The gig at Theatre Royal was pretty much billed as Hot Sardines and easy to overlook was the line that said ‘and John Etheridge’ .
Queuing up to take our seats and realising that the evening programme was going to last till 10.25 I twigged that we were also going to see him play. Jazz guitar isn’t really my thing but my partner likes it and has seen John Etheridge whenever he can so I knew that he is an excellent guitarist.
Relaxed on stage, he chatted away, often forgetting that he was not as near the mic as he ought to have been, but he was engaging. Nimble-fingered and with the familiarity of someone who has played in front of audiences for 40 years or so, he noted that the last time he played in Norwich was with Stephane Grapelli some 37 years ago – that’s a lot of guitar experience. Etheridge could have held the audience for the evening on his own – slightly strange (and nice) that he was ‘just the support’ and that the Festival is programming such strong double-bill events.
He played an half hour set which includes some real classics such as Stormy Weather in his own distinctive style, some on a specially strung guitar, which I gather means that he is sort of playing bass and chords at the same time. Also employing a loop pedal to, as he said, ‘make up for the fact that he couldn’t afford to pay a band’ which layered the sound in a rich and complex way behind his melody.
An excellent start to what turned into an excellent evening, putting everyone into a fine mood for what was coming next.
Crisp and crackling, the Hot Sardines came sizzling onto the stage as they (almost) turned the Theatre Royal into an unlikely speakeasy from the early part of the last century.
With a three part horn/wind section, a drummer and double bass plus piano behind her played by fellow leader Bibs Palazzo, front-lady Miz Elizabeth introduced her fellow musicians with disarming modesty and charm. She had evidently done her homework on Norwich and the band seemed to be enjoying their 5 stop tour in the UK which included the Barbican, Bath and Gateshead before they head off to Paris, Berlin and Vienna.
In her warm-up, she said they were much more used to playing in informal New York lofts and encouraged people to take to the aisles and dance, but to no avail as the seat-based audience stuck to their cushions as the band romped through classic after classic from the 1920s-60s – many more than 50 years old but they breathed a whole new lease of life into numbers such as Summertime, The Charleston, and a couple of Fats Waller numbers – Your Feet’s Too Big being a favourite, plus some original songs in the style of the era.
In spite of the lack of dancing off stage, on stage, the band’s tap dancer (yes, they have a tap dancer) hoofed his way through the set, looking a bit as though he’d be more at home selling mobile phones in a Vodafone shop and seeming to join in when he saw fit, mostly using his feet as a percussive music instrument. Every now and then, he would take the floor and dance to the audience, a pretty unique twist and completely right for the early 20th century period of live entertainment. I don’t want to underplay his role though – it was with casual ease that he displayed and contributed his considerable skill - and he even played uke on one number.
Every now and then, Miz Elizabeth would deliver a song in French, her native language, though she shows no trace of a French accent. The audience really took to the band and were evidently having a great time in spite of being glued to their seats, responsive and clapping enthusiastically. This was feel-good entertainment at its best
But really, the most notable thing is that they were all excellent musicians, each taking occasional solos, playing seamlessly (apart from when the trumpet keys stuck mid number) and completely authentically as if they really were from that romantic time of jazz, so old-fashioned that they are fashionable, right up to the minute, bringing those roots of jazz to the 21st century and whole new generation of listeners.
The Hot Sardines are already a success – maybe they have a little further to go in terms of fame and fortune but they have a great story so far and I am sure they will go further. If you get the chance, catch them while they can still play to (relatively) small audiences at an affordable price!
If you are interested in how they came about read more about them here http://hotsardines.com/about/
And Chassol – well, after Hot Sardines, I went hotfoot across to the Spiegeltent where Chassol had started half an hour before, so sadly I missed the first half of the set. I was interested, as he was described as ‘if you liked Woodkid then you will like this’, well not quite I would say but when I read the description I was intrigued by the combination of visual and live music. It was intriguing as he used loops of recorded conversation and video as samples and beats. The visual was also absorbing, with all sections from India in the parts I watched (5 parts in total). It was very mesmeric and I wish I had had the presence of mind to close my eyes and listen to the effect of the sounds as they melded together. As I say, I wish I had seen the whole thing and would definitely go if I get the chance again.
Roll on tomorrow with After the Fall: A Morality Play by Smith Theatre and Panti in the Spiegeltent – I’ll let you know how I get on.