by Peter Callaghan
Gypsy swing quartet kick off Falkirk Live!
With a barnstorming gig. Five out of five!
As the CEO of Tesco said to his disgruntled counterpart at Unilever earlier in the week: I don’t do labels. The terms “gypsy”, “swing” and “jazz” have been used many a time and oft to describe the Glasgow-based quartet which opened the three-day Falkirk Live! music festival at The Faw Kirk aka The Trinity Church in the heart of the town. But as lead guitarist Tom “flight of the bumble bee” Watson said of Chinatown, My Chinatown by Tin Pan Alley songwriters Jean Schwartz and William Jerome, the year in which it was written is up for debate, but “all that matters is that it was written”.
And when musicianship and vocals are of the calibre of Rose Room – named after the eponymous suite of the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco which in the 1920’s was a fashionable hangout for Hollywood celebrities who flocked to the luxury venue to hear the house jazz orchestra led by Art Hickman – then it doesn’t matter which labels you use. Good music is good music. End of. And judging by the warm, lengthy and well-deserved round of applause they received at the end of their upbeat, toe-tapping and life-affirming gig from the hundred or so punters who filled the pews of “the speckled church”, here’s hoping that Rose Room will return soon and that Falkirk Live! will become a mainstay of the town’s cultural landscape for years to come.
Prior to the headline act however, it was fitting that organisers Jazz Scotland and Falkirk Community Trust chose four local lads in the form of The Gypsy Swingers to open their inaugural festival of live music. Their set might have only lasted half an hour, but their subtle approach and spirited “gypsy-fication” of swing and jazz standards did more than kindle the fire before Rose Room set the place ablaze with what can only be described as a barnstorming gig. There is next to no information about the youngest swingers in town online, but it was obvious to the appreciative and supportive audience that they are a highly polished act whose tight playing, inventive solos and deep knowledge of the genre defies their youthful appearance. Watch this space!
And now to the main event. And wow! What a main event Rose Room were! With the exceptional Seonaid Aitken on violin and vocals, the man with a thousand fingers Tom Watson on lead guitar, his award-winning Swing Guitars compatriot Tam Gallagher on rhythm guitar and Jimmy “The top guitar maker in Scotland” Moon on double bass, the rhythm of life quivered through their strings for nigh-on ninety minutes of perfection which as Sammy Davis Jr. once sung “puts a tingle in your fingers and a tingle in your feet”. And based upon the raucous reception they received at the end of their set, it’s little wonder that they were nominated for Ensemble of the Year in the 2013 Scottish Jazz Awards.
Seonaid Aitken’s voice is the jewel in the crown of the blistering quartet. Clear as a bell in the top notes, with a rich timbre to her lower register, her rendition of European classics such as J’attendrai (I Will Wait) from the band’s 2013 album Am I Blue and self-penned songs such as the haunting January Blue from their recent release The High Life were exquisite. Stepping up to the mic also were Tom Watson with the aforementioned Chinatown, My Chinatown and Tam Gallagher with the comical and completely non-political “I’m A Che Guevara Me”. Though vocals aside, it was the daring musicianship and dynamic interplay between the performers, which really put the storm in barnstorming as epitomised by their hand-clapping and foot-stomping curtain call Dark Eyes, a famous Russian melody byUkrainian poet and writer Yevhen Hrebinka, for which fittingly for Rose Room – the room rose!