Under the epithet ‘Bourbon-Soaked Snake-Charmin’ Rock ’n’ Roll Cabaret,’ variety show Gypsy Hotel is the North London crossroad where burlesque and cabaret meet loud live music. Having featured a wide range of guest bands from different genres over the years, it was only natural that an anthology should ensue. The resulting CD is not just representative of the monthly revue’s wildly diverse line-ups, but also a fierce blast of eclectic tunes and contagious rhythms.
The tracklist was compiled by show producer Paul-Ronney Angel and Hotel resident spinner DJ Scratchy, who describes the jumble of styles under their curation as ‘the rock and the roll of the world.’ Far from pretentious, the description is accurate, comprising everything from ska and bluegrass to mambo, flamenco and klezmer – all genres that surface in the CD, often in a single track.
Most of the songs in Gypsy Hotel Volume 1 fit into two broad strands. A preponderance of brass and accordion rings with the unique pulse of Eastern European folk, as exemplified by Delaney Davidson’s mellifluous I Slept Late and the Trans-Siberian March Band’s Sota, a syncopated extravaganza with Middle-Eastern hues of the kind it’s impossible to stand still to. Less exotic tracks, like the formidable mosh-pit assault of Fish 2 Fry by The Jim Jones Revue and Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down by Pogues tin whistler Spider Stacy, are undiluted rockabilly custom-made to boom out of speeding hot rods.
With virtuoso surf guitars and epic mariachi horns, Los Plantronics’ Bobby Peru wouldn’t be out of place in a Sergio Leone spaghetti western. The mix of genres is rounded up by the zydeco of Mama Rosin and Pub With No Name by Nigel Burch and the Flea-Pit Orchestra, a banjolele rag matching gutter lyrics to a sprightly melody in a fine turn of musical irony.
Tackling I Put a Spell on You as a male-female duet, the Deptford Beach Babes contribute a fine slow shuffle that evolves into a harrowing crescendo of noise. The Dixie vibe continues with Little Victor’s excellent Caribbean-tinted Iraq Blues, then onwards to country territory courtesy of Angel’s own Urban Voodoo Machine, whose Plenty More Room turns a tongue-in-cheek religious moan into a honky tonk sing-along with steaming guitars and cheeky marching band brass.
Simplicity has its place in a collection so prominently punctuated by elaborate experimentalism. Home Sweet Hackney by Walking Wounded is a punk rock anthem through and through, complete with infectious riff and deadpan protest lyrics about urban decay. For all its added folk instrumentation, the track keeps a straightforward upbeat feel with echoes of New Model Army, irresistible at first listen. Had it been released in the late 70s, it would no doubt be a classic.
Not all tracks have the same energy, though. She’s a Sham by The Fabulous Penetrators is run-of-the-mill rock like you’ve heard a thousand times before, while the repetitive accordion riff in The Dead Brothers’ Good Time Religion becomes unbearable by the second of five long, self-indulgent minutes. Romantic Ireland Is Dead and Gone by The Mighty Stef finds a fitting counterpart for the inane confessional fluff of its lyrics in the atonal drone of the vocals.
Combining the live euphoria of Gogol Bordello with crafty arrangements both exotic and candid, Gypsy Hotel Volume 1 is that rarest of beasts: a collection packed with musical variety, yet endowed with an unmistakable personality. If you think rock ’n’ roll cannot get experimental without losing its edge, you’ll be glad to be proved wrong by this indie gem.
Gypsy Hotel Volume 1 by various artists. Gypsy Hotel Records, 2011. £8.99 from www.hmv.com
Photo credits: Sin Bozkurt (Urban Voodoo Machine), others courtesy of the performers