In Sydney last night, Kitty, Daisy and Lewis Durham from North London took the audience on a musical adventure from the southern states of 1950’s USA to the island of Trinidad and back again. The siblings, joined on stage by ma and pa Durham, delivered an eclectic and electric set of retro-inspired tunes that had the audience foot-stomping and skanking in equal measure.
The siblings broke into the limelight in 2008 on the back of their self-titled album, which was driven by a stomping country rhythmn and backed up by liberal use of harmonica, banjo and saloon piano. Listening to that album, you’d swear you were hearing a long-forgotten LP that had been abandoned in a barn in Alabama in 1955 rather than a modern record – let alone one that wasn’t even from America.
Their second album, Smoking In Heaven, was released in 2011 and is driven by that familiar rhythm, only this time much of the harmonica blowing has been replaced by the screech of a trumpet, while the twang of the banjo gives way to the upward stroke of the Ska guitar. What you get from the live performance is a big old mash-up of everything from both albums.
The opening track of the show was a slightly shorter version of the title track (an almost nine-minute instrumental) from the second album. It’s a teaser that gave the musicians a chance to strut their stuff, the ladies in the crowd time to pin flowers in their hair and adjust their vintage dresses, and for the men to tuck checkered shirts into denim jeans. Once settled in, it was time to swing your partner round-and-round as the band brought the boogie with a harmonica-led rendition of Polly Put The Kettle On.
That aside, the first part of the show lent heavily on the newer material, which has its musical roots in ska and calypso music. This therefore necessitated the early introduction of Eddie ‘Tan Tan’ Thornton on the trumpet to help tear through lively versions of Tomorrow, I’m So Sorry and, a bonus track off the first album, (Baby) Hold Me Tight.
With all members being multi-instrumentalists, the band seemingly changed formation with each new song. All share vocal duties and the drummer on one song will just as likely be playing keyboard on the next. Add to that the eclectic range of song styles and instruments and there’s little chance of losing interest. It takes something special to pull a song together containing a xylophone, banjo and a trumpet, but somehow it fits in perfectly.
The constant movement on the stage helped to keep the energy levels up in the crowd, and that kept the heads bobbin’ and feet movin’. Things shifted up another gear when the whole band took to the front of the stage for the crowd-pleasing hillbilly stomper Going Up The Country. For some relief, they slowed things down with a beautiful working of I’m Coming Home before leading into an extended jam that showcased Lewis’ guitar playing.
For an encore, the band picked tunes to cover the broadest range: the wah-wah infused instrumental What Quid?; the deep, deep, deep southern banjo sounds of Hillbilly Music and the good-time rock n roll closer, Mean Son Of A Gun. It was a suitably eclectic end to Kitty, Daisy & Lewis’ all-singin’ all-dancin’ old-time country, blues, calypso, rock and roll family good times party.
If only all gigs could be that much fun.