Words by John Noblet
If you haven’t heard of Balkanic Eruption yet then you’re probably some kind of hopelessly deluded fool; or more likely, just don’t live in south Birmingham.
It’s been around for ages now, somehow flying the flag for a fairly obscure genre of music in an age where ‘The Birthplace of Heavy Metal’ (I mean Birmingham, obviously) no longer has a large weekly rock night. And if predictions are to be believed, Metallica will be panhandling on a street corner near you by the end of next week.
Although Balkanic Eruption deserves major cred points for being one of a handful of regular Balkan based nights in the country (and even bigger points for supporting traveller and Gypsy rights), it trades on being a damn good knees up – the kind of party you can rely on being fun.
However tonight’s openers, Damba – an offshoot from The Destroyers, are not exactly setting the room alight during their first few numbers. They’re performing as a duo, instead of their usual three piece, and it shows; despite being played well, their accordion and violin led tunes are in grave danger of becoming just background music for hairy hipsters.
Towards the end of their set Damba step up another gear and we see some of that chaotic energy that their parent band are so legendary for. They play a fiery footstomper, which they say is “a Canadian barn dance number” but sounds Irish or Scottish to me (as far as I can tell, their set is mostly traditional numbers from all over the global map).
For the last song, ‘Bella Ciao’, Damba get a couple of Italian friends to sing the lead vocal, and just as their set ends seem to have won the room’s attention (I mean, what kind of soulless sour puss doesn’t enjoy a well performed version of ‘Bella Ciao’???). I don’t know what the long term plan for Damba is, but I’d definitely like to hear them perform with their full line up and see if they generate the excitement implied by their ‘hot club/tango/klezmer’ tagline.
All that’s followed by the customary cigarette break, trip to the bar (or if you’re feeling particularly saucy, a session at the face painting stall to become a shiny butterfly or a cat) and tonight’s headliners, Gypsy Fever.
I can’t tell you where Gypsy Fever are based, but their members seem to come from all over the world – with only one (the guitarist) hailing from England. Their line up is bass, drums, guitar, two female vocalists up front and a woodwind player that alternates between saxophone and clarinet.
Although the opener only entices the audience, rather than grabbing them by the scruff of the neck, the crowd starts dancing soon enough. The bass, guitar and drums form a solid foundation, and it’s soon clear who’s fronting the band – with woodwind player, Ben Sellers, and female vocalist, Katarina Gadjo, up the front and making eye contact with the crowd, whilst the other members fade into the background.
Gypsy Fever’s set is made up mostly of original numbers, with a few traditionals such as ‘Mesecina’, ‘Bubermaru’ and ‘Gas Gas’ – a song apparently played at every wedding in Serbia. However this is not as repetitious as it might sound – such melodies have, what I have referred to in my more romantic moments as, an intrinsic magic when played with the right spirit. The can ignite any dance floor, usually leaving it reeling, breathless and sweaty – before the opening notes of another big hitter reaches round you like the embrace of an old friend.
This is exactly what happens tonight, with the rambunctious calls for an encore proof of what a good job Gypsy Fever have done; returning to the stage for what one cheeky reveller refers to as the “cuddle after the orgasm”.
And Gypsy Fever’s encore demonstrates the wide variety of reference points within their musical vocabulary, taking in part of Greek Folk song/Dick Dale surf guitar classic ‘Misirlou’.
Gypsy Fever can certainly move a crowd, and I’ve no doubt are well on their way to being regulars on the UK festival scene. However for me, whether they become known as one of the best at what they do, or as another very good Balkan based band, depends on what they do next. But currently one album in they’ve made a damn good start.
There’s rumours going around that Balkanic Eruption might not last much longer; with organisers promoting a world music night instead, giving them a much wider palette to choose from.
I for one will be sad to see it go, having had many great moments there over the years; as well as a few unforgettable, life changing ones.
However, part of me also feels it’s a big enough part of enough people’s lives to not go anywhere. And if it does come back in a different form, then well, that’s just evolution, baby.
For more on Gypsy Fever, visit http://www.gypsyfever.co.uk/
For more on Balkanic Eruption, visit https://www.facebook.com/balkanic.eruption
For further gig listings at the Hare & Hounds, visit http://hareandhoundskingsheath.co.uk/event-listings/