Dixie Ticklers tour Oz: young UK band with something old and something definitely new

Dom James and Nick Costley-White


LAST Friday, 19 October 2012, I had the opportunity to interview The Dixie Ticklers (all four of them) by telephone, which was a delight but a bit confusing since they all sounded like Prince William!

This is the Dixie Ticklers first visit to Australia, although since its inception in 2006 the band has built up a healthy reputation in the UK and on the European festival circuit as an exciting and energetic live group. They also have 3 CDs to their credit, the latest Standing Pat being available commercially in November. You can listen to four tracks from Standing Pat on their website.

Daoud Merchant

They must get a bit tired of being labelled “a young band”, but that’s what they are: average age 25 (the youngest 22 and the godfather 29}. And fairly unusual for a younger band, their roots are firmly set in New Orleans while branching out in some directions of their own, and choosing their style to suit the venue, the time of day and the audience.

The touring band comprises four musicians, (although for recording and some performances the lineup expands to include trumpet and percussions.)

Dom James, clarinet/vocals is the leader and the driving force and inspiration for the band’s style
Nick Costley-White on guitar
Tommy Antonio on double bass
Daoud Merchant on washboard and drums.

They’re halfway through their tour having already been in Melbourne briefly at The Paris Cat and Red Bennies, and in Burnie (Tasmania) for a workshop with local high school students and an evening concert.

Dixie Ticklers in Burnie

Some of the lucky Burnie students

The rest of the tour visits Sydney, the Jazz in the Vines Festival, Cronulla, Marrickville, Surfers Paradise, Brisbane, and then back for one night only in Melbourne at the legendary Grace Darling Hotel in Collingwood.

Here are the details for those who’ll be in the right place at the right time:

Friday 26th October. Sydney Jazz Club, Sydney Flying Squadron 76 McDougall St Milsons Point. 12.30pm. $10
(02) 9719 3876
Saturday 27th October. Jazz in the Vines, Tyrrells Vineyard, 1838 Broke Road Pokolbin NSW 2320
(02) 4993 7000 – website
Sunday 28th October. Cronulla RSL Club, 38 Gerrale Street, Cronulla. afternoon (02)9523 6833
Sunday 28th October. Camelot Lounge, 19 Marrickville Road, Marrickville. Doors open 6.30. Show 7.30pm (02) 9550 3777
Friday 2nd November. Gold Coast Jazz & Blues Club, The Arts Centre, 135 Bundalls Road, Surfers Paradise. (07) 5588 4000 Bar and bistro open 11.30. Showtime 1.00pm
Friday 2nd November. Brisbane Jazz Club, 1 Annie Street, Kangaroo Point. (07) 3391 2006 evening
Sunday 4th November. The Grace Darling Hotel, 114 Smith Street, Collingwood. 9416 0055. 7.00pm $15.00

Then they’ll be back home in time for the London Jazz Festival on 11 November.

In talking to the band, I was particularly interested to find out how they came to choose New Orleans/Dixie/trad jazz as their metier, given that it’s not the popular music amongst people of their generation. The members are products of the Guildhall School of Music in London which has a very strong jazz stream in its curriculum – both at undergrad and postgrad levels. As a clarinet player, Dom was attracted by the swing masters Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw etc. but wanted to go back “to where it all began” where he discovered the freedom and challenges of New Orleans ensemble style. By listening to recordings (sound familiar) he and his colleagues tried to recreate the sound. “When I joined the Dixie Ticklers, I had to unlearn a lot of the classical stuff I’d been taught, to pare back my playing to get back to the bones of the music”, one of them said.

“We rehearse of course”, said Dom, “but most of our practice is private so as to be prepared for the challenges of improvising and responding to other musicians at a moment’s notice. No two performances are the same.”

There’s no doubt that the band is hardworking, and has done its apprenticeship in the usual ways – street performances, clubs, pubs, festivals, jazz clubs (where the older members are pleased to see a young band playing their sort of music), even swing patrol dance classes. Not so usual, Dom James runs a monthly Jazz Nursery where young bands can get experience performing in front of an audience.

Here are some varied examples of past performances:

In 2010 playing in Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire.

At the London cabaret club The Impudent Muse, @ Adam Street, Feb 2012

Performing at Newham London Waterfront Festival, 18 September 2010

Playing for guests at London’s In & Out Club. Every musician must suffer this sort of inattention!

Fianlly after this long ramble, if you get the chance to hear this exciting young band, I’m sure it will be a special experience. Or at least buy a copy of their latest CD.

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