CHAMPAGNE cocktails, canapés and spine-tingling performances from the country’s finest jazz musicians – and all in a converted barn in the heart in the Cheshire countryside.

Hundreds of jazz-lovers flocked to the Clonter Opera Theatre on June 7 for Jazz in June, just one of the eclectic events celebrating the 40th anniversary of the quirky Swettenham Heath venue.

From the moment we set foot over the threshold, the atmosphere was electric, and it was immediately evident that this would be not an ordinary night at the theatre but a truly unique experience to treasure.

Before the concert, we were shown to our dining seats in the revamped Hancock Room and settled in with a decadent pre-show champagne cocktail from the popular Cocktail Bar.

When it came to show time, we shuffled into the auditorium with the rest of the excited concert-goers and took up our places three rows from the front.

Charismatic pianist James Pearson, often seen tinkling the ivories at the world-famous Ronnie Scotts, was first to grace the stage, along with the rest of his house band.  The trio blew the crowd away with their lively introduction and feet were a-tapping and hands a-clapping from the outset. 

James’ fondness for the venue shone through in his performances and his interaction with the audience made for a more intimate experience.

After a number of energetic performances, the trio were joined on stage by Alex Garnett, on saxophone, and I was immediately captivated by his talent.

His smooth, seemingly effortless performance was powerfully evocative and tears pricked my eyes more than once; and it seems I was not alone in my admiration as I heard titters of ‘amazing’, ‘phenomenal’ and ‘outstanding’ throughout his solos.

Singer Tina May, an old friend of Clonter’s, completed the line-up.  She was like a breath of fresh air from the moment she stepped on stage and her passion for jazz radiated.  After a number of flawless performances; the lights went up for the 70-minute supper interval.

The Hancock Room is for those looking for a simpler dining experience, an alternative to the more formal Carmen Room, and we tucked into bowl food of jambalaya and glazed pork and rice, followed by plum frangipan and chocolate brownie (not forgetting the customary tea and coffee).

Clonter has a host of dining options to suit every need and want, including canapé baskets and hampers.

After a breath of country air, we made our way back for the second half of the show and were yet again blown away.  The performers really got into the swing of it and the chemistry between them was electric.

The multi-talented Mr Garner showed off his impressive vocal skills and Tina, along with the other performers, encouraged the audience let go of their inhibitions and sing-along, much to mine and all my neighbours’ delight.

The show ended with a rapturous applause and fervent pleas for an encore.  After being indulged, we made our way to the exit, and despite the long drive home, we had huge smiles on faces and talked excitedly about the night for the entire journey.   A good indicator of a great night.

We both agreed that our first ever-ever Clonter experience can be summed up by one word; Delicious.