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The Hot 8 Brass Band – Cheltenham Jazz Festival REVIEW

Let me paint you a picture. It’s a rainy bank holiday Monday. Half of the people in The Big Top are glugging water in an attempt to nurse their bank holiday hangover and the other half are on their 3rd hair of the dog. So naturally I thought this gig was going to be very chilled; a dormant crowd, lots of polite applause. During which the nauseous few ran for the exit, hands clamped over their mouths.

As the group swaggered on and quickly shot the elephant in the room about most of the crowd looking a little peaky, I realised my predictions were already very, very wrong.

The Hot 8 Brass Band were certainly brassy with saxophones, trumpets and trombones a plenty, a tuba in the corner and a couple of drums to add to the mix. They were certainly hot, with many members dripping by the end of the first song, which was, in all fairness, half an hour long. And there was certainly 8 of them. I counted.

The group are the epitome of New Orleans street music, and know how to get a party started. Even for a bunch of slightly hungover self-conscious Cheltonians. Their infectious energy came from a mix of the rich brassy core, layered with syncopated bass lines and gritty urban voice and rap. Their sound is immediately refreshing and uber cool.

It was a pretty non-stop gig that I don’t doubt the neighbouring towns could also hear. But apart from Doris at number 23 taking her afternoon nap, I don’t think you would have any complaints. It was the kind of music that made you screw your face up and grunt occasionally whilst over-enthusiastically head bobbing and feet stomping.

Their live rendition of the famous ‘Sexual Healing’ cover of the Marvin Gaye classic by far surpassed their recorded version. For me a clear favourite was their catchy ‘What’s my name?’ with the loop “Rock with the hot 8” still going round in my head. It seems I wasn’t alone in my appreciation with the whole tent waving their arms in time with the beat.

They featured songs from their new album such as “Play that funky music”. The album ‘On The Spot’ is full of new songs and covers of classics such as Stevie Wonder’s ‘That Girl’. The album title is a reference to their roots of improvised street music.

The group doubled as showman as well as musicians and had built in hype men who kept the show going. Their spontaneity was so expert that the performance had a slick yet organic feel. I honestly think they could have sang Happy Birthday and got the crowd fist pumping.

Saying that, they ended with a real crowd pleaser. Rounding off the set with a New Orleans rendition of ‘Oh when the Saints’, leaving the audience on a high and me still searching for it on the internet to listen to it again.

Never in my dreams would I have expected to experience “gettin low” with Cheltenham on a Monday Afternoon. Certainly one way to get rid of a hangover.

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