An acoustic trio played at the Snooty Fox pub on Fore Street on Sunday afternoon (5th October). At least they were playing unamplified as they were doing a sound check before the gig
The group were Dr. Zebo’s Wheezy Club, and they wanted to play a lightly amplified show, but the Fox were having a little difficulty with their electricity supply. The band, who had been advertised to start at ‘fourish’ decided to go unamplified, and started about half an hour later, writes the Vulture. Their first song was an instrumental jig, with fiddler Mike Fossett playing the melody, guitarist Simon Taylor playing a percussive rhythm guitar, all underpinned by the double bass of Ralf Dorrell.
I had ordered a drink, and the barmaid who brought it to my table was jigging on the way over; an early demonstration of the power of Wheezy Club music. Lights (& speakers) came on and the audience oohed. A few seconds later the power went again and the audience aahed. When the song finished they applauded. It sounded as though they were watching a rocket on Guy Fawkes night. Another jig, Devilish Mary followed. It was nearer to Irish folk than jazz.
Soon the power was back on, but the band expressed no faith in it. Youse the Viper sounded like the kind of hip hop and swing played in America in the 30s. The theme was drink and drugs – the viper being a 5’ reefer!
Jockey full of Bourbon is a cunningly blended reworking by Tom Waits of 16 men on a dead man’s chest and the nursery rhyme Ladybird, Ladybird fly away home, with a tango rhythm and a reggae flavour; the guitar and fiddle harmonies really worked.
Bing Crosby was invoked in a song about coffee and tea. Django Reinhardt was name checked. A song about Old Joe (who is not working today) was sung. The power cut out again; the band smiled helplessly and carried on without missing a beat.
The power was back when Sitting on top of the World was given a cheerful, almost rapturous up-tempo bluegrass treatment which was about as far from the Cream rendition as is possible to imagine, with an impressive picking interchange between the guitar and the bass.
The band returned after a scheduled interval with an instrumental medley of three Irish folk tunes, and then we were transported back to the 30s for a mixture of swing and ragtime.
“If we go wrong this is the song we go wrong in – I hope the lights go out in this,” said Simon as he introduced an old folk song. It came complete with a little scat singing, some Louis Armstrong style vocals and a brief dip into The Devil came down from Georgia on fiddle. The band gave themselves 8 out of 10, but I was most impressed.
More of the audience were intermittently dancing now, and The Nature Boys (via Nat King Cole) and the Beatles were covered. The Road to Loutra had a few bars of the look of love casually thrown into the introduction, but the (original) song sounded as though it could work with Cossack dancers and balalaikas. As the tune progressed it underwent a rhythm change and speeded up.
A song introduced as being by Japanese ladies of leisure had me thinking what??? It had a doo-wop & hip-hop feel to it as though it wouldn’t be out of place in Five guys named Moe. Salty Dog Blues did not sound like a blues song, more like another Irish folk number, except that it was infiltrated by a ‘Hollywood harem dance of the 7 veils’ theme’.
The performance ended with the audience being invited to sing a chorus about Cigarettes, Whisky & Wild, Wild Women.
The band played in so many styles it was as if someone had exploded a musical cornucopia and allowed them to collect the pieces. Some of the tunes would not have been out of place in the sound track of early Tom and Jerry cartoons. Their inspiration is drawn from Ireland to California via Heaven’s door and the Top of the world. Just about the only western styles not covered were grand opera, symphonic classical and Swiss melodic death/folk metal (apparently it does exist)!
The interweaving of the three instruments was precise, with some remarkably intricate arrangements. Leads were passed around all 3 musicians, but the fiddler and guitarist got the lions share. One song would often be blended almost seamlessly into another, so far more tunes were played than were announced. Most of the arrangements had space within them for improvisation, so a few numbers went on for some little while (but none dragged). The vocal harmonies between Simon and Mike were flawless.
I really liked Dr. Zebo’s Wheezy Club, and judging from comments from audience members I was not alone. I look forward to enjoying another of their performances.
The band had a spare space on their calendar because the Yew Tree, where they had been due to play on 4th October had closed suddenly and without warning. The band offered the slot to the Snooty Fox, who couldn’t take it as Saturday night is a peak time for their restaurant. They offered Sunday afternoon as an alternative. An agreement was quickly reached.
Simon is a recently retired teacher who lives in Warminster. He has known Mike since they grew up in Filton. Ralf is a lecturer and teacher. He lives in Dilton Marsh. Mike lives near Box, and he teaches. The band were formed at the beginning of the year, and have been playing together for about 6 months, although they have clocked upwards of 100 years of performing between them.