Gig Review: The Rookery's Jazz, Funk and Afro-Beat Showcase
The Rookery’s latest instalment in their catalogue of Jam Sessions and Showcase gigs once again did not fail to impress as Newcastle welcomed Picnic, Ponyland and Agbeko to perform their own unique styles to an eager audience.
Organised by The Rookery Collective founder Joey Swindlles, who was extremely upbeat when I spoke with him prior to the main event:
“We always, always start with a jam session; it’s a way to lighten the mood, make everyone feel comfortable. It just gives people that are learning to play, and have no one to play with, the chance to play in a relaxed, no pressure environment”.
Joey spoke about how the jam sessions beforehand came from his love for playing
with other people:
“Playing with other people was the maddest experience I’ve ever had, that’s how the Rookery came about and then these sessions after”.
This astute individual hand-picked the three bands that performed and I honestly don’t think he could’ve selected a better line-up for this event, the acts encapsulated the fundamentals of Jazz, Funk and (in Agbeko’s case) Afro-Beat with their unique style and instrument selection.
Opening the show was Picnic, a seven piece jazz/indie band from Sunderland.
Their feel good ballads set the tone for the night and, as took to the stage and had fun, the group's aura radiated across the room.
The high point of the set, and one of the songs I enjoyed the most during the showcase, was their rendition of 'I Ain’t Got No Money', a song with the damning truth about what it’s like to be
broke and how it affects someone physically and mentally.
Despite the connotations of the song Picnic brought a feel good factor to the song, as the audience picked up on and sang along to a catchy chorus while grooving to the accompanying and distinct sound of the Saxhophone.
Picnic really do fulfil their tagline of “happy songs for sad people”.
Following Picnic was Ponyland, a Newcastle based Punk/Jazz group with Afro-Beat and Reggae
influences in their work. Hype was built up prior to their set, with Joey himself putting them on a high pedestal: “the moment I saw them live at a gig I just thought that they’re fucking unreal.”
He wasn’t wrong either, I’d describe Ponyland as something I’ve never experienced before and their music was almost trance inducing.
They are amazing performers visually, with each member donning a different mask and dress, giving off a vibe that they are individuals within this group setting. Individuals that can flourish alone but are even better as a collective.
I was taken on a journey down a path that I would probably have been tentative to walk down previously.
Ponyland's musical balance and fusion was outstanding, with that being their unique selling point this is a band I’m sure I’ll hear of again in the not too distant future.
Rounding off the night was Agbeko, an 11 piece Afro-Beat EthioJazz group hailing from Manchester’s up and coming music scene.
Their sounds are quite reminiscent on the kind of Afrocentric rhythmic sounds that got me into music in the first place, and what impressed me the most was the fact that their instrumentals were so good...and I mean so, SO good.
I would happily sit in a studio with them and just listen to them create sound after sound.
The African drums, amazing lead vocals bolstered by a full horn section, and then one of them had the audacity to be a flutist as well? Come on, it’s like they were intentionally trying to woo me, and it worked. I’m a fan.
My first experience of a Rookery jam sesh and showcase gig was certainly a memorable one and definitely will not be my last.
I’ll be looking towards the next instalment with eagerness and excitement, and you should make sure you join me there!
Words: Dante West
Photography: Andy Walker @andy198564