LIVE REVIEW: Ho Ho Hokum @ Cumberland Arms, Newcastle (11.12.14) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Rushing the festive season perhaps, but Ho Ho Hokum was another splendid Tea Pad Presentation that made even the hardest of hearts (ie, mine) feel a glimmer of yuletide cheer. Bristol’s slightly reduced Screamin’ Miss Jackson & The Slap Ya’ Mama Big Band kicked things off, their good natured and charmingly ramshackle blend of skiffle, jug band and country blues winning them new Tyneside fans and prompting the divine Miss Jackson herself to declare Newcastle her new favourite place.

For a lot of people in the Cumberland tonight, the main event was the debut gig by House Of Black Gardenia, and they didn’t disappoint. A veritable supergroup of Tyneside musicians, including Rob Heron on banjo, the eight piece feature a three-strong brass section augmented with occasional sousaphone alongside piano, washboard, drums and double bass. They channel everything that’s great about New Orleans music, from second line marches to sultry blues (it turns out frontwoman Bobbi Charleston was born to sing this stuff) and – a smattering of first night nerves aside – you’d never have known this was a debut.

Such was the partisan support for them, I almost felt sorry for the headliners The Corn Potato String Band, but they managed just fine. This trio of amazingly accomplished musicians (they win awards for this stuff back home, being certified fiddle champions and such) perform around one microphone in proper old Appalachian style and the interplay between the fiddles and banjo / guitar and the close harmonies is really something. At times, the material erred towards the more rawboned and dour end of things but they remembered to bring the hillbilly party from time to time too. Having already managed to organise a deeply drunken Geordie barn dance with no noticeable injuries, they were still playing as time was called and you get the feeling they’d had played for hours if they could.

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