doing sell out gigs, which, to me, is a surprise; but I am totally thrilled.”
Derek picks up from there: “I’m discovering lots of Stevie Wonder music that I either didn’t know at all, or not very well. We’re constantly adding to the repertoire so, hopefully, every time you come and see us, you’ll get some different Stevie Wonder tunes. You may get songs that he wrote for other artists but never performed himself like ‘Tell Me Something Good’ which was a number one hit for Rufus and Chaka Khan. Another example is ‘Let’s Get Serious’ by Jermaine Jackson. Stevie wrote and produced it (and I think he did backing vocals on it) but it was Jackson who had the hit. The most recent one I discovered was that Stevie Wonder wrote the music for ‘Tears of A Clown’. Smokey Robinson wrote the lyrics but the music was written by Stevie. So that’s my latest discovery and I think all these newly uncovered facts are fascinating.”
Noel’s musical inspiration undoubtedly comes from attending the Pentecostal church where his father was a minister. He says “singing in a Pentecostal way of worship is always uplifting. It is never sombre”. His long association with the brilliant Morrisey Mullen Band earned him the acclaim as “one of Britain’s best soul singers” and, for more than 19 years, his searing, soulful vocals were featured with the iconic Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. He has been described as “spine tingling” (The Guardian) and “a confident, individual voice, graceful and dynamic” (Independent on Sunday).and he also provided vocals on Mike Rutherford’s highly acclaimed album, ‘Smallcreep’s Day’ and sings with the jazz-funk band, Mezzoforte.
Derek has been a member of the Jools Holland Rhythm & Blues Orchestra since 2004 and is also a member of the Ronnie Scott’s Blues Explosion. He has won several British Jazz Awards throughout his career fronting Sax Appeal, his Acoustic Quartet and his funk band, Protect the Beat. Described by The Guardian as “one of the most versatile saxophonists in the UK today”, Derek has, throughout his career, enjoyed playing with many great musical heavyweights including Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton, Amy Winehouse, Chaka Khan, David Sanborn, Tom Jones and Gregory Porter.
The pair are joined by Neil Angilley (piano), Tim Cansfield (guitar) and Nic France (drums) who, collectively, have played with Michael Ball, Alfie Boe, Bill Withers, David Gilmore, The Bee Gees, James Brown and Anastasia, among many others. The musical relationship and friendship between Derek, Noel and the band is evident. Derek adds: “If you look at the pedigree of these musicians, and whom they’ve played with, it’s just fantastic and amazing things happen when you put all these guys in one room!”