New Orleans Comes To Liverpool
Let there be no illusion, my relationship with the active Liverpool music scene is one borne from its lack of ability to offer anything other than the same reconstituted, jingle-jangle-three-chord pop ditties that were its stock-in-trade of 40 years ago. There was a brief period in the late 1970’s when it embraced the new and almost buried the old. The Cavern was history, ‘Eric’s’ was The New, Liverpool flowered with cutting edge sound, breaking away from past glories and redefining its place on the musical map; then Lennon was murdered. Thirty years on, it’s Groundhog Day and the city has comfortably sloped back into heritage status, a musical mausoleum fortified with ‘capital of culture’ approval. Like Liverpool, New Orleans is also situated by a river and enjoys a thriving music scene – but that’s where the similarities end. Whereas the former chooses to stay fenced into a past where music stood still in 1964, the latter remains an ever-evolving melting pot of musical diversity. Consequently, the last thing one would expect to find in Matthew Street, Beatle-Central, is a genuine badass funk band from New Orleans.
So how did this unlikely marriage of cross-cultures happen?
Turns out, the promoter of the new ‘Eric’s’ club (here’s hoping it doesn’t take the route of Cavern Club MkII) heard a Trombone Shorty CD and literally on a leap of faith, took it upon himself to make the calls and get the band over here. For the musically starved, sick of the same menu of pie, peas and chips, it was as though Heston Blumenthal had agreed to set up his burger van – for one night only.
My first encounter with Troy ‘Trombone Shorty’ Andrews was on the 2007 CD, ‘Goin’ Home: A Tribute To Fats Domino’, collaborating with Lenny Kravitz, the Rebirth Brass Band, Pee Wee Ellis, Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker – indeed, standing on the shoulders of giants. Two CD’s later, and Shorty is making waves in his own right, with his own brand of New Orleans brass-led funk, backed by a new generation of multi-racial New Orleans musicians.
Mixing the old with the new is a N’awlins speciality out of which, you create something fresh, but familiar. Tapping into funk, jazz, Latin, rock, hip-hop and modern R&B, Shorty and Orleans Avenue cook up a stew of phat grooves to feed a famine worn audience, suffering from years of malnutrition from locally served musical fayre. For such young players, these guys know their way around the block, proving that fertile cultural backgrounds can fast-track musical development; and there lies the big difference between the two cities.
New ‘Eric’s’ is still work in progress decoratively – though no one was there to checkout the wallpaper; not with a southern musical fry-up about to commence, courtesy of a particularly cool musical collective the city rarely gets to host. Anticipation was high and the visitors did not disappoint. The tightly knitted horns of Dan Oestreicher,Tim McFatter plus the lung-defying circular-breathing Trombone Shorty, the seamless rhythm section of Michael Ballard (Bass), Pete Murano (Guitar) and Joey Peebles (Drums), augmented by layers of percussion flavour from Dwayne Williams, laid the foundations of a house party that didn’t pause to let its guests escape. If you wanted out, better think about tunnelling over the road to that over familiar underground time capsule, with its safety net of 1960’s pipe & slippers, all-English culture. For those of us breathing in the life from fresh musical oxygen, soaking up the moves and grooves of just-ripe Louisiana funk, this was a brief interlude away from stale, guitar led pop that has suffocated the city too long. If nothing else, the wall-to-wall concrete phoenix of new ‘Eric’s’ had proved that there is an audience hungry for a spice that can’t be found in a jar of magical mystery tour sauce. Subterranean Matthew Street just got hit with a vibe not seen, sought or served on its musical menu for…who knows how long?
Walking back into the reality of a Liverpool night out, thoughts turned to the surreal realisation that whilst the usual stag/hen party traffic went about its regular indulgence in predictable entertainment; an event had taken place so far removed from the roots of the city – but yet so near, within the echo’s of street names synonymous with notorious 18th century slave traders, part responsible for providing New Orleans with its core population. Some irony there, lost on the shrieks of party revellers and the many audible offers in the night air for cheap drinks. For the first time in three decades, Matthew Street can pride itself in delivering something new, unsafe and culturally rich, even if it was only for one night. Maybe ‘Eric’s’ MkII could be the musical get-out-of-jail-card the city has been waiting for, releasing it from the shackles of a past that promises to dig itself ever deeper into a tomb of rested laurels. Trombone Shorty gave us a glimpse of how other cities can retain their musical heritage whilst fully embracing the new. It’s not impossible to achieve, you’ve just got to want it.