Every once in a while you can attend an event where the venue is as much a part of the experience as the event itself. Such was the case on Friday when I trekked down to London Town to The Troxy to catch Junun in concert. Having never been here before I was looking forward to seeing it for myself having checked out route planning and photographs of the building. I was not disappointed.
London is full of great venues but I suspect that if you are not a Londoner then the Troxy wouldn’t immediately appear on your list. It is, however, glorious. Refurbed back to it’s former art-deco grandeur in the borough of Stepney in East London it’s a real treat. Fair play to the developers (often a dirty word) who own the building for having shown real vision.
The exterior is dramatic enough but the interior is a sparkling time warp, a cavernous Grand Dame of a space.
Tonight’s band is Junun, the collaboration of the music of Israeli composer Shye Ben Tzur and The Rajasthan Express with the help of Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead. On the back of releasing their acclaimed self-titled album this year they have been justifiably riding the crest of a wave of enthusiasm and excitement.
The warm-up band reach for the heights and are immediately proclaimed Worst Band I’ve Seen in Years on the Monkey’s chart. Two drummers, two saxes, one bass and a vocalist plus volume. Double Morphine without the subtlety. Some of the audience loved them though so I guess that’s good enough.
But the anticipation of the evening is rising for Junun and they take the stage to huge applause. The audience is only 3/4 full but that’s okay. I’m sure we all feel that we are at some intimate secret gig and outside on the street are people shuffling by in the wintery London night who don’t know what they are missing.
The material is drawn from the album, extended and tweaked here and there, and the opening bars of the title track become the universal signal to get up and dance. Shye Ben Tzur’s songs are subtle, multi-coloured and devotional. Rhythms and melodies weave back and forth and often halted for breath. Imagine pulsing eastern drums, qawwali vocals and then driving through, the force of trumpet led brass. ( Nope? Go and listen.)But it’s not always full blast. The arrangements leave space for everyone. This is joyous music and a time to celebrate.
The Troxy gives you room to dance. The ideal place for a gig by Junun. We’re calling for the encore and I look around me and, especially in these times, am proud for a short while of being in an English, inclusive, multi-cultural society. All colours and races are here and we are dancing to a band from Rajasthan. It has to be said. And what a great band it is.
The following day they were off to play in Turin. I keep reflecting on the societal shift from humble Indian drummer from Pushkar to the global world music stage. Go for it, guys. Well done.
I can’t wait for the next time.