A Friday gig preamble:- I know somebody who is a great storyteller (take a bow Tim). He could spin a tale about watching the lawn grow and grip you with it. He once told me about a live recording in which the American vocalist invited all the people in the house to shake their handkerchiefs. Those of us listening laughed at the prospect of the seldom seen, often disgusting typical British handkerchief making an appearance in smart company. We wondered why anybody would engage in such antics. A couple of years later I saw the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, from New Orleans, perform at The Fillmore in San Francisco. Not only did they have a dancer who encouraged us all to wave our handkerchiefs but he also sported a very fine umbrella, which made us all very jealous. Apparently, it is a New Orleans thing.
Then there was Treme, an amazing, high quality American TV series from the makers of The Wire. This was centred on New Orleans and largely seen through the lens of those involved in the music scene there as recovery from Hurricane Katrina began. The series opens with the first street procession or ‘second line’ as the city starts to pick itself up and the band accompanying the revelers is the Rebirth Brass Band. If you haven’t seen Treme do yourself a favour and grab the series sets. I’d be surprised if you regret it.
I was delighted to learn that Rebirth were playing here this month and even happier when tickets for their gig at Ronnie Scott’s tonight were secured.
The gig:- The opening set was from The Gareth Williams Trio. They played a short warm up performance which attempted to please the maximum possible number of viewers. They managed to follow John Coltrane’s Giant Steps with a Cole Porter tune, after which it was time for the main act.
Featuring a tuba, two trombones, trumpet, tenor sax and two drummers, the Rebirth Brass Band played with verve and great energy. They mixed musical tradition and old school marching band instrumentation with an earthy sense of funk. Miles Davis’s Freddie Freeloader and I Got a Woman by Ray Charles were combined with Caravan and It’s All Over Now to transport the early Friday night crowd to the Big Easy. Whilst I did contemplate purchasing a very fine pack of 5 blue handkerchiefs for a fiver in Brixton this lunchtime, the cash stayed in my pocket. It didn’t matter as although this early-evening first set left few disappointed, the band seemed to be holding plenty in reserve for later. No whirling handkerchiefs amongst the early crew!
Sadly, it was all over too quickly. Back in the days when it was possible to see two sets from the main act at Ronnie’s, with the only extra expense being a late night, this would have been a band I would have paid that price for. It’s just about midnight as I write this and they will be back onstage shortly-but I’m back at home. I’m sure those celebratory handkerchiefs will be in order for this fine band after the witching hour. As for me, it’s early to bed, to dream of imagined second lines and seeing the Rebirth Brass Band in a sweaty Crescent City club with space to dance. I really must go to New Orleans one day!