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Evan Christopher's Django à la Créole

Yellow Arch Studios, Sheffield 
Thursday 8 October 2015 

The old abandoned Victorian factory workshops in the Neepsend area of Sheffield provides an alluring setting for the complex of creative spaces that make up the Yellow Arch Studios. In recent years the studios have provided recording and rehearsal spaces for the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Goldfrapp, Jarvis Cocker, Richard Hawley, The Albion Band and many other local and national artists of note. The studio also now provides a performance stage with an almost Bohemian-feel, perfect for an outfit like Evan Christopher's Django à la Créole, one of the most dazzling bands to emerge in recent years to celebrate the music of New Orleans and the gypsy jazz of Django Reinhardt. 

Opening with an impassioned plea for the local charity ASSIST, an organisation set up to help destitute asylum seekers in the Sheffield area by providing accommodation, food and support, promoter Andy Whitehouse encouraged the audience to dig deep to help this particular section of the community, who really do need it the most. For Andy's first ever event at this venue, he was also keen to show his gratitude to the staff at Yellow Arch for making him and tonight's performers feel so welcome.

With the Yellow Arch banner dominating the backdrop, its setting sun illuminating the Sheffield skyline, the concert room effortlessly pays homage to this city's musical heritage, with photographs of the Human League and Richard Hawley displayed on the surrounding painted brick walls. An upended baby grand piano is shackled to the wall at the side of the stage, with upturned umbrellas hanging from the rafters as the candle-lit room filled with a crowd of discerning music fans eager to hear a band that Andy has been describing as 'some of the greatest musicians of all time'.

After the introduction, the musicians approached the stage from the back of the room, with Don Vappie 'wearing' his guitar as he strolled through the packed room. Later Don would claim that the room reminded him of the smoky jazz joints of New Orleans from an era long gone, hastily reminding the audience not to actually smoke. Even the creaking stage floorboards added to the mystique of the place. The room would be smoking in an entirely different way before the first set was over. 

After the two guitarists, the rhythm guitarist being Dave Kelbie, settled themselves in their seats and Sebastian Girardot picked up his double bass, Evan Christopher appeared from back stage with his clarinet in his hands, thanking the audience for coming out mid-week, "this is Thursday night, don't you have jobs?" Evan went on to give a brief introduction as to the aims and purposes of Django à la Créole; "it's an opportunity to musically blend two different worlds, the world of Django Reinhardt's gypsy swing and the music of New Orleans." The 'Creolising' of this music combined with influence of the Caribbean, Cuba and Brazil, creates a sultry sound, which was pretty much conducive to the surroundings tonight.

Opening with Django Reinhardt's sublime Douce Ambiance, followed immediately without introduction by the flighty toe-tapper That's a Plenty, which introduced Vappie's self-designed banjo albeit due to a technical issue with his guitar midway through, set out the course of the evening in stylish fashion. Jelly Roll Morton's Mamanita was treated to a Spanish flavour, with some fine clarinet soloing throughout. Evan's control over his instrument was no better exemplified than on the band's fine interpretation of Duke Ellington's The Mooche, which also featured some virtuoso playing courtesy of both Don Vappie and Sebastian Girardot. Evan joked with guitarist Dave Kelbie, saying that up until meeting the clarinettist it was all just chomp chomp chomp. "You can't go back now though can you?" Testament to each of the players' contribution to this music. 

Evan shared his joy of having New Orleans' guitarist Don Vappie on this particular tour, replacing the band's regular guitarist David Blenkhorn. Don was given the spotlight on a couple of things during the two sets, including Buddy Bolden's Blues, a jazz crooner if ever there was one. Don compared the song to a 'picture book of New Orleans', the place where the musician grew up.

Peppered with anecdotal stories of the days of Duke Ellington, Django Reinhardt, Sidney Bechet and Johnny Hodges, with just the one vocal performance by Evan himself, If I Could Be With You One Hour Tonight, which was an audience request, the music was of a high standard throughout the two sets, with featured spotlight solos from all four musicians. Most definitely an ensemble performance, with each musician afforded the space to truly step up to the mark, which all four did. A memorable performance for an inaugural night.   

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky

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