As he introduced their fourth tune in his refined Scots tones, front-man Magnus said ‘As you may’ve guessed, we’re not Serbian’, but this young London-based octet, inspired by the Boban Markovic Orkestrar and Kocani Orkestar, went on to win over the small but responsive audience at the Green Note. They just about managed to fit onto the very small stage, forming two arcs of four with the soloists upfront and rhythm section behind. The line-up is comprised of two trumpets, three trombones, one tuba, one tenor sax and a drummer.
None of the numbers had any lyrics and they mainly consisted of Serbian and Macedonian folk tunes, as well as one currently untitled original tune in a similar vein (suggestions for the title were solicited from the audience but none seemed to meet with approval) and a cover of Billie Holiday’s ‘Mon Homme’ (‘My Man’). Another tune was the popular Romani song ‘Ederlezi’. Most tunes began with the whole band playing together and then the rhythm section dropped out or quietened down to allow the trumpets, sax and lead/second trombone to take solos. These solos got decidedly jazzy at times and Christos, on second trumpet, really blew it off the scales on a couple of tunes, bringing a smile to Magnus’ face. Sophie, on sax, was particularly impressive and at times interplayed in a goose-like manner with Magnus’ trumpet. Stefan, the drummer, played a bass drum held in marching-band style, and hit the rim and an attached cymbal with a stick and the drum with a drum mallet. During several of the trumpet and sax solos he joined in with drum variations of his own. They played sixteen numbers in their two sets, clocking up eighty minutes altogether and seemed looser and more fluid after the break, possibly due to imbibing a Freedom lager or two and partaking of the air outside on Parkway.
They were all clearly enjoying themselves and after a while Magnus was grinning like a Cheshire cat. However, he does need to work on his introductions to songs as he initially looked very awkward in this role and had trouble uncoupling the mike from its stand, though actually this amused the audience and helped to break the ice. He invited us to dance along to a couple of their Kolo tunes, but there was barely room to squeeze past the tables holding a couple of drinks let alone perform a circle dance. A few women did actually do their own dance at the rear of the room to the final couple of tunes. The band may not be from Serbia or Macedonia but a good section of the audience clearly was, and they responded to the music with enthusiastic applause demanding and getting an encore. This was their first ever gig but they pulled it off successfully and are recommended.
They have a Facebook page, on which there’s not a great deal of information yet but there is a short video of the gig. They can also be contacted on 07917-308700.
Magnus and The Balkanauts will next play on Sunday 25th November at the Royal Opera House Late, 6pm – 9.30pm.