The Schmoozenbergs at Bruton Unionist Hall

igotschmoozenbergsTHE Schmoozenbergs are a Bristol based group of musicians with a lively passion for gypsy swing and jazz.  Back for a second season with Take Art, Somerset’s enterprising arts charity, this quartet of supremely talented young men promised to recreate the swinging sounds of Paris in the 30s and 40s, bringing us irresistible rhythms and lyrical melodies with music guaranteed to put a smile on everyone’s faces.  And this they most certainly did – the large and enthusiastic audience, which incidentally, covered just about the entire age range, simply lapped it up.
The quartet, which comprise Alex Taylor (violin), Sam Stennett and Tom Brydon Smith (guitars) and Ron Phelan (five-string bass) were also as much fun to watch as they were to listen to as they effortlessly conjured up the atmosphere and excitement of Parisian bars and music halls with their heady mixture of gypsy jazz standards along with a number of pieces that were perhaps less familiar.  I particularly enjoyed the musette style waltz they played early on in the programme, which had me instantly transported to a rather seedy café I know close to the banks of the Seine, and their versions of The Sheik of Araby and the Reinhardt classic Nuages – which, sadly, are not on their CD!
The arrangements were consistently inventive and, at times, quite dramatic, while some of the actual improvisations were little short of astounding.   Ron Phelan on bass, in particular, played with an individuality that, at times, really seemed to be pushing the boundaries.   Sam Stennett on guitar also fronted the band and his light hearted yet informative chat between numbers helped set the scene and gave us a fascinating glimpse, both musical and social, into the world of Romany guitarist Django Reinhardt.  His line-up, which, of course, included jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli, didn’t feature drums; instead, the rhythm guitar would play using a distinctly percussive technique known as “la pompe” (the pump) which is what gives the music its fast swinging feeling and which, in an age without amplification, was designed to cut through the background noise of the venues in which they played.  Stennett and fellow guitarist Tom Brydon Smith took it in turns to play lead and rhythm guitar, each feeding off the other in a stream of constant and magical invention while Alex Taylor’s lovely virtuoso violin playing, particularly in the second set, was close to perfection.
On a personal note, two things could have made the evening just that little bit better.  The Unionist Hall, Quaperlake Street is pretty stark and although it may never be Montmartre or Le Marais, just a little bit of decoration (and maybe turning up the heating a few notches) would have helped support the overall ambience and secondly, it wasn’t until their second set, with a spirited performance of I Got Rhythm that anyone took to the dance floor.  In fact, it wasn’t until All Of Me, the band’s second to last number, that the dancing really took off, at which point, one hoped that things might go on all night.  In my experience, this is so often the case yet front man Sam, who, incidentally, had us eating out of his hands, could so easily have got people onto their feet from the outset.
If you missed the Schmoozenbergs’ Bruton gig they are currently touring throughout the region.  Find them on or, for their Take Art tour, book via   You won’t regret it – January nights in Bruton are not likely to come much better than this!

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