Explosive Cork Jazz Festival: The Big Brass Band Bang!

Ronan Leonard says a three-in-one concert featuring the OhnO! Jazzband, Hyde Park Brass and Les Fanflures promises to be an exhilarating concert
Explosive Cork Jazz Festival: The Big Brass Band Bang!
Les Fanflures

Ronan Leonard says a three-in-one concert featuring the
OhnO! Jazzband, Hyde Park Brass and Les Fanflures promises
to be an exhilarating concert

Three of the most popular brass bands to have played the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival Trail in recent years; The OhnO! Jazzband, Hyde Park Brass and Les Fanflures, are joining together this year for a very special concert on Saturday at 2pm in The Everyman. Between them they have played to thousands and thousands of Cork people over the years and at this concert all three will be playing back to back, with each bringing their high energy style to the venue, it promises to be one of the most exhilarating concerts of the whole festival. As the festival pronounces “one afternoon, one venue and three big brass bands means only one thing... The Big Brass Band Explosion”

Gabriel Ray, the trombonist and founding member of Les Fanflures, talks very fondly of playing in Cork and is very aware of the respect they are given, “in France we play mostly on the streets, and in Northern Europe we play mostly at music festivals. We've toured a lot in The Netherlands, Spain, Ireland and the UK. Each one has quite different audiences and organisations… one thing we love about Ireland and the United Kingdom is that they aren’t afraid to put brass bands on stages!”

Gabriel and the band relish the chance to perform in more formal venues than bars and the street, “playing on a stage gives us the opportunity to play more clearly, people can really listen to the choruses, and it gives us all as musicians a lot of space to play with a lot MORE detail, the extra opportunities for anyone singing is also great.”

However he was quick to clarify that he doesn’t dislike playing on the street or bars, “don’t get me wrong, we love to play everywhere, when we are performing on the street, it gives us the opportunity to move and play very close to people, and usually it gives a good energy going back and forth when people see musicians so close. Bars… bars are for partying, we're a bit loud in bars, so we need people to party a lot if we play there, and fortunately Irish people do party well.”

Gabriel’s journey to forming Les Fanflures was in one way a straightforward one, but it did involve a long trip, “in 2013 I went to New Orleans for 3 months as a music trip. It was a big meeting of things for me with New Orleans Music; the roots of Jazz, and of course the home of second line brass music.” Second line brass band is occasionally referred to as “the quintessential New Orleans art form – a jazz funeral without a body”. In a New Orleans Brass Band parade, the ‘main line’ or ‘first line’ is the main section of the parade, essentially those musicians with a parade permit, and their audience. Those musicians who are playing behind the group at the front of the parade are called the "second line". Beyond those musical epiphanies, Gabriel highlighted another element that made his trip to New Orleans so memorable “as well as the music, I also discovered other elements of the Louisiana culture; lifestyle and food.”

It didn’t take long for Gabriel to turn this experience into starting his own band, “in 2014, I formed a group with 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, 1 sax, 2 drums and 1 sousa - that 8 piece line up is the standard New Orleans power brass ensemble. We began with second line brass band standards, inspired by bands like the Rebirth Brass Band [who had a huge influence on the acclaimed HBO series ‘Treme’] and Hot 8 Brass Band, but now more than half of our repertoire is original material. We try to combine bits of second line music, and more personal stuff with a lot of singing, hip hop feeling, and very heavy riffs. We called it "heavy funk."

Gabriel has an interesting way of expressing how the group dynamic of Les Fanflures works, “it feels a bit like being in a football team, it feels so good to be 8 musicians, and exactly playing riffs together as tight as we can… it is a very different feeling than being in a small group with lot of ‘self expression’... and then of course we all get to do solos to share our own personality.”

He continued the metaphor when he describes what playing a trail at a Jazz festival is like, “it really is a sport, in the sense that we have sometimes 3 gigs a day, so it's very very exhausting but fuuuuulllll of expressing ourselves and pushing ourselves to the limit.”

Les Fanflures know their fellow bands from crossing paths at the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival in previous years, “we’ve seen them play and love ‘em, they have a very good presence and nice feeling.” Gabriel is enthusiastic about the three bands playing together, “we may prepare it in advance, because it’s a very good idea to be a kind of ‘super band’, but we might also just decide to do in the moment in the spirit of Jazz.”

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