If you’ve been to a large event around Dartmouth in the last 13 years - be it a festival, wedding, fundraiser or simply a big party, chances are you will have seen Sax Appeal ripping up the dance floor with some well-known tunes blasted out with vim and vigour.
Everyone’s heard of them, most people will have seen them, and if you’ve seen them, chances are you will love them.
The band are now a traditional fixture at the Dart Music Festival, and, of course, regatta, where they play the Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights every year. On Thursday at the Bandstand either side of the fireworks they provide their own explosive display.
The current line-up are founder members Mick Jones and James Harris, joined by Lucy Wright on vocals, Sid Davis on trumpet and Amanda Liscombe on percussion.
But we went to chat to Mick about the origins of the band, and found an intriguing story: the band might never have played live had it not been for the intervention of a friend.
Mick Jones, born in Sevenoaks in Kent, had always dreamed of being in a soul band.
‘I used to practise religiously - I wanted to be able to sing like they did on the Jacksons’ Cartoon!’ he laughs as we settle down with coffee in his living room above the Dartmouth Launderette, which he owns and runs with his wife Wendy – an integral part of the Dart Gig Club’s Senior ladies team. Around the walls are countless instruments, two jukeboxes - one an original 1950s Wurlitzer - and a sign saying ‘Life Without Music Would B Flat’.
‘My Mum used to shout at me to ‘stop plinking on that guitar!’ she had good hearing because it was an electric guitar I hadn’t plugged in!’
After his first nerve wracking gig – in which a string broke on his guitar during his first song – Mick spent much of his youth in and out of bands.
He was even in a short-lived band with the famous Nick Knowles of DIY SOS fame, but nothing worked out to his satisfaction.
After moving to Kingswear in the early 1990s, he was determined to break out on his own.
‘I was sick of depending on band members not turning up, and wanted to do something on my own and I had just got into creating backing tracks for songs,’ he said. ‘I was a little nervous of actually going on stage on my own, so a guitarist I knew put me in touch with James Harris, who was also living in Kingswear. He and I got on really well, and started practising up at Kayawanna Hall.’
The duo practised religiously, whole days went by in the hall’s grounds – so loudly at times that the ornaments were shaken off the shelves!
But there was one thing missing: a performance.
‘I’m very critical of myself,’ said Mick. ‘I’m never convinced I’m good enough, and I think I would have continued practising until the end of time, never happy to actually perform in front of people! But I went away on holiday and Susie, who owned Kayawanna Hall at the time, decided that we needed to perform, so she booked a gig for us at the Royal Castle! She told me and said: you’ve got to go out and just do it! I just thought: What have you done?!!’
The pair looked at each other and decided to go for it. The gig was a ‘riotous affair’ according to Mick, and they ended up getting a residency there, playing in the left hand bar every two weeks. Their reputation starting to grow, more regular gigs started coming their way – every Sunday at Brixham’s Pontins Camp. Every Tuesday at EJ’s Bar in Torquay – the gigs were rolling in.
During this time Mick wondered whether an extra voice and a bit more banter on stage would help the act do even better. Enter Neil Ryall, and suddenly Mick and James thought they might like a fuller band, bongos and a trumpet were added in quick succession.
They played the first Music Festival outside the Cherub Inn - with crowds packing in around them: it was an indication of their popularity. They have had legendary gigs at so many of the area’s inns and hostelries that it’s difficult to keep track. They have become a fixture at music festival, regatta and many other local events – so what is the secret of their success?
‘I’m not really sure – I am still as critical of myself as I was on day one,’ Mick said. ‘I still don’t think I’m good enough, but I guess that’s what spurs me on to try and do better every time. I think when we sing a song we want to do so with passion and make our audiences feel emotion. We want them to love these songs as much as we do!
‘Sax Appeal is by far the longest association I’ve had with one band, and it’s because we all get on and have fun doing it. 14 years of performing shows that we enjoy what we do – we always want the audience to have a great time too. There’s no better feeling than playing a song and seeing everyone start dancing and smiling and singing along. It’s why we do what we do – so the audience enjoys it!’
First Published August 2011 By The Dart