Review: The Blackbyrds electrify the crowd at Birmingham’s Hare & Hounds

  • Jazz legends The Blackbyrds drew a strong crowd to the Hare & Hounds on a rainy Sunday night
  • Their set engrossed the crowd and showcased the group’s veteran musical skills
  • London’s Resolution 88 filled the support slot and captivated the crowd

It’s a wet Sunday night. This is more often than not the kiss of death for small venues. Work in the morning and a warm house can lead to sparsely populated dancefloors as any promoter knows. It didn’t matter tonight, as for the first time in many years a Jazz Funk explosion was detonated in Birmingham’s Hare & Hounds, thanks to the sensational Blackbyrds.

Originally formed in Washington DC in 1973, the Blackbyrds were students of the late bebop trumpeter Donald Byrd at Howard University. Original drummer and vocalist Keith Killgo reformed the band in 2012 and they’ve been entertaining crowds all over the world ever since.

The Hare & Hounds has taken many years to build up its reputation as Birmingham’s home of funk, but it seems to be the go-to place for anything in the genre from brass bands to soul singers. This being the case, the empty floor in the infamous venue one quickly filled up as the cool jazz vibes from support act Resolution 88 wafted down the stairs.

The London 4 piece band have enjoyed some real success in 2015, they sold out the world famous Ronnie Scott’s club and this is their 3rd show supporting tonight’s headliner. At this, their final show of the year, they pull out all the stops to impress a captivated crowd, who whoop and cheer with approval from the opening bars.

Their sound fluctuates suggestively between Azymuth’s ‘Jazz Carnival’ and Herbie Hancock’s ‘Chameleon’, peppered beautifully with intricate chord changes and an intimacy that only accomplished musicians can achieve. Band leader and pianist Tom O’Grady recounts an emotional history with the band he’s here to support, in a heart-warming speech at the pinnacle of the set. “I’ve said this every night on this tour, but the Blackbyrds are an important band to me. When my dad dropped me off at university, it was a Blackbyrds record that soundtracked the whole experience. My first car had a Blackbyrds tape in it… ever since I discovered this type of music, they’ve always been a favourite of mine, and now to be able to share the stage with them is a real honour…”

As their opening set draws to a close, the crowd are respectful to their southern visitors with a deserved ovation, and in an act of true jazz camaraderie, all four players can be seen enjoying the main event from the thick of the crowd with the rest of us.

As the dressing room door flies open, an array of Blackbyrds flies out of it. Well turned out and smiling from ear to ear, the reformed line up proceed to intoxicate the Sunday night crowd, now packed at capacity into the Hare & Hounds main room, making every soul dance, or tap their feet at the very least.

Drummer Keith Killgo is the man responsible for reforming the band, and he takes on the master of ceremonies role, stepping out from behind his drums on several occasions to talk to the fans and dance around the stage. The room heats up at the midpoint of the set as the band energetically rattles through billboard hits ‘Do it, Fluid’ and ‘Walking in Rhythm’, with the people in the room locked into it from start to finish.

After a roaring drum solo, Killgo comes back out front to introduce his band. They are a who’s who of jazz musicians, some of them with touring credentials from the likes of Roy Ayers and Fishbone to name but a few. He makes a point of namechecking his friend and mentor Donald Byrd. “Music was Donald’s message, and we all have to keep his vision alive…” he says, “Because y’all must remember, we used to have this thing called music, and you don’t see it much no more…”

This profound statement leads into the final song of the set, or so it would seem. The room gets loud enough to prompt a 3 song encore, culminating in the classic ‘Rock Creek Park’ to send the electrified audience home more than happy. The Blackbyrds are seasoned professionals, and in an evening that showcased road-tested nostalgia and the shape of things to come, both acts on the bill delivered. We’ll look forward to seeing them all again.