I really enjoy stepping outside of my personal ‘norm’, especially in regards to music. For those in the know, my personal norm usually involves lots of ripped denim, punk kids and getting lost in the pit. However, on one Wednesday evening, I was introduced to a genre known as gypsy jazz, and some incredibly talented musicians collectively referred to as the Dew Cats. I did consider trying to familiarise myself with this particular branch of jazz prior to our meeting, but sometimes spontaneous conversation is key. After sitting down with Steph, Julian and Nick and mutually bonding over the ‘drink and dine rule’ at a certain Novocastrian establishment, you can colour me both surprised and impressed.
‘So tell me, what is gypsy jazz? What does it actually mean?’ I asked curiously, although my overactive imagination was focused on images of free-spirited people planning and performing at the street parties of yesteryear, filling the towns with that underground jazz sound. ‘It’s basically the type of music that really poor people used to play back in the 1930s. People that couldn't afford big brass instruments, but could manage to find a guitar or a violin, could still play and enjoy the music.’
The discovery, pursuit and true love of such a genre appeared to manifest by accident, as Julian pointed out how he discovered the genre via YouTube: ‘I watched a video with a really serious shred metal guy playing “gypsy jazz”. I started exploring the genre a little bit and really liked it the more I watched… Eventually I found a gypsy jazz style guitar hanging at Muso’s Corner one day and went from there.’
Even with Newcastle having an incredibly diverse music scene, how do the footy-loving, Chisel-cheering folks of Newy respond to the effortless cool and unprecedented groove that the genre commands of its converts? ‘It’s actually a lot better than we expected… I think we expected a lot of the time to just be background noise or something like that, so it’s a really a great feeling to see the crowd engaged and just simply enjoying what we’re doing.’ Specific venues of course assist in catering to the niche market, as you can often find the Dew Cats doing their thing at the Underground run by the Newcastle Improvised Music Association (NIMA).
In saying this, it seems the band as a whole place particular emphasis on both adaptability and reliability, often delving into a very contemporary heavy catalogue and set list. ‘So kind of like a roving “Like A Version”-esque stage show?’ I asked. ‘Yeah, absolutely. It kind of enables us to really play anywhere as opposed to being contained to specific jazz venues. In a way it’s worked out for us, so that the crowd will almost put up with a few really traditional gypsy jazz tunes to hear the more contemporary covers… In saying that, though, the reception we’ve received since we started really shows that there’s a wider market for jazz in Newcastle as well. I think a lot of venues, as well as a lot of crowds, are looking for something a little different, or something that strays from the typical pop realm, and I guess that’s what we can offer people.’
So their favourite cover song to play? ‘“Gangsta’s Paradise”!’ Steph proclaims with such confidence and excitement that I found myself picking my own jaw up from the floor. “At least, that’s my favourite to play anyway – it usually goes over really well with the crowd too, because we love to play it so much!” she added, with a more stoic Julian and Nick looking on from afar (now you see what I mean about this band being full of surprises).
I love the little personalised ‘behind the music’ episodes music journalism presents. Seeing the band click and communicate, being so openly passionate about their craft in an informal setting, is truly a wonderful thing. I have an overwhelming appreciation for talented people doing talented things, and walking into the Commons on Sunday evening to see the Dew Cats – although they weren’t technically headlining – I was full of anticipation about putting words (or more accurately musical talent) into action.
It’s safe to say I saw, heard and experienced a lot more than I bargained for. Steph’s vocals were sultry and dangerous with the ever-important air of mystery. It was as if Elle King decided to pay homage to the jazz greats of yesteryear, but was determined to entrance each and every audience member whilst doing so. Julian was a focused instrumentalist and seemed to relish in the interchanging roles he played along with fellow guitarist Sam Rush. Nick was stoic, steady and deliberately focused, as all good double bass players are, serving as a backbone to a really incredible set. It was so clear to everyone in the audience that every single member of the Dew Cats loves what they do. They love to play, perform, meddle with notes, surprise the audience and really just play wonderfully engaging tunes.
Standout tracks included ‘Royals’ by Lorde and an incredible rendition of ‘Seven Nation Army’ by the White Stripes, which was an overwhelming crowd pleaser (particularly for this White Stripes fan). However, it was the Dew Cats’ cover of the Eagles’ cult classic ‘Hotel California’ that really left me floored. This track naturally has so many elements attached, so many segments of the song that all harmoniously collide to portray an epic tale. The Dew Cats took this premise and completely ran with the concept. They poured passionate gypsy jazz into every single nook and cranny of the tune, which really impressed the audience. They held the people and the space in the palm of their hand. They brought old-school class, grace and gypsy jazz, merged it with contemporary tunes and managed to satisfy, surprise and delight a cosy Sunday evening Commons crowd.
The Dew Cats are truly an incredible outfit bursting with talent. When they’re on stage, every single member is so content with the flow and purpose of the music that I really do challenge you to try not to smile during their set. If you missed their gig at the Commons, luckily for you, you can catch them at the Underground on the 4th of October, where all of the coolest (gypsy) jazz cats spend their time.
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