Going in to see Saedly Dorus and the Hoolie Band I felt a strong sense of excitement, but also fear, of the great unknown. All I really did know about the group was that their genre was described as disco/funk-folk, Discolk if you will, two genres with little overlap in the great Venn diagram of music. I felt this could have gone one of two ways: the two styles coming together and sharing strengths to form something more powerful than we ever imagined they could be (the peanut butter-jam phenomenon), or we would see two diametrically opposing ideologies clash with concerning and potentially devastating effects (the Cold War phenomenon). I am glad to report that this was more the former than the latter.
The mix of folk and disco was immediately visually encapsulated by the appearance of the group's bass player. The irrepressible maverick rocked up on stage with a deep sapphire bass which screamed old-skool boogie, but demeanour and attire which cried Harry Potter's grown a beard and swapped Hogwarts and Quidditch for a house in the Lake District and a nice long book. As soon as the music started the merits of this bizarre fusion were evident. The skill of the musicians in the group and the wide array of instruments the band employed provided a depth of sound lacking in most classic disco numbers. This was particularly apparent in their masterful cover of Chic’s disco classic 'Le freak'. The disco also worked to complement the folk, with the driving drum beats, funky bass lines and groovy rhythmic guitar riffs putting a sense of life and fun into music, which classic folk doesn't always provide, creating a style of folk music which you can happily dance to without fear. All elements of the performance were delivered with considerable skill, from the equally excellent vocals of Saedly Dorus AKA Steph Pirrie and the backing singers, to the frantic and tuneful violin. The band deserve credit for the sheer quantity of elements they incorporated, successfully creating a disco sound using both the double bass and the accordion. The success of this combination of styles was reflected in the behaviour of the audience, with a crowd of varying ages almost all dancing with enthusiasm.
The band’s lead singer Steph Pirrie also took on the role of a dance caller, regularly instructing the audience to dosey doe, find partners to dance with, etc. This created a slightly strange atmosphere, almost as if Barry Gibb was hosting a barn dance. For me, as a stereotypically inhibited young British boy, this added pressure to engage did not enhance the experience, and somewhat interrupted the flow of the gig. I feel the songs alone would have been enough to make people dance if they wanted to, so this live audience choreography was a somewhat unnecessary distraction and use of time. I did appear to be in the minority in this view however, as most of the audience engaged with great enthusiasm, but I do feel it is worth warning fellow non-dancers of this slight added pressure.
On the whole this was a very strong performance. The band managed to seamlessly merge the two styles of music in a way which created generally pleasant and entertaining music, and whilst I did not enjoy the dance calling personally, I never felt as if I had to dance and most of the audience appeared to greatly enjoy it. If you are looking for a unique and entertaining musical performance to let your hair down to, the Hoolie Band come highly recommended.