Music that wanders through time

Click to follow
The Independent Online

One of the most intense musical experiences of my life happened in a small cafe/bar in Paris about two years ago

One of the most intense musical experiences of my life happened in a small cafe/bar in Paris about two years ago. I was over there doing some work on a possible radio project on Django Reinhardt, and the researcher I was with wanted to get some live gypsy jazz on tape for possible use for background atmosphere. It's the sort of thing you can easily find in any tape library, but some radio people still have integrity, and also enjoy a night out, so we went off to a bar with the right sort of group playing that evening. When the band arrived, we asked the bandleader if we might tape some of his music as background atmosphere for a programme we might be making ...

We could have saved our breath. At the sight of a microphone and portable tape machine, the bandleader reacted with all the enthusiasm of Horatio Hornblower spotting a skull and crossbones. Piracy! Theft! Copyright! No way! Absolument defendu! So we made the international sign of surrender (rueful eyebrows, both hands up, palms facing out), put the machine away, and sat down to just eat, drink and listen.

It was a trio (lead guitar, rhythm guitar and double bass), and the music they played was so powerful and sparkling, that he and I and the largely young student crowd were quite scoured by the experience.

Later, my researcher friend revealed that he had accidentally left the tape machine running for a couple of numbers under the table, and, although the results would never be usable, I still have a tape of those two numbers which I occasionally play to convince myself that the music was as good as my imagination remembers it, even recorded under a table - and, by God, it was.

What is extraordinary about that kind of music, that gypsy jazz, or Parisian swing, or Hot Club music, or whatever you call it, is that it still exists at all. Its most famous flowering was in the 1930s, when the genius of Django Reinhardt's guitar combined with the artistry of Stephane Grappelli's violin to produce a musical hybrid with all the intensity of gypsy music and the showbiz glamour of jazz. It was one of the great sounds of the era.

It might well have faded away with the era. There were other fashionable sounds around - grass skirt Hawaiian orchestras, gangs of harmonica players, zither players, novelty piano music à la Zez Confrey and Billy Mayerl - which might also have spawned a tradition, or even a heritage industry. But you do not, as far as I know, get festivals of Hawaiian music or zither gatherings in the English countryside.

And nor, you might well retort, do you get gypsy jazz gatherings in Gloucestershire. Oh, how wrong you would be! I have been amazed to find press releases fluttering on to my desk proclaiming an International Gypsy Guitar Festival in the Gloucestershire village of Gossington - the fourth such annual event in a row - on 30 July/1 August (www.iggf.co.uk).

I have been equally amazed to find there is another gypsy music festival called L'Esprit Manouche in Moseley Park, in Birmingham, on 10 and 11 July, featuring such stellar gypsy music names as Angelo Debarre and the Ferre brothers, Elios and Boulou.

And I have been even more amazed to find a place in Battersea High Street which puts on this music almost every night. Called Le Quecumbar, it bills itself as "Europe's only venue outside Paris presenting Django Reinhardt Hot Club Gypsy Swing". I see they've got the guitarist Angelo Debarre with the excellent English violinist Chris Garrick on 6 and 7 July. By God, I almost wish I lived in London again. (Full info at www.quecumbar.co.uk).

More of this tomorrow, perhaps ...

Comments