From blue notes to the limelight

To mark 30 years of ivory-tinkling, Rod Melvin leaves his piano at the Groucho to take centre stage
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The Independent Culture

Play it again, Rod. Traditionally, the resident pianist provides the musical atmosphere for a venue, and is barely noticed. But now, one of this oft invisible breed is to take centre stage. Rod Melvin, the piano-player at the Groucho Club in Soho, London for 10 years, is celebrating not only 30 years in the business but also his 25th-wedding anniversary by giving a concert at Larry's Music Room at Pizza on the Park in Knightsbridge. "It's rather nice, don't you think?" says Melvin.

Melvin has seen a lot in Soho over the last 30 years, having played the piano in numerous haunts. Before the Groucho, he played at L'Escargot in Greek Street for 10 years. "Ella Fitzgerald and Lauren Bacall sang with me one night..."

Recently, he persuaded some of the regulars at the Groucho to sing around the piano for a charity CD. But then, that happens most nights. Dylan Jones, the editor of GQ, Robbie Williams, Suggs from Madness, Roland Gift of the Fine Young Cannibals, and the chef Charles Fontaine of the Quality Chop House are just a few who have sung along with Melvin over the years. The CD is meant to reflect what really happens while he's tinkling away late at night. "I was trying to keep it real. It's OK for people to sing along. You don't get that in East End pubs these days," says Melvin, also a singer/songwriter whose style has been likened to that of Randy Newman and Nick Cave. "Bette Midler's husband once called me England's new Nina Simone, but I'm not black and I'm not a woman." He played the piano on the 1975 Brian Eno classic album Another Green World, and was the resident pianist on the Comic Strip Live show in the Eighties. These days, with collaborators from his company Rooftop Music, he works on film scores and theatre shows.

Some of his new work will be played in the second of two 60-minute sets in Larry's Music Room, including a political song he wrote for a cabaret in Hollywood about America and war, called "The Opinion Song". "It's about bigotry," says Melvin. He will mix in songs from the past 30 years from Paul Simon's "Something So Right" to "Only You" by Yazoo, Bowie's "Life On Mars" to Dylan's, "Forever Young". "I play six or seven nights a week and keep changing my repertoire, but these are my favourites. I don't know if anybody will get up and sing along," he says. "It will be a bit more formal, I think."

The first half of the concert will be more retrospective of his career, combining jazz standards by Hoagy Carmichael and Nina Simone, his heroine, and some Ian Dury classics. "I was in Dury's band - Kilburn & The High Roads - and we co-wrote the hit "What A Waste".

"It's my first real concert," says Melvin. "Life begins at 50-whatever it is."

Rod Melvin & Guests will be at Larry's Music Room, Pizza on the Park, London SW1 (020-7235 5273), tomorrow at 8pm

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