Terry Grimley previews the third instalment of Birmingham's internationally acclaimed L'Esprit Manouche festival...
Birmingham's L'Esprit Manouche festival, dedicated to the tradition of gypsy jazz immortalised by Django Reinhardt, returns to Moseley Park over the weekend of July 9/ 10.
Memorably launched in glorious summer weather in 2003 (the weather wasn't quite so vintage last year, but the music was), the festival is a labour of love for the enthusiasts who organise it.
But having started out with a spirit of dogged, verging on cussed, independence the event is receiving official recognition this year, with Birmingham city council chipping in £15,000 from its Urban Fusion budget.
It's one of two specialist music festivals which have been given recognition this year, the other being Capsule's electronica festival, Supersonic, at the Custard Factory.
Oddly, these two events take place over the same weekend. You might think the audience for two niche festivals wouldn't overlap, but L'Esprit Manouche's Berni Good tells me of an encounter with friends in Moseley who were working out with slide-rule accuracy how they could get the most out of both.
Having established that there is a strong following in Birmingham for this tradition of acoustic guitar-based jazz (and not just in Birmingham - the festival attracts visitors not just from outrside the city but from outside the UK), L'Esprit Manouche is now going on to demonstrate the wealth of talent working in this style. Surprisingly enough, none of this year's performers has previously appeared at the festival.
"We've opened it up a bit, but we're still keeping that same stylistic kernel," says festival organiser Dave Alexander. "We're bringing in people like Dotschy Reinhardt, Dominique Pierard and Benjamin Clement and Les Doigts del'Homme.
"I'm also bringing in a few bands from Birmingham - Trio Gitano and Fret & Fiddle from Sutton."
The striking Ms Reinhardt (not actually a Django relation, apparently) has been summed up by one specialist magazine as "a talented and beautiful gypsy Diva from Berlin with a phenomenal 'vamp' voice".
The same source describes Pierard and Clement as "an amazing duo offering variations on the theme", including a passion for the Portuguese Fardo style, while Les Doigts del'Homme "have knocked everyone out - they are amazing!".
Another highlight is an extremely rare UK appearance from Holland's highly-rated Rosenberg Trio ( Glasgow appears on a tour schedule from the early 90s, but this may actually be their English debut).
Initially building a reputation exclusively in the gypsy community ("They used to play round the camp fires of Europe," as Dave Alexander evocatively puts it) they later crossed over to perform with artists as diverse as Pavarotti and Shirley Bassey, receiving the ultimate accolade of being invited by Django's long-time partner, Stephane Grappelli, to take part in his 85th birthday concert.
Live music at L'Esprit Manouche starts at around 12.30 and goes on until around 11pm on both days. The L'Esprit Manouche jam sessions, which go on into the night back at the performers' hotel, have become famous in their own right and there are workshops led by Jonny Hepbir (Guitar) and Tim Kliphuis (violin).
Though not officially booked as a performer this year, Kliphuis is expected to guest with the Rosenberg Trio, having enjoyed his previous visit to Birmingham so much.
Even the catering, by Cobbett & Keen, promises to be something out of the ordinary, with charcoal & applewood roasted Duroc pig, Tandoori-style chicken, mint and coriander marinated lamb, coconut and chilli prawns, braised tofu & smoked tomato, plus a selection of tapas and sushi and a further blackboard menu.
The organisers are delighted with the support they have received so far for this year's festival from the city and from the public at home and abroad.
"We sold five tickets to Japan last week, and we've got people coming from Canada, America and all over Europe," says Berni Good.
"We have a massive reputation now in Europe," adds Dave Alexander. "And it's because we treat people with respect and like family."
* L'Esprit Manouche takes place in Moseley Park on July 9 and 10. Tickets and further information are available at www.lespritmanouche.com, or call 0121 249 2303.