At first listen, one could be forgiven for presuming that Antibalas are a classic Africa-funk band, in the Fela Kuti mould. So I was genuinely surprised to see a predominantly white American line-up when they walked on stage, and a middle-aged geeky looking bunch at that. The exception being the lead singer/bongo-player, who obligingly fulfilled the expected cliché, with tribal make-up, dreadlocks and a flamboyant suit. The African vibe certainly dominates the band's overall sound, but there are other, subtler influences which give them an edginess sometimes absent from the more straightforward funk genre. I spent most of the gig possessed by a dancing frenzy that also appeared to have seized the rest of the crowd. It’s impossible not to at least tap a foot along to their infectious rhythms, and the atmosphere was positively banging (not a word I use lightly) as the rambling, fevered funk tunes maintained a consistently contagious pace, keeping everyone on their feet, and grinning manically.
In complete contrast to Friday’s sweaty funk-fest, Monday brought a much gentler evening of live music from the newly solo Ben Parker, formerly one half of cult acoustic duo Ben & Jason. Alongside Boo Hewerdine, Ben & Jason afforded some of the most significant and enduring music of my early adulthood, accompanying and enhancing many of its defining moments - packing my bags to leave home, the first time my future husband told me he loved me, mourning the death of a dear friend - they were always there, providing a soundtrack that was both comforting and challenging, soothing and uplifting. An equally defining moment was the day I heard that B&J were to split - and will happily admit to shedding real tears at their farewell gig at the Jazz Café. I have since maintained an active interest in their respective solo projects – Jason as a successful comedy writer and Ben in his various musical exploits. Now going it alone, with a slightly more mainstream sound, Ben Parker is currently re-establishing his presence on the circuit, with intimate gigs in various pub venues. I was lucky enough to catch one of these at the lovely Greys pub in Hanover – a tiny but well-respected establishment, famous locally for its impressive selection of Belgian beer, and an eclectic live music programme that includes a regular Monday night Folk club.
Ahead of Ben’s headline slot, two local bands – The Boy Who Kicked Pigs and Red Feather – set the tone nicely with mellow folk tunes and friendly banter. The little pub was packed out by the time the man himself came on stage, and there was a buzzy, anticipatory atmosphere among the 30-something, coupley crowd (a distinct departure from the Greys’ usual beardy-fleece-wearing-old-school-folk clientele). Mr Parker had the audience immediately enraptured with an intensely passionate, foot-stamping rendition of Angels & Demons – a catchy pop ballad with folky undertones - and certainly the stand-out track of the night for me. Then suddenly the back of my neck was prickling as Ben demonstrated the true power and quality of his vocals - ditching the microphone and belting un-plugged for a moment during the bittersweet love song Survive the Rain. The combination of that familiar, affecting voice, and some elegantly poignant lyrics had me welling up all over again. I did miss the droll repartee that Mr Hazeley used to bring to the proceedings (no wonder he ended up in comedy), but Parker has certainly proved that he has the necessary to go it alone, and I for one wish him all the best in his burgeoning solo career.
Still mulling over Brazil...