Edinburgh’s up and coming New Orleans Dixieland jazz band means business. This is an evening that’s been planned out in meticulous detail from the venue itself, a lovely little jazz cellar, to the framed pictures of musical heroes that adorn walls and tables (Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Irving Berlin, and Django Reinhardt, to name a few). There are 1930s cocktails in teacups, dressed-up bar staff, a vinyl-spinning DJ, and support from Bluegrass quartet, The Kentucky Cow Tippers. The poster for this evening features a gramophone motif and swinging dancers and was designed by Edinburgh illustrator James Albon, using paper cuts. The young crowd was excited throughout, with many only too keen to accept the invitation to deck themselves out in Goodnight Sweetheart clobber and party like it’s 1929.
Clearly, when the Gramophone Jazz Band sets out to create a night’s entertainment, it does so with serious intent. What of the music, though? The band comprises a melody section of trombone (Patrick Darley) and clarinet (Lachlan Fotheringham) and a rhythm section of accordion (Alex Hill), washboard (Paul Archibald), double bass (John Youngs), and guitar and vocals (Ollie Marge and Seamus Conacher). Despite being a recent addition, the opera-trained Connacher fits in perfectly and there is lovely rapport between all members. This was the third time in a day that I had seen the band – the other two occasions were daytime busking spots – and their energy, enthusiasm, and camaraderie appeared to be as strong as ever.
A 12-song set encompasses Louis Armstrong’s jazz standard, ‘I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead, You Rascal You’, gypsy jazz tune, ‘Minor Swing’, a change of pace with the bluesy ‘Black Coffee’, the instrumentals of Sidney Bechet’s ‘Petite Fleur’, then an increase in tempo, culminating in the wonderful encore, ‘Eh La Bas’. Revved up and wanting more, the Bluegrass support act oblige with ‘C.C. Rider’, ‘I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow’, and ‘The House of the Rising Sun’ – the latter a tribute perhaps to their homeland. Then the DJ takes up the reins and there’s another slight genre bend as the strains of early Elvis vibrate through the basement.
This is a group of young men who know what it takes to have a good time. Despite a heavy workload they seem to be genuinely having fun and exhibit professionalism, dedication and talent. Occasionally, there is the uncomfortable feeling of play-acting; is it possible to play this style of music without quite so much overt referencing to the era itself? Nevertheless, the band do genuinely seem to appeal to a young audience through their clever and fun reinventions of traditional classics and seductive styling. It’s refreshing to hear such talent and see so many people dancing and having fun. A very good time was had by all.