Mardi Gras at The Twa Tams

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Anyone who has friends that are performers or musicians will know the anxiety induced when they ask, "do you fancy coming along to my show?"  It is a question that generates a multitude of further questions in the mind of the friend.  Questions like, "what if they're terrible?", "how long do I have to stay to be polite?", "is it rude to ask to hear a demo tape before I commit?"

These were some of the thoughts running around my mind last year when my neighbour John Martin told me he would be playing a gig as part of a Cajun music trio.  This added yet another question to the ones above, "what the hell is Cajun music?"

Fast forward a year, and I'm sitting in The Twa Tams drinking a black coffee and enjoying some amazing music courtesy of Dundee's Boogalusa.  In the preceding year, I have learned enough about Louisianna music to discern that their music leans heavily towards the Zydeco end of the spectrum.

It's fast-paced and funky stuff, the sort of music that gets your foot tapping independently of the rest of your body.  I think that has a lot to do with how tight Mardi Gras - Boogalusathe band is, you are talking spandex boxer shorts two sizes too small levels of tightness.

You've got an amazing rhythm section, with drummer Robert McGlone and bassist Steve Patterson at times creating an almost r n' b feel, augmented by some tremendous washboard playing courtesy of Alan Wilson.  My neighbour John provides some beautiful rhythm playing, standing in for regular guitarist Teviotdale on Bajo Sexto.

This all provides a great base for fiddle player Kevin Findlay and accordionist David Oudney to trade solo's, which they go to great effect, particular on a rambunctious and soulful version of 'Please Don't Go'.

Next up is the Edinburgh based Jennifer Ewan Band, tonight playing as a duo Mardi Gras - Jennifer Ewen Bandconsisting of Jennifer herself and accordion player (and flautist) Kim Tebble.  It's a more stripped back affair than the previous set with Jennifer, and Kim's, not inconsiderable songwriting talents brought to the fore.

I love the swaggeringly bluesy 'Party on the Farm', with its beguilingly catchy, repeating lyric that begs you to sing along, and its accordion part that seems to hold down the bassline with an occasional little lead flourish. 

'Portobello' is a great original that to my ears seems to combine that folky Fifey King Creosote vibe with a more Americana sound.  It's got a really evocative, summery lyric.  Kind of like if Brian Wilson had been born and raised somewhere between Joppa and Craigentinny instead of in Inglewood.  

Then John takes the stage with his band Cajun Country.  As well as putting together today's entertainment (booking all the acts, marketing etc.), John has also found time to put together and rehearse this terrific band.

There are few familiar faces onstage tonight.  On acoustic guitar, I spy Gav Monroe of Red Pine Timber Company and on bass, I see Thom Bubb (also of Red Mardi Gras- JohnPine and barista par excellence at 'Blend').  Rounding things out are Mike McNab providing some particularly nifty twangy telecaster lead and Ivan Sveda holds thing down with some great drumming and percussion (Update: just realised these gents are from Red Pine too!).

As I mentioned earlier, I have seen John live before so I know that he's good but I've never him seen with a full electric band before, and it's rockin' stuff!  'J' Etais Au Bal' begins with a syncopated triangle part and some of the most biting tele-playing you have ever heard, accompanied by a walloping, table shaking jug band bassline.  John, dressed like a latter-day Hank Williams, plays sublime melodies on his low slung fiddle, often while singing in Cajun French.

Gav takes lead vocal duties for a version of 'Promised Land' and the guys are joined onstage by David Oudney who adds his accordion to the musical gumbo.  Stuart Nisbet came onstage to add plaintive slide guitar to 'Dans La Pirson', 'South to Louisiana', and 'Cajun Fugitive'.

So if your friend asks you to come along and check out their gig, poetry reading or stand-up show, my advice is to say yes, it might just turn out to be awesome.  However, if it turns out your friends aren't as talented as mine and the event turns to be an abomination then next time they text you, you can reply with the old stand-by, "new phone, who dis?"

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