Battle of the bands: Gypsy-jazz - The result

Daisy BlacklockYouGovLabs writer
January 13, 2012, 11:58 AM GMT+0

Music fans find The Mandibles's unusual Clam Bake track more to their taste in MusicLab’s band battle this week

Last week, our mini battle of the bands focused on two players from a musical genre that many of our MusicLab participants were new to: namely, Gypsy-jazz, gypsy-swing, or ‘jazz manouche’. A style of music descent from the 1930s Parisian music scene, it heralds Django Reinhardt (pictured) as its figurehead.

Credited with revolutionising jazz guitar-playing, Reinhardt created a fingering system for solos which used just the index and middle fingers on his left hand (his fourth and fifth fingers were left badly damaged after a fire accident) – and for characterising the gypsy-jazz genre as one of energy, ingenuity, passion, depth, and improvisation.

Up next in The Battle of the Bands: Alt-rock tracks 'They're Young, They're In Love' by The Cape Race and 'Best Laid Scenes' by Broken Links

To gauge your feeling on this unusual genre, we gave you a track from The Mandibles – a band of seven from Bath – followed by a song by group Toe Rag, which has been acclaimed as 'Manchester’s #1 Gypsy Jazz Troupe'.

We asked you to compare one track from each band, and by a 63% - 37% split, The Mandibles's song, 'Clam Bake' curried more favour from listeners than Toe Rag's 'Four Hour Jam', although several participants said it was a struggle to choose between the two tracks.

1. The Mandibles's track ‘Clam Bake’.

First on the billing was ‘Clam Bake’, by The Mandibles: a weary tale of being on the New Orleans coast, and the experience of cooking up and eating freshly-picked clams.

A regular on the summer festival circuit, the band has been commended across publications such as Q Magazine, Venue, and Bath’s local music rags, as high-energy swing performers combining multiple musical influences – and a dead-cert for a good time.

2. 'Four Hour Jam’ by Toe Rag.

Then to follow, was Toe Rag’s ‘Four Hour Jam’. Toe Rag started out as a set of Salford University undergraduates coming together to pay homage to Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli (the violin to Reinhardt’s guitar).

According to their Facebook page, the band plays gigs with up to ten members on stage as and when the mood takes them, forging their contribution to the gypsy-jazz legacy, which (in their own words) is 'ragged, intelligent, and highly entertaining'; stretching across 'an incredibly broad jazz palette'.

But what were our listeners’ reasons for picking The Mandibles's track over Toe Rag’s instrumental gypsy-jazz contribution?

Some called it a 'close call', but here’s how they weighed up their decision: 

Here’s how both tracks did, from their ratings out-of-ten for various musical elements, to reviews submitted by those of you who took part. If you didn’t get a chance to review these tracks in the mini battle, why not listen to the tracks below and tell us who would have been your winner in our Disqus comments section?


Watch the band’s video for ‘Clam Bake’ on YouTube, or click here to join The Mandibles’s Facebook group.

What did MusicLab music fans make of it?

“Can't always hear the lyrics in the first part of the song which is a shame, as I think these are an important part of the story. This improves in the final part of the song where the lyrics are clearer. Love the free-singing parts, the voice becomes an instrument."

"I like the lazy feel to the song and the incorporation of brass which is not always in gypsy jazz. It has a humorous feel to it, which I like very much. Also love the bass sound, which keeps the rhythm going. Quirky and fun. I really like it!”

“Although not a fan of this type of music, I quite like this track and would listen to it again and recommend it to others”

“Can certainly hear the swing and jazz influences in this track. When are you playing near me?!"

“Cheerful, catchy, interesting instrumentals, quirky lyrics. I like it”

“Different, but kinda dull”

“Good feel and rhythm. Nice voice to listen too. Good mix of different instruments”

“I don't think his voice is loud enough in places. Good song though”

“I like the sound of the vocalist’s voice. The instrumental sounds like classic jazz and is played well. The production is a bit poor though and the track sounds grainy and like it is being played on an old record player. I do not like the lyrics at all, but it does sound original and is memorable.”

“I really like it – never really heard music like that before. The lyrics are mental though!”

“I think perhaps the addition of female vocals would make it stronger”

“I wanted to like it, but it was a bit bland. If a band is going to attach the label ‘gypsy jazz’ to its sound, I'd expect to hear some virtuosi solos at some point, but all the solos were very obvious. The guitar solo was disappointing, the runs in harmony were interesting, but a bit jarring. S/he needs to study ol' Django a little more and work on the picking style."

