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Review: Shrewsbury's Dazzling Django Fest (Part I)
14 Oct 2023

My Shrewsbury reviewer Simon Cousins comes away from the opening night of Shrewsbury Django Fest 2023 dazzled by the music of Django Reinhardt from some of the best gypsy jazz musicians in the world.

The complex genius of Gypsy Jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt is alive and well and Shrewsbury is its epicentre. Chris Quinn’s extraordinary programme returned to the town yesterday and its first night was a delight for a host of diehard followers who had come from all the over the country to relive the magic of Gypsy Jazz. 

Chris steps up to launch the three day programme by introducing the four piece ‘Django Reinhardt Songbook’, fronted by guitarist Cornelius Corkery and violinist Tobie Medland. Their virtuosity is underlaid with the bedrock of rhythm guitarist and double bass; Bob, in the seat next to me, has travelled from Oxford for the weekend and he tells me this is known as “La Pompe” and is a key ingredient of Gypsy Jazz.

The Django Reinhardt Songbook’s set (extended, because they cannot bring themselves to finish!) features swooping figures and soulful vibrato from Tobie and dazzling attack and energy from Cornelius.

They intersperse each of Reinhardt’s songs, such as ‘Djangology’, ‘Nuages’ and ‘Minor Swing’, with lurid tales from Django’s extraordinary career. This was the man who turned up late for a highly prestigious concert at Carnegie Hall in 1946, where he was scheduled to play with Duke Ellington’s orchestra. On the way, following a game of billiards, he ran into boxer and fellow Frenchman Marcel Cerdan (husband of Edith Piaf).  After an intense conversation for an hour in a café, Reinhardt hailed a taxi - which got lost -  and arrived right at the end of the concert. He had not even brought a guitar. Despite a huge ovation from the audience, America never forgave him.

After a heartfelt round of applause for The Django Reinhardt Songbook, Chris announces an interval and Gypsy Jazz aficionados meet in the foyer to share stories and to jam spontaneously on any of the four authentic guitars kindly lent for the occasion.

We retake our seats for a phenomenal set from Remi Harris, accompanied by his rhythm guitarist and. appearing for the second time that evening, double bassist Tom Moore.

Remi Harris pictured after the Shrewsbury Django Fest gig: Credit Simon Cousins

Remi, hidden behind curtains of curly hair, dives straight into the first two numbers with no introduction. It’s not necessary. We are instantly spellbound by a blizzard of runs up and down the neck, where every note counts and every note is there for a reason. Remi has developed his own style, where his love of blues is evident but never detracts from the integrity of Gypsy Jazz.

His mesmerising set includes old standards like ‘Over the rainbow’ and ‘I can’t give you anything but love’, original numbers like ‘Embers’ and ‘I’ve done my bit’ (the last words of Remi’s grandma) and much-loved Reinhardt classics like ‘All of me’, ‘Joseph Joseph’ and ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ (played with an all-metal guitar lent to Remi by a member of the audience.)

He frequently doubles the tempo in a flash, without a single note being compromised and he ends the triumphant set with the Beatles’ ‘Can’t buy me love’, receiving a standing ovation. “F***ing awesome!” declares my friend Bob.

On a day of constant rain, we emerge outside under a cloudless starry sky, our heads singing with Gypsy jazz and our spirits truly lifted. 

Tonight’s Saturday concert features Mozes Rosenberg and the Paulus Schäfer band (with Chris Quinn on guitar too) and Dario Napoli plays on Sunday with the Modern Manouche Project. 

Don’t miss this chance to hear the most gifted of musicians playing expertly before a passionate audience. Go to www.shrewsburydjangofest.co.uk to buy your tickets now!