When the mighty Hot 8 Brass Band roll into town, you’d better be ready to go off! Probably the best known of the New Orleans brass acts, their raucous but sophisticated blend of traditional Second Line vibes, funk, jazz and hip hop is a life-affirming blast of joy and volume unlike most bands you will have ever experienced.
Truth & Lies had the pleasure of DJing and partying with the New Orleans legends in Nottingham a few years back so I popped down early to The Riverbank Bar & Kitchen to break bread and grab an interview (to be published in our new print project later this year) with co-founder, bandleader and tuba/sousaphone blastmaster Bennie Pete .
The band are burning through a European tour, often playing two gigs a day, so it seemed entirely valid that snare player Erol wasn’t entirely sure where he was having just climbed out the van from Norwich, but then he barely broke a sweat during a gig that nearly melted the venue...the man is chilled. Trumpeter, lead vocalist and party-starter Alvarez ‘B.I.G. AL’ Huntley threw me a ‘Eh up mi duck’ as a nod to our local gibberish and chatted fondly about the aforementioned party and gig though his memories were as hazy about the night as mine. Most of the guys were digging into their snack table so I hung out mainly with new boy (since October) and sax player Drew Calhoun, a real nice and smart guy with more than a passing resemblance to a bearded Marvin Gaye (Marvin being a running theme of the night).
The Riverbank isn’t specifically designed for a band of this scale and when the soundcheck kicked off in earnest, venue manager Adam began to realise the volume that these guys create...it’s LOUD..HOLY SHIT LOUD. After we informed him that the audience would absorb most of the glass-smashing frequencies from the trumpets he relaxed and was a great host to all including the liggers like me.
As the audience began to assemble, it became obvious that this wasn’t a city centre rock’n’rollers crowd. All ages, smartly dressed. They didn’t look the types to get in tight and roar like wolves. How wrong I was.
The venue couldn’t have been more packed when the Hot 8 took the stage and as they launched straight into their invincible version of Snoop Dogg’s ‘What’s My Name’, the audience burst into shouting, waving of arms and jaw-stretching smiles all round. They never stopped. Al led the call like a preacher, the wide-eyed punters happy to respond, singing (in tune!) along to the vocal parts of ‘Keepin It Funky’ and the band’s breakthrough hit, their superlative cover of ‘Sexual Healing’. Erol and bass drummer Harry ‘Swamp’ Thang’ Cook tore up the rhythms with Bennie’s sousaphone booming through the room leaving space for the trumpet, sax and trombone sections to play their melodic games. An extra nod to trombonist Larry for his soulful vocal harmonies under Al’s tough funk holler. The air-con broke down unsurprisingly at some point so members of the band were sometimes playing one-handed with the spare hand directing a desk fan between themselves and the front rows of the audience....everyone was hot that night.
After the gig, the band hung out to sign T-shirts and records, to hug the lines of adoring and overheated women and to be the centre of a hundred selfies. The Hot 8 know that it’s the fans who keep them on the road and getting paid doing what they love. The fans know that it’s the band and their music that keeps them feeling alive. It’s a good deal all round.
They’re coming back they say so keep your ears open for the rumble...
Thanks hugely to Martin Sanders for the brilliant photos!
Words - Ex-Friendly