Sunday, March 22, 2009

Review of The White Keys

I'm glad I don't live in Leeds or Harrogate. I'd spend my days in Betty's, spending money and putting on weight, and my weekends (or some of them, at any rate) trying to lose it again by dancing to the music of The White Keys. This is a jazz-funk band I saw recently at a conference.

They were good.

Actually, they were superb. Some people are highly proficient on their chosen instrument. Unfortunately, that's not the same as being a musician. Musicianship is proficiency plus passion plus a level of technical expertise that goes beyond mere competence.

I've often thought, changing the context for a moment, that the reason some actors are not convincing in particular roles is that they may have learnt their lines, and they may even have spent a week immersing themselves in a different environment to prepare them for the part. But when you look at an expert in something, whatever that "something" is, they walk in a different way to the rest of us, they hold themselves in a different way, they use their hands in a different way, and so on. You can tell someone's an expert because they make it all look so easy.

There was no doubt that the White Keys are technically competent. The rhythm guitar recalled the "chinky" sound of 70s disco music, and the horn section was as tight as a drum. But where they definitively showed their musicianship was when they decided to perform, as an encore, Mustang Sally.

Amy, one of the vocalists, announced that they were going to do it as best they could as the song was not on their list. I thought this was a bit of showbiz hyperbole but I was wrong. They really were trying to sort it out as they went along -- but the only reason I know that is that I watched the trumpet player, Matt Roberts, experimenting and then telling his companions when he'd worked out the right notes.

So, was there a cacophony whilst the band was groping its way to such a happy solution? Not in the slightest. In fact, one of my colleagues said that their rendition of Mustang Sally was better than that of The Commitments, whom he saw a few years ago.

I remarked to another colleague that I thought the band to be the best one we'd had at the conference in many years. His response? "By a mile."

You can download several songs from the band's website. Perversely, they don't sound as good as the live versions. That's possibly because the band seems to thrive on the energy of an audience. In this photo, for example, you can tell how much Sian, the vocalist on the left, is enjoying herself. The others may not be showing that so obviously, but they are clearly "into" it. That's the sort of thing I mean when I talk about passion.

All band members except one are currently at the Leeds College of Music, an establishment with a well-deserved reputation for excellence. The other one had been at the college: he graduated last year.

If you're looking for good entertainment for a conference or a private function, I can definitely recommend The White Keys.


Amy Syed - Vocals
Sian Chandler - Vocals
Huw Foster - Bass + Vocals
Rich Laws - Drums
James Sayer - Guitar
Pete Lee - Keys
Matt Roberts - Trumpet
George Grant - Alto Sax
Katie Ballard - Tenor Sax

Click here to view the band's website.

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TonyParkin said...

Came across this after a couple of months - and just want to say 'Amen and spot on'. A stunning and professional band - and like you I was knocked out by the quality of their 'busked' Mustang Sally. Turned into a groupie again (at my time of life!) by hanging round to talk to them after the gig - and unsurprisingly they were just as entertaining and enthusiastic after the gig was over. Nice people too - what more could any band bookers ask for! Whole-heartedly recommend....

Terry said...

Cheers, Tony. Re: groupie: you and me both!