The Brass Funkeys Norden Farm Centre for the Arts 15/09/22
A nine piece jazz funk outfit makes a lot of noise. When it’s as frolicsome, personable and enjoyable as this, pump up the volume.
My first experience of live jazz was while I was a student. One of our lecturers appeared as the drummer in a jazz trio at a local arts centre and it seemed like a good idea at the time to check him out. We’d call it stalking these days, but the cheap beer was a big attraction. He appeared completely absorbed by his playing on the night, chilled to the point of needing to be defrosted. Uncharitably, I wondered if that ‘ thinking of something else’ expression reflected that of his students as they grappled with his critical theory seminars. (I can’t answer that at first hand. I was neither clever enough to avoid his scathing essay critiques, nor brave enough to face his withering put downs, so I didn’t take his course.)
Brass Funkeys are his polar opposite. They’re a nine piece brass band featuring two trombones, three trumpets, a tenor saxophone, a drummer, a percussionist and a sousaphone player. (A sousaphone is similar to a tuba but is designed to wrap around the body and be played standing up.)
A sousaphone. Not a tuba.
I imagine it’s a big advantage for a band this size to play Norden Farm. Their stage is designed for drama and allows plenty of room to move around.
From the off they had a great rapport amongst themselves and with the audience. They’re used to playing big festivals such as Glastonbury with people standing, not sedate home counties arts centres where people won’t lightly give up use of a seat they’ve paid for to dance or sway. They sussed that out early. When it came to the audience participation section of the show they offered Option A to those members of the audience who were willing to stand and Option B to those who remained seated. Congratulations and a shout out to the one member of the audience in the stalls who took Option A.
And they’re loud. Trust me on this one they’re very loud. They know it, and invite the audience to retreat to the rear of the stalls and provide ear plugs for those brave enough to remain at the front. The volume added to the sense of occasion, but had the practical impact of rendering the spoken interludes harder to hear. That's my excuse for not catching the names of the band or the tunes they played. One person came to me in the interval and asked if I could speak to the sound technician to have the microphone for the bass drum turned down. The thought of confronting the centre’s technical specialist and going against the band’s settings was not one that appealed, so I used the volume as an excuse and said the one thing that came to mind - “Pardon?”
It’s fair to describe Brass Funkeys as chaotic on stage. One of the trumpeters kicked over his beer and, in mid-flow, had to be helped by the front of house manager to mop up the mess. One trombonist lost his slide in the audience - not an everyday occurrence - but one covered by the second trombonist before he rejoined without missing a beat. As for the casually rehearsed cancan that concluded the first half - it was a joyous sight and had me laughing out loud with pure pleasure. These were moments of madness on stage, moments that Madness themselves would have been proud of.
Make no mistake though. The chaotic self effacement stops when the music starts. It’s excellent. It’s punchy, tuneful and contains more riffs than an ACDC concert. I love a band that can take a classic song and recast it in a completely different style. Having hinted at some contretemps with Oasis, they performed a stunning version of ‘Wonderwall’. No point looking back in anger, is there?
They were sensitive to the times too. Less than a week before the Queen’s funeral they performed a New Orleans Funeral March which moved seamlessly from stately procession to near Gospel choruses. I sense she’d have approved of the fun and the desire to celebrate with humour and joy.
Too many people are put off by the thought of jazz. Maybe some came for the funk elements. I hope they stayed for the pot pourri of influences from all spectrums in the music. Brass Funkeys play music that appeals across generations, to teenagers and their parents alike. For goodness sake, there’s even a couple of sousaphone solos. Who can possibly not like that?
Music is a part of the Brass Funkeys’ world, a world that includes spilled beer, malfunctioning trombones and a deep rooted desire from every member to entertain. put on a show that raises the spirits as it deafens the ears.
I’m ending the review with a YouTube video of the Brass Funkeys performing ‘Wonderwall’ It’s not live, and it doesn’t feature the line up that performed here but it does capture their manic energy.
I’m also including a link to their Bandcamp page because they’re nice guys who forgot to bring their merchandise to sell on the night. Make them happy!