Stranger Than Paradise: Rasp Thorne & The Briars, DJ Sacha Dieu, The Gadjo Club & Rattlin Bone, Hootananny, 9 April 2011

Voted best pub for live music in the 2010 Great British Pub Awards, Hootananny Brixton knows how to put on a show.  The setting oozes both haunted country house and familiar grungy Brixton venue.  There is therefore no better location for Saturday’s Stranger Than Paradise, a night dedicated to gypsy-inspired musical mayhem.

An eclectic crowd turned out to see the night’s proceedings, as young middle class art school sorts brushed shoulders with aging rockers, European tourists and the local Rastas.

It got off to a shaky start after the night’s compeer and Stranger Than Paradise founder Ms. Manray’s quips about Brixton’s cliché druggy reputation failed to go down well, particularly with one female audience member who proceeded to heckle and protested by refusing to dance.  The slightly uncomfortable atmosphere was not resolved during the first act, lyrical gothic punk band Rasp Thorne & The Briars, despite the best efforts of the highly charismatic lead singer and the mesmerising female drummer, who held her presence on the stage with a combination of musical skill and a wily glint in her eye.

In between acts the audience were treated to the delights of stripper Princess Knickers, who won the crowd over with her endearing hospitality, handing out cheese and nibbles to audience members.  DJ Sacha Dieu also helped out with musical interludes, keeping the crowd gyrating with an unusual but well received mixture of Dubstep and Balkan beats.  Of course, one cannot overlook the compeer Ms Manray, who controlled proceedings with the command of a headmistress, whilst dressed like a crazy cat lady trying to make it in to Kate and Wills’ wedding.

By the time the second act – The Gadjo Club – took to the stage, the audience had warmed up nicely and welcomed them and their potpourri of accordions, violins, clarinets, saxophones, guitars and drums like old friends.  Think Beirut meets Dirty Pretty Things and you’re almost there.  If you think gypsy music isn’t your thing, listening to Tokyo Oh Oh will ease you in nicely: chirpy rock beats with the band’s characteristic klezmer undertones.  The set included a well-considered mixture of energetic crowd pumpers, traditional folk tunes and more sentimental numbers, showcasing the band’s versatility whilst keeping the set short enough to leave the audience wanting more.

The night ended triumphantly with 14 piece rock and roll burlesque gypsy voodoo jazz from Rattlin Bone, complete with deranged clowns. Soulful backing singers, a jazz band and the raspy rocker vocals of the lead singer demonstrated the band’s ability to transcend the boundaries of musical genre and create a sound uniquely theirs.  The band’s cover of Merle Travis’ Sixteen Tons was a crowd pleaser, keeping the audience on their feet after a night of heavily-involved shape-throwing.

If you are looking to lose your inhibitions in a night refreshing from the standard Dubstep/indie nights, welcome to a world most definitely Stranger than Paradise.

By Mona Tabbara

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