It wasn’t until the day itself arrived – bringing some much-needed spring weather – that I decided to go to this intriguing looking gig at Open. Headliners The Destroyers were described as “15 piece Balkan Gypsy megafolk”, and coupled with The Woodland Creatures, a sword swallower, another 11 piece act by the name of Sashi and the Wild Beans, this all made me more than a little curious and interested enough to attend.
Arriving just after 9pm as events were starting, the (so called) comedy duo of Ellis and Rose were introducing a contortionist act by the name of Bendy Bendini, who was attempting to fit himself through an unstrung tennis racket. Later on he did some very impressive sword swallowing. It was an interesting act.
Much effort had been made decorating the club room at Open, drapes were around the bar, red velvet curtains framed the stage which was carpeted and had picture frames, lampshades and even an old typewriter and wooden globe.
The first musical act was The Woodland Creatures, a Norwich duo who I have seen before a few times, tonight previewing some new songs, and sounding excellent in this venue. Playing their gentle folk and occasional Irish tunes. Using guitars, drum, bhodran, penny whistle and banjo.
By the time Sashi and the Wild Beans were introduced I was heartily sick of our comperes Ellis and Rose. Unlikable and unfunny does not begin to describe this unecessary duo who thoroughly outstayed their welcome every time they took to the stage. Thankfully they eventually got off and allowed Sashi and the Wild Beans to set up and fill the small stage with all eleven members. Something about this Norwich venue just works and gets the best out of the audience. Every time I have been here I’ve been struck by the great atmosphere and sea of smiling faces. Sashi and the Wild Beans were a bit of an unknown for me but they soon had me converted with their upbeat melodies and lively, danceable songs. At the front of the stage it was predominantly smiling girls dancing to the mix of gyspsy, reggae, Balkan, and the predominant ska and swing provided by this lovely band. A very retro sound to the backing vocals and harmonies, and not for the first time recently I was thinking of the vocal trio in Belleville Rendezvous. At some other moments even not a million miles away from Amy Winehouse in ska mood. There were even moments where I spotted people dancing the Charleston! A hugely enjoyable set that had the whole venue dancing, and it appeared to me the band were having just as much fun as the audience, always a great thing to see.
In preparation for Birmingham band The Destroyers, there was a line of microphone stands the like of which I don’t think I have ever seen before along the front of the stage. The levels of intrigue just grew and grew.
Unfortunately we had to endure another appearance by the dreaded comperes to introduce the headlining Destroyers. Audience and band seemed perplexed by these two, who by now were just tiresome and annoying but at least they themselves eventually realised they should just get off stage and let the band perform. As far as I could see the Destroyers did not have their full 15 members tonight but they still certainly filled the stage, both in personnel and in sound. With tuba, trumpet, clarinet, fiddles, accordion, guitar, drums and more they too had a great and infectious sound. This is how I would imagine Balkan ska to sound, perhaps with traces of Gogol Bordello thown in, some of the songs starting slowly but building up to a frenzied beat. Impossible not to get caught up in their uplifting sound. It was not all a similar sound however, some of the songs were very atmospheric and quite haunting (The Flying Kopanitsas, with a superb duduk solo), and there were also some hints of klezmer. I would definitely make the effort to see them again and can imagine they will be firm favourites on this summer’s festival circuit.
All in all this was another great night in the fine city, the music and caberet anyway, but I will be pleased if I never see or hear the dire Ellis and Rose again. I don’t like to be too negative of acts I see but … dear oh dear.
The Destroyers and Sashi and the Wild Beans however have good and promising futures ahead of them and I hope I get the chance to see them again.
Words and photos by shashamane
Shashi & the Wild Beans https://www.facebook.com/WildBeans
The Destroyers http://thedestroyers.co.uk/
The Woodland Creatures http://www.reverbnation.com/thewoodlandcreatures