We spoke to Pete Horsfall about his band the Basin Street Brawlers:
LondonJazz: What’s the idea behind the Basin Street Brawlers and what persuaded you to set it up ?
Peter Horsfall: The Basin Street Brawlers want to bring small-group jazz back to the masses! We play 1920s and 1930s style jazz influenced by titans such as Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong, in the belief that jazz music can be both fun and virtuosic. I established the ensemble with a strong belief that this music can appeal to people of all ages and backgrounds – and our audience is a mixture of the young dancers and listeners who are coming into contact with this music for the first time and an older generation who perhaps first heard similar styles in the late 1950s and early 1960s in this country. The band consists of my very favourite jazz musicians in London, so it didn’t need much persuasion for me to want to organise them into a working outfit!
LJ: People know you as a trumpeter… and you sing too?
PH: Yes – people know me as a trumpet player, but the singing has come as a natural thing with the kind of music we play. In fact, every single member of the band sings very finely … It just so happens that as leader of the ensemble, the singing duties have fallen to me on this occasion!
LJ: Who are your band mates and why have you chosen them?
PH: They are the best! … but I suppose I would say that!
Ewan Bleach on clarinet and saxophones works tirelessly to promote jazz and swing in London, through his weekly nights at Dalston’s Cakewalk Cafe (Wednesdays) and Limehouse’s Jamboree (Thursdays). He is also my favourite tenor saxophonist on the scene and plays a mean clarinet – we came out of music college at the same time and have similar ideas on how we like to present this style of music. Malcolm Earle-Smith was introduced to me by Ewan and I immediately fell in love with his trombone playing; he has a great command of melody and a natural feeling for the blues. I met both Martin Wheatley (guitar) and Colin Good (piano) through Malcolm, as all three are part of the Brian Ferry Orchestra and also the Nevada Street Four. They are in my opinion (an uncontroversial one, I imagine) amongst the finest rhythm section players this country has produced in the style. In addition to myself, these four make up the regular working Brawlers line-up, in addition to the very mighty Dave O’Brien and Mez Clough who take up the double-bass and drums chairs respectively, when we have both the budget and space to scale-up to a seven piece.
LJ: Malcolm Earle-Smith has a really deep knowledge of the history, Jack Teagarden and all that, right?
PH: Absolutely. Malcolm Earle-Smith, Martin Wheatley (guit.) & Colin Good (piano) have an incredible knowledge of the history of this music. Increasingly Ewan Bleach and myself are also spending a lot of our time digging up old versions of tunes and arguing over which is the best! Ewan has spent time in New Orleans over the past few years as well, playing with Tuba Skinny – a fantastic young band playing old rags and stomps.
LJ: How have previous gigs gone?
PH: The Brawlers have been around on the scene for a couple of years now with notable gigs including an appearance at the Royal Albert Hall’s late night jazz series and a headline set for 400 dancers at the London Swing Festival. We also have a few great residencies at venues like The Nightjar (Old st.), the Cakewalk Cafe (Dalston) and this most recent one at Wilton’s Music Hall. We’ll also be organising an album launch for our début album, which is being recorded this month – so watch this space for details of that.
LondonJazz: People dance to it, right? And they’re mostly young?
Peter Horsfall: Yes, young people dancing to small-group jazz – imagine that! There is a fledgling swing dancing scene in London that is attracting a mostly young crowd and some of our gigs are playing to halls full of them. It is a pleasure to play for a dancing audience – this breeds a certain discipline within the band as regards holding steady tempos and keeping the music hot. It also means that when the band plays in a listening setting (take our gig at the Elgar Room for instance) we still play with a dancing-sensibility, which I think strengthens the music and deepens the swing that the band members share. Hopefully we’ll be having some dancers down to our gigs at Wilton’s Music Hall in the coming weeks…
More information from the band’s WEBSITE