Gypsy Fire, SJE Arts, Tuesday 10th Feb 2015
There’s no doubt Gypsy Fire are incredibly talented but Tuesday’s gig felt somewhat disjointed and not suited to its setting.
It’s vital to firstly stress what amazing musicians the four members of Gypsy Fire are. They play fast, furious and almost impossibly accurately. Stuart Carter-Smith keeps incredible time, predominately playing rhythm guitar while Will Barnes picks and plucks away with nimble dexterity. On the bass, Paul Jeffries adds a bouncy pace and a rich depth to the overall sound.
Screaming out above them all is Ben Holder, whose ability on the violin truly is something else. You’re exhausted just watching him as he slides about every note you thought you knew, plus a few extra and he brings heartfelt expression and intensity to the whole ensemble.
Unfortunately the set and setting worked together to rob the audience of what I sense could be a really theatrical, whirlwind experience with Gypsy Fire.
The first half consisted of a rapid run through of musical history, starting with classical arrangements such as Grieg, moving on to jazz with 'I Got Rhythm' and the 50s be-bop classic 'Anthropology', and ending on a gypsy anthem. They were all great renditions, but a little untethered from each other.
The second half kicked off with a much weirder vibe: the group had changed into a kind of steampunk, Victorian gypsy look and launched into a jazzed up version of the James Bond theme. This would likely have worked in another setting, but in the SJE it was a bit cartoonish.
They suffered a similar problem with the sound. It was very good but very polished and engineered, which meant you lost that feeling of rawness that this more intimate gig could have offered.
Gypsy Fire then went on to play their own compositions: first a joint song, Royal Rush, and then one written by each member of the group. All of them were accomplished and interesting, but again discordant. Paul’s had a Latin feel while Will’s was more gypsy and alternative jazz; Stuart’s was soft and delicate and Ben’s was furious and explosive.
The music was absolutely engaging and enjoyable throughout and they got a standing ovation, but it was a strange gig that seemed to fall somewhere between the larger theatrical productions Gypsy Fire are likely capable of and the down and dirty, sweaty gypsy jazz that you might get from them in a small club.