“We’re all in this together”, World Connection records. 20th November 2010.
I first encountered Gabby Young and Other Animals at Glastonbury 2010, one of those wandering encounters on the way to somewhere else, shuffling my feet to the sudden breakout of a brass section. As I shambled past I figured I was missing something special but knew I wouldn’t make the same mistake again. So after they toured what must have been every contemporary performing arts festival that cropped up this summer and many gigs of all shapes and sizes, I got my chance.
Celebrating the re-release of their album ‘We’re all in this together’, the entrepreneurial and inventive gypsy cabaret act has had a truly dynamic approach to performing, marketing and touring. They have negotiated a major distribution deal with record label World Connection and they remain under Gabby Young’s own label, Gift of the Gab. Through their ornate online presence, the band created a fan base that was immediately about style, expression and being a bit of an animal. Offering different animal-named tiers of merchandise for fans to purchase, coordinating poster design competitions, running a mobile collective of wearable art and Gabby Young’s own style blog meant that GY&OA are a self-sufficient eccentric machine. And this was never more evident when they performed their folk cabaret wonders in cold November, at Notting Hill’s Tabernacle.
The Tabernacle is a cosy little venue, and very appropriate for the style of evening Gabby Young presents. A mini marketplace of burlesque and kitsch was positioned on the raised level, where I found the Gabby Young style boutique Gabberdashery. The audience is an interesting collection of old and young, all age ranges eyeing the collections or waiting in line for their face to be painted. Not an over populated gig, but the air is filled with a sense of intrigue, I could tell few were truly sure of what they have got themselves in for. This meant that many exhaled a delighted surprise when the festivities began.
The Other Animals come on first, all with a dash of decor to their faces to distinguish them. The true belle of the ball however is Gabby, bouncing on in a billowing blue Inbar Spektor dress. Immediately engaging with the crowd, Gabby Young’s energy spills forth and the entire room feels like a stage. Whether it was a slow number or a loud gypsy ska piece, the intimacy with which the band captures the audience is irresistible. At one point Gabby Young reiterates this relationship by throwing shakers and kazoo’s into the crowd, for us to become more animals for her band.
Loving surprises, Gabby had warned us in the weeks beforehand (via twitter, facebook and the like) that they had pulled out all the stops and on the night we would not know what to expect next. Therefore when another brass band joined the numbers of the Other Animals, I was anticipating it. However the stealth recruitment of a string quartet for their hauntingly sweet first single, ‘We’re all in this together’ gave a wondrous dimension to their rag tag ensemble. It was like nothing could make this band over the top, anything added only made them stronger and more vivacious. The Tabernacle was filled with the energy of a speakeasy and all anyone wanted to do was dance. It was with this energy that I felt that the encore of ‘Whose House Are You In’ came all too soon.
After the performance, mingling and scoping the merchandise was a must. This is something which is often circumvented at other gigs, with establishments shooing you out onto the streets asap, adding yet another distinguishing characteristic to this very friendly and excitable band. At the end one can see Gabby Young and an Animal or two networking and discussing the Gabberdashery art with gig participants. Moreover the band itself is like a walking art piece, with make-up on their animated faces done by Jennifer Nash no wonder that they have a rapidly growing following and are quickly becoming cult style icons.
My only complaint about this night was the length of the show, which was made more noticeable by the lack of a supporting act. There were several lulls before and after their intense performance, rather more like a theatrical play than a musical set. These lulls were probably for audience members to peruse the wares in the market but I felt it could have been put to better use, for the location and price of entry it’s not unreasonable to think a bit of a line-up would be in store. On the other hand, a different suggestion would be to accentuate the theatrical qualities of their set, maybe add an interval, add dramatic intrigue, add suspense, add an ice cream break and a costume change. Furthermore the set up within the Tabernacle could have been made more cabaret-style. The raised balcony level which surrounded the dance floor had church pews lining them, making for a rather anti-social seating arrangement than I thought this band would have opted for. Having been to this venue before, I know it’s potential and it was a shame that the market took precedence. Let’s make Gabby Young an official ringmaster for her strange art-embracing circus, not simply a front woman for a band.
The album ‘We’re all in this together’ is possibly one of the most interesting and least presupposing album’s of 2009. The song’s themselves are intricately webbed with blues motifs, but develop with a big band class. Their lyrical narratives aren’t overly complicated but this means that they can ‘play’ with the music more, meaning the songs are versatile and (like their live gigs) filled with delightful surprises. Singing, dancing and even air-trumpeting along to these songs is both easy and essential. They encapsulate the beauty and colour of the band, nothing can be grey while listening to this album.
It’s strange to say that Gabby Young and Other Animals are the epitome of a 21st century band, considering their leanings to jazz, gypsy, folk and big brass performances. They however are great employers of social media, marketing themselves on every interface and generating unique ways to interact with their fans. As an avid fan myself, when following GY&OA it does feel like ‘We’re all in this together’ and together we can bring their quirky, gentle gypsy anthems to life.
Photo’s courtesy of Gemma Hall, November 2010.