INTERVIEW: The Baghdaddies | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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The Baghdaddies, purveyors of Baltics-via-Britain party-starting off-beat gypsy-ska-blues-funk, are 20 years old this year, and they’re determined nobody is going to miss their celebrations. The very act of embarking on a third decade is an achievement in itself, with an inherent inclusivity built right in.

It all started with founder member Paul Susans spending time in bands in Europe, absorbing the multitudinous styles to be found across the continent, spending time with displaced people from the former Yugoslavia, particularly being influenced by the virtuoso Bulgarian clarinettist and belly dance enthusiast Ivo Papazov, and assembling a collective of like-minded musicians on his return to the North East. What’s notable about the Baghdaddies’ line-up is that they’re effectively two bands in one – they combine a traditional bass-drums-guitar line-up with the more unusual ensemble of trumpet, trombone, sax, melodica and the mighty sousaphone, all with just five members. So it’s no coincidence that their style combines eastern European influences – Balkan gypsy, klezmer and souk music, with British folk, ska and even punk.

Bits of the Eastern European sound have filtered through to the British mainstream in the past – one thinks of the pop ska cliché of Madness’ Night Boat To Cairo, or bits of The Clash’s London Calling – but core to all these disparate styles, the definitive thing that makes it all hang together, is the humble but powerful off-beat. Central to a wide variety of alternative styles, most notably reggae and its offshoots, this simple musical device is a powerful force for skanking across the globe.

People are surprised and pleased to hear their own music reflected in our sound, especially since it’s mixed with a strong element of English ska

Ziad, the Baghdaddies’ singer, takes up the story. “We’d been messing around together, playing in various styles of world music, including Calypso! Then someone asked us if we could do a gig and that was that. There weren’t many bands playing that sort of music at the time.” Central to the Baghdaddies’ appeal are their riotous live shows. “We honed our craft with street performances, that’s how we learned to perform. The sort of music we play, we can’t just gaze at our shoes. We’ve spent time performing alongside practitioners of street theatre and that shows in our performances. We’ve definitely got a theatrical edge, humourous even!”

What the world has given them, so the Baghdaddies give back to the world, and they’ve toured their hybrid hoe-downs far and wide. “We’ve played practically every country in Europe, including Bosnia, Romania and Russia, even China. People are surprised and pleased to hear their own music reflected in our sound, especially since it’s mixed with a strong element of English ska. All except in Romania, where I think they would have preferred it if we’d done some Beatles covers!”

Ziad reflects on the pros and cons of longevity. “We’ve just about managed to make a living out of this band for 20 years. Sometimes it’s slow progress – life and babies get in the way – but we keep going. Funnily enough, our current drummer was only seven years old when the Baghdaddies first got together!”

To celebrate their birthday, they’re throwing a party at The Cluny in Newcastle on Saturday 14th May, and releasing a live album entitled 20 Years Hard Labour, with their fifth studio album due to be recorded later in the year. Whilst all Baghdaddies gigs are not to be forgotten, this one promises to be a corker; a celebration of a proper Newcastle institution which will, perhaps, introduce them to a whole new generation of fans. Here’s to the next 20 years.

The Baghdaddies play The Cluny, Newcastle on Saturday 14th May.


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