I’m not normally a fan of electro swing. If I’m being honest, before last Thursday I wouldn’t have recognised it for the life of me. But after watching the Zen Hussies performance at Cavern I’m just a bit converted.
Hailing from Bristol, the group have been together since 2001, and they clearly take their role as the revivers of swing seriously. They describe themselves as reclaiming jazz and swing from nostalgia, tagging on contemporary messages to ensure the music stays relevant. And it’s not just the music they’ve reclaimed from the past. They stick out just a bit, sat in the corner of Cavern dressed like they’ve stepped out of the 1930s, complete with spats, wide-ties and braces.
Their music has a continental charm, conjuring up an image of an underground jazz bar in the midst of some thriving metropolis. Swing and ska feature heavily, with the electro element coming from the bassist, who provides a more modern twist on a fairly traditional looking set-up. The band is complete with a trumpeter and a baritone saxophonist, introduced as “Miss Cha Cha Gabore”, which only adds to the time-bending feel. Most impressive though, is their charismatic front man going by the name Jonah Flatfoot. He dominates the stage with an engaging singing style, transforming the performance from mere background music into transfixing theatrics.
Their songs are upbeat, although their lyrics at times undercut this. Their set veers wildly from typical love songs to political rallying calls. ‘Double Shift’, and ‘Breadline’ seem to be attacking the current Tory cuts, but the angry left-wing sentiments could be transposed into any time, and when they’re being sung by a man who is wearing a tie made out of a fabric not dissimilar to my Grandma’s curtains, it’s clear the Zen Hussies are channelling the past in more ways than one.
Their music seems to come from a different era, both melodically and lyrically. Introducing their song, ‘Quafftide’, Flatfoot proudly declares that the name stems from mediaeval English and means “to have a little drink”. Niche doesn’t quite cover it.
With such an obscure style and sound, I wasn’t expecting a major turn-out, but a decent sized crowd make their way down to the Cavern. Some are clearly serious fans, seeming to know much of the Zen Hussies extensive back catalogue, but others look more like they’ve just popped in, enjoying each song as it comes. The Zen Hussies know they’re left-field, but they can play that well, and they succeeded in putting on a good show for the casual listener as well as for those who really know their stuff when it comes to swing.