"Vocal style worked well, but not very distinctive. I enjoyed the lyrics. Drums, bass and 'le pompe' guitar were tight; perhaps a few more clever little fills would have gone down well though. Not a bad track at all, just nothing to make it stand out from the rest”

“I've never heard anything like it, quite cool”

“Like the music, like the vocals, but the lyrics sound like just reading out a cook book”

“Like the tempo. Foot-tapping stuff”

“Made me smile straight away; has a real upbeat, feel-good factor to it. Energy and musically, with a bit of pathos, you can't go wrong”

“Nice sound, funky, but a little bit repetitive”

“Nothing special about this track – I've heard old 78s that sound fresher and better”

"Could have been boring towards the end but the cool improvisations in the middle kept my interest levels up. Not sure I'd buy a whole CD, but pleasant and more than interesting”

“Sounds like they want to bring back the old sounds but have mixed new sounds/instrumentation. Works very, very well - the lyrics are lacking though”

“Well, I love the music of Django Reindhart and to me this track is reminiscent of that style but with a fusion of other more modern aspects, which work very well together to produce a most enjoyable listen”

“Wow – what a refreshing change to the normal pop tunes that are constantly blaring out. This is the sort of song I could relax to sitting in a bar after work (with foot tapping along to the beat)”

2. 'Four Hour Jam' by Toe Rag

Visit Toe Rag’s website for band info, music news, live dates, and to make a ToeRag music purchase.... 

What did MusicLab music fans make of it?

“I love it for its originality”

“Bit more 'jazzy' than previous track. Do like to have some lyrics, but enjoyed the track all the same”

“Even though not heard of the people named as inspiration I have thoroughly enjoyed listening not only to this track but also this genre of music which is quite new to me. Do you ever venture south of Manchester into deepest Cheshire by any chance?”

“Good tune. Reminds me of the music they used to play along to the old silent movies. Good foot tapping stuff although I'm not sure on what occasion I would listen to this song”

“Great, lively instrumentals, helped by the production”

“Has a really nice beat, makes your heart pump faster and would be fab at a party. I can imagine a whole room dancing to it”

“I didn't really like it I'm afraid – not my cup of tea! Too hectic”

“I do not like just listening to jazz music on its own without vocals. I find this track very repetitive and boring. I would not listen to this if I had a choice. It sounds like any other jazz music being played in a jazz bar as background music”

“I think the guitar is a bit misplaced. Reminiscent of The Divine Comedy's instrumental work”

“I'm really glad it isn't four hours long – though it does improve as the track goes along”

“It is a while before you hear the influence of Reinhardt and Grappelli but when they kick in it is enjoyable, although not quite what I was expecting. I am finding the persistent drum beat in the background a bit at odds with the guitar playing and can't explain why."

"It has a kind of Hungarian, Eastern European feel to it which I like. I keep thinking clowns are going to appear as it has a circus type feel to it. The percussion interlude is a welcome break. I'm not sure I would listen to it often at home, but think it might be a good song for dancing as it has a drive to it”

“Not my kind of music, it seems too cluttered and very busy, going nowhere with any of the scores”

“Production not too great, difficult to pick out the various accompanying instruments at times. Which is a real shame, because instrumentally the band are great. Fantastic bass, drums, le pompe, and piano. Lead guitarist obviously knows his/her stuff, great fun. Ah, yeah, fiddle, sax, love it. Quirky percussion section at the end is fun too."

"Loads of energy. Such a shame about the production. They should shell out some money and find themselves a decent producer – they wouldn't have to lose the live energy if there's the right man behind the desk. I wouldn't say the sound was original, but it's hackneyed-done-very-well”

“Sorry, not my kind of music. Sounds very amateurish”

“This grew on me as the track wore on, obviously talented instrumentalists, this track never let up. Definitely something I'd listen to again, despite its superficial simplicity, it is quite complicated and the sort of track you'd hear something new in most times you listen to it. Good stuff, nice one ToeRag!”

“Well-executed. More background than the other band. Has a looser feel”

“Would love to see them live”

Up next in The Battle of the Bands: Alt-rock tracks 'They're Young, They're In Love' by The Cape Race and 'Best Laid Scenes' by Broken Links