Ninotchka play a wide mix of Irish, Gypsy, Klezmer and East European folk music, but the duo comes from Midsomer Norton in Somerset. Violinist Nik does have a Hungarian grandma, though. The group’s name means ‘Little Nina’ in Russian and refers to Nik’s late violin teacher.
With Nik on violin and vocals and Syd on semi-acoustic guitar and vocals Ninotchka performed twenty-one numbers in their two sets with a few of these being short medleys. Visually the duo look very different with Nik having a hipster beard while Syd has long hippy hair and a big hat, which he didn’t take off till the break despite the high temperature in the room. Nik did most of the chat between songs and he entertained the audience, a number of whom were family and friends it has to be said, with the tale of how their first ever proper gig was at Glastonbury Festival. He also mentioned that when he and Syd were communicating about which key a song was in, they didn’t just say A, E or G but would have, for example, a Lord of the Rings theme with ‘A’ being Aragon, ‘E’ elf and ‘G’ Gimli.
Most of the songs were fast paced but several started slowly and gradually crescendoed. The majority were instrumentals and they came from a wide variety of sources. We had Irish jigs with names like ‘The Devil’s Tapdance’ and ‘Irish Washerwoman’, a Moldovan circle dance, a medley called ‘Romanian Nightmare’, ‘Macedonian Girl’, their interpretation of the traditional Greek song ‘Miserlou’ performed by the late great surf-rock guitarist Dick Dale on the soundtrack of ‘Pulp Fiction’, Brahms’ ‘Hungarian Dance No 5’, a Russian Gypsy dance suite and a Belgian Gypsy jazz number. For most of these Nik took the lead and Syd played rhythm but Syd could certainly pick out a rapid guitar line when required. There were several non-dance songs to add some light and shade to the performance including a Romany Gypsy lament in which a big bird tells a small bird about how hard the gypsy life can be.
Syd sang a solo song which was his own composition entitled ‘That Girl She’s Trouble’ while accompanying himself on guitar. The song was in stark contrast to the other material but was equally well-received. He followed this up with a cover version of ‘Postcards From Italy’. Many of their tunes were meant for dancing to, though the basement in the Green Note is small and with twenty-five or so people present very little room was left for movement. This didn’t stop most people though, as for the final medley they got to their feet and at least found room to sway around a bit. For one song, the band used a phone to play a backing track, a guitar I think, and this didn’t work for me as Syd was sitting there holding his guitar throughout – but maybe I missed something…
Ninotchka played for almost an hour-and-a-half, putting a lot of energy into both sets and received loud applause throughout. This was their second gig at the Green Note and on the strength of this, they’ll surely be back again.
Ninotchka have a CD available and you can find out more about them on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/NinotchkaBand/