“I’m looking forward to it – it will be nice to play in a big auditorium... The soul band that we have, we’ve played at Bluesfest a couple of times, but we’ve only ever played in the smaller tents, but this for the swing band will probably our biggest gig – so far anyway.”
The WellSwung Daddies, a ten-piece band of blokes who mostly call the Byron Bay area home, are local masters of the swing era, covering modern day classics from the likes of The Cherry Poppin' Daddies and Royal Crown Revue whilst incorporating plenty of fusion influences from the greats including Count Basie and Ray Charles. Steve Saxton explains that though it can be difficult coordinating such a large group of musicians, one over-riding reason makes it all worthwhile.
“Oh look, we have fun,” he chuckles. “And I like to think we're not a band, we're an entertainment group – we have fun! We get out there amongst the crowd, we jump up and down, yell and scream and have fun… We like to play music that makes people get off their bums… immediately people start jumpin' around and movin' and groovin'” he admits before sharing how the group formed.
“The horn section – which is two trumpets, tenor sax, myself, and a trombone – we've all played in big bands in and around Lismore; we all played in the Conservatorium big band, we also played in the Southern Cross University big band, so the horn players have all known each other for quite a while – probably seven or eight years. And we've all played together in different bands; we have another band, a soul band, and it's a similar line-up but instead of a male vocalist we have a female vocalist, and we do all the '60s and '70s soul stuff.
“We were talking one day, and we all like playing swing, but we didn't want to be a Glenn Miller sort of band… We wanted to play a bit more [of the] modern stuff, so we went for the Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and the Brian Setzer [vibe]; we also like a bit of rock'n'roll, so we like that late-'40s, early-'50s rock'n'roll, swing feel.”
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Scheduled to perform at the Brisbane leg of The Gangsters' Ball – a tri-state swing-dancing, cabaret and vaudeville extravaganza now in its fifth year – The WellSwung Daddies couldn't be a more perfect fit.
“We always wear gangster outfits; we all wear fedoras and zoot suits, and you know the wingtips – the black shoes with the white wing tips on them. So we dress the part,” Saxton says of the group's dapper presentation, which ties in with the evening's dress-code of 1920s to 1950s eras; anything from gangster to burlesque and rockabilly. “We'll fit into it real nicely – it's just our thing. And the vaudeville, the girls on in between our playing… it's all part of the evening. I just think we'll fit in perfectly.
“And you know the great thing about it is, if you haven't got an outfit you can just go to St Vincent's or Salvation Army and there's truckloads of gear there for boys and girls with that 1940s/1950s vintage look – you can get a whole outfit for less than $50!”
With their first venture into the city accomplished after a successful performance at the Brisbane Jazz Club earlier this month, The WellSwung Daddies are keen to keep returning, and the prospect of playing to a full room of people that share a special interest in the swing era is an exciting one.
“I'm looking forward to it – it will be nice to play in a big auditorium,” Saxton marvels. “The soul band that we have, we've played at Bluesfest a couple of times, but we've only ever played in the smaller tents, but this for the swing band will probably our biggest gig – so far anyway.”
The WellSwung Daddies will be playing at:
Saturday 15 September - The Tivoli, Brisbane QLD