It’s been 10 years since I was first introduced to the crazy world of The Urban Voodoo Machine, and I have seen this East London based bunch of ne’er do well’s more times than I can remember. But what is it that keeps me coming back for more? I think it is the fact that every show is different, you never know what you are going to get and they deliver the most exciting and entertaining live show this side of the pond. Chief mouthpiece Paul-Ronney Angel also hosts a club night once a month called the Gypsy Hotel, showcasing the best in underground talent, whether that be rock n’ roll, outlaw country, comedy capers or fire breathing burlesque acts. An eclectic and edgy evening is always guaranteed and it’s all rounded off by the coolest soundtrack delivered by DJ Scratchy.
I’ve always fancied it, but never got my act together to go. Now, a combination of gig starvation due to Covid, a 15th anniversary show right in the heart of Alabama 3 territory of Brixton, and the added attraction of Jack White opening his London branch of Third Man Records in Soho on the same day. It seems the stars have aligned and I cannot miss this opportunity.
The Hootananny is a great venue, the perfect setting for this night in fact. Food, drink and conversation flow into the night before the first act Kelley Swindall takes to the stage to warm things a little after 9pm. The Georgia-born/NYC based solo artist blends soulful and whimsical folk with old school country to perfection. With a sparkly blue jumpsuit, a cheeky dollyesque smile and a Johnny Cash delivery she turns out to be quite mesmerising to watch and listen to in equal measures.
The skiffle scratch of ‘My Minglewood Blues’ fits the bills nicely and the tongue-in-cheek storytelling of ‘California’ is a hoot to experience. With a killer voice, a charismatic disposition and classic 70’s California looks, she sure has it going on.
Kelley has been touring dives and juke joints for 10 years, she sure knows how to work a crowd and you can tell these songs have been thoroughly road-tested. An enjoyable set that leaves me wanting to go check out more of her material.
Up next we have some old school burlesque entertainment with the cheekily titled Trixi Tassels. She struts her stuff to an extended version of ‘St James Infirmary’ and seems to enjoy every moment of her act as much as the guys and gals that are slowly but surely filling up the room. The whooping and hollering only spurs Trixi on as she removes item by item, ending up on her back removing her stockings with some feigned and brilliantly over-acted trouble. She even gets one undergarment stuck, hanging on the Hootannany sign right above her head where she threw it, and ends her show setting her nipples on fire for some flame-filled tassel twirling, much to the joy of the appreciative crowd.
In this age of political correctness, it seems so fresh and exciting just being entertained by one of the oldest and simplest forms of club entertainment. Long may Trixi Tassels twirl her twirly bits!
It’s been nearly two years since my last UVM show and I believe they have only done a couple of gigs themselves in recent weeks leading up to this show, but you would never know by their performance tonight. The gang are all present and correct as they take to the stage to the instrumental ‘Theme From The Urban Voodoo Machine’ and it’s like they’ve never been away. With more black than red on show tonight, the lead players P-R Angel and saxophonist Lucifire lead the band through a shorter than usual killer set of spaghetti western tinged rock n’ roll with heaps of crazy, carnival sized goodness. The ‘In Black n’ Red’ one-two of ‘High Jeopardy Thing’ and ‘Cheers For The Tears’ is like welcoming back two old friends. The former, an old school juke joint classic, the latter a more bombastic statement of intent. Both full of brass, both completely rock n’ roll.
Recent past singles ‘Living In Fear’ and ‘Johnny Foreigner’ fit the set just right now, and lyrically both seem more relevant than ever. ‘Orphan’s Lament’ is always a live highlight and the following ‘Crazy Maria’ has become a personal favourite over the last few years. Guitarist Tony Diavalo has come into his own in recent years since filling the Cuban heeled boots of fallen brother Nick Marsh (RIP). Here, he takes to maracas and mariachi style hollering to add Mexican spice to proceedings.
The new single ‘Empty Plastic Cup’ is a cool taster for the upcoming album ‘Snake Engine Oil’, which is due at the end of the year. Full of twangy guitars, “hoo-haa” chants, bursts of brass, and a killer chorus refrain to sing until the Tories are ousted, what more do you need?
The energy and electricity created onstage reverberate through the now packed room and as the temperature rises, the drinks flow and people lose their inhibitions and the Gypsy Hotel comes to life as the club night I always hoped it would be.
‘Goodbye To Another Year’ seems the perfect set closer tonight. A celebratory drinking song and a testament to all that is good about The Urban Voodoo Machine. Much more than just a band, The Urban Voodoo Machine is a collective who ply bourbon-soaked, gypsy blues bop n’ stroll music and every show is a party. They were on fire tonight and it’s a much-needed welcome back to one of the UK’s greatest live bands.
You either have to be very confident or very stupid to follow a set from The Urban Voodoo Machine. Luckily The Future Shape Of Sound ooze confidence from every pore. No strangers to playing with P-R Angel’s mob or even playing The Gypsy Hotel, Alex McGowan (aka Captain Future) and his band make the night their own from the moment they step onto the stage at around 1 am.
“Welcome to the Church Of Rock n roll!” shouts the frontman with a statement of intent before launching straight into ‘Toe The Line’. Their brand of East London street gospel is bluesy, primitive, and downright infectious, and the packed and sweaty room lap it up. The band is basically guitar, bass, drums, and keyboard, but the addition of a four-piece, all-girl backing choir, stand-up drums, and ace-in-the-hole lead vocalist Debbralee Wells makes for a massive sound that fills the room.
With a domino mask covering her eyes, more sparkle than a clear nights sky and enough black feathers to fill a witch doctor’s duvet, she cuts a striking figure, but it’s that amazing voice that brings the show alive. Tonight, she puts the soul in rock n’ roll leaving Captain Future free to direct the band around her. Pulling off the Ronnie Wood meets Johnny Thunders look with ease while pulling licks on his guitar, he nods and gives cues to the band, especially to stand-in drummer Joni Belaruski from The Great Malarkey who doesn’t miss a single beat all night.
‘Rise Up’ brings the party early. Like a mix of the Clara Ward Singers and the Blues Brothers hosting the party at the end of the universe, it sounds sublime. What I do notice is that, unlike a lot of gigs in recent times, everyone is dancing and joining in, ok so it is way past the witching hour and the drinks have been flowing for a good few hours, but this feels like a proper club show rather than just another gig. I love this. People of all ages are dancing, singing and falling over, a young couple are getting off with each other to my left and groups of young girls who have probably never heard the band before, or even been to a live show before, will have their lives changes…maybe forever.
The slow groover ‘Number One’ comes on like Aretha singing Alabama 3 and is a welcome breather before ‘Joy’ takes us to church. That cool Hammond introduction, the sweet soulful lead vocals. It kicks in, as upbeat as you like it. The band giving it their all. The full backing vocals fill the room and everyone goes wild.
Various UVM members join for the closing cover of ‘Help Me Jesus’ and then they encore with an alternative version of ‘Rise Up’.
A night at the Gypsy Hotel exceeded all my expectations. All the acts were on fire (some literally!), the setting was perfect, the atmosphere was electric and the crowd very, very drunk! I can see why it has the reputation it has and is still going strong after 15 years. The Gypsy Hotel attracts rockers, ravers, lovers, and sinners and we all come together to celebrate and escape the reality of everyday life to create our own reality.
Get a night at the Gypsy Hotel on your bucket list and thank me once you’ve recovered. The benchmark has been set for gig of the year.
Photos: Ben Williams