The Red Hot Rhythm Makers – percolatin’ brilliant
There is a palpable buzz as the “gals” get ready. There’s no luxury of a dressing room, or backstage. This is the Edinburgh Jazz Bar, the temple of Jazz, and what a place to see Scotland’s six-piece all girl jazz band, the Red Hot Rhythm Makers. Heads turn as a few bars of Duelling Banjos ring out for the soundcheck, and then, after a brief introduction, it’s straight into Royal Garden Blues.
Led by Ali Affleck (vocal, washboard, cymbal, woodblock), the show is based loosely on the band’s project, Six Gals Named Smith, all of whom were singing or performing songs through the early years of the 20th century, and Bessie Smith, Trixie Smith, Ruby Smith, Clara Smith, Laura Smith and Mamie Smith, are the inspiration and the source of much of the content, along with some Ma Rainey and Memphis Minne.
This could probably also pass as the rudest show on the Fringe, or be a close contender. The songs of that era are rife with innuendo, and when they weren’t about sex in one form or another (percolating, grinding, and jelly roll, or lack of it) they were about sheikhs, strong liquor and drugs. I couldn’t help but think that a late night, post-watershed slot might have allowed Ali to go further as jazz educator in explaining the slang of Storyville, the sporting houses and gin joints of pre-prohibition New Orleans. She told us that the music was rowdy and famous for inspiring all sorts of naughty behaviour. I was relieved I had left my car keys at home.
There were lots of highlights in an all too short one hour set of classic songs. In fact, every tune had its moments, and not just in the lyrics. Percolatin’ Blues was followed by Lovin Sam and, by the time we got to Weeping Woman Blues, the audience remembered they didn’t need cheap drink or substances to join in the fun and clap the solos which were coming fast and furious from Kassandra E’ Silva on clarinet and vocals, Sarah Findlay, trumpet, Alex Stewart, trombone, and Danielle Price, tuba.
There was an up-tempo song about drugs, Jack I’m Mellow, followed by a slow tempo song about being broken hearted, Some Day I’ll be Gone Away, with the horn section on backing vocals quite scary in that recurring two-word refrain “Some day.” If that was the reception I was going to get I don’t think I would have gone home either after fishing in someone else’s pond – and what’s so bad about that, unless it’s another innuendo? Silly me. (1)
And that line “You always come home stinkin’ of gin” and the strident chords in the last chorus which made me think someone could be getting the pots and pans, clock, fire poker or worse hurled in their direction. Or the suitcases containing all their worldly possessions thudding into the street, propelled from an upstairs window. I could see the four guys who were loving it in row two looking slightly anxious.
Then a song about drink, Port Wine Blues, with guitar from Ali Tod (also banjo and vocals), and some gorgeous, mellow (that word again) trombone from Alex over the vocal.
Ali Tod took over vocal duties to sing about there being trouble at t’ mill. But this was no Lancashire song, oh no. And the mill referred to probably wasn’t the cotton mill either as soon became evident. Sung Q: “What’s the matter with the mill?” Sung A: “It’s done broke down.” And by way of further explanation “I can’t get no grindin’.” Obvious really.
Baby Face, again sung by Ali Tod, left the Julie Andrews rendition in Thoroughly Modern Millie seeming very prim, and Danielle really shone with an acrobatic tuba solo – as she did throughout, pumping out those bass lines for the best part of an hour.
All too soon we reached the end with another classic double entendre for a title, I Ain’t Going To Give Nobody None Of This Jelly Roll. This was stunning. The vocal close harmony (I want to say barbershop, but that can hardly apply to the girls) was brilliant. And Ali Affleck, for those who hadn’t got the gist yet, explained that the jelly roll in question was not the type that would be in short supply at a birthday party. So, having ended the last chorus on a double negative “I ain’t gonna’ give you none,” which semantically surely means you are going to get some, we were treated to a little more anyway with Gotta Give Me Some! All the girls got to sing and solo – and they all can sing – and they can all play like crazy too.
There is a long tradition of all-girl bands. From the Blue Belles, the Lil’ Hardin Band, the Harlem Playgirls, the Parisian Redheads, through to the bands of now, the Shake ‘em Up Jazz Band (just recently in Edinburgh for the Jazz Festival), the Diva Jazz Orchestra, and more. IMHO these lassies are right up there with them, and so they should be.
I don’t do stars on my blog because, well, in this instance, they all are. One tight unit.
The Red Hot Rhythm Makers. Get some – while you can.
They have several dates remaining at the Edinburgh Fringe 2019. See the Fringe programme for details.
(1) This is of course feigned innocent naivety. I was a huge fan of the late, louche jazz and blues singer George Melly who was a great aficionado of Bessie Smith and others of that era and would deliver their songs with every last ounce of sexual suggestion. I met him several times, at gigs and backstage at May balls back in the day where we were both on the same bill. He snogged my mum once, apparently in exchange for an autograph, and on that note ….