Could a blend of Balkan gypsy jazz, Celtic influences and dhol drums be the new sound of Birmingham? Terry Grimley meets Louis Robinson, founder of the dazzling Destroyers.
The idea that big bands would one day make a comeback used to be a running joke in the music business, but then in the 1980s they did, in the eccentric form of Loose Tubes.
This musically-accomplished but whimsical outfit introduced a whole new generation of jazz musicians who refreshed the British scene, helping to pave the way for its current vibrancy.
Now Birmingham can boast something similar in spirit, if somewhat different in musical style. The Destroyers is a 15-piece outfit of exceptional technical quality which plays a rich blend of Balkan folk music, jazz, Celtic and other influences.
With an instrumental palette that includes fiddles, brass, clarinet, electric and acoustic guitars, accordion and hurdy-gurdy, the band is a musical whirlwind which has sucked in a number of musicians already well-known on the Birmingham scene, including jazz trumpeter Percy Pursglove and bassist Frank Moon, Trio Gitano guitarist Jamie Fekete and veteran Irish singer-songwriter Paul Murphy, former proprietor of Birmingham's Songwriters' Café.
The band has an ongoing collaboration with Punjabi percussion outfit Dhol Blasters, and you get the feeling that it's ready to hoover up anything or anyone that might add an interesting new flavour to its rich musical recipes.
It is testimony to Birmingham's multicultural scene and also to the open-endedness of Birmingham Conservatoire, where founder Louis Robinson arrived to study violin in 1999, later switching to composition.
"Already by that stage I realised that my interest was more in world music and folk music, rather than straight classical music," he recalls. "I finished off my degree and my major project was a world music concert in which I had a variety of different instruments - tabla, live electronics and all sorts.
"That sparked my interest in running a band. At the same time I was living in a large house owned by Earl Falconer, the old bass player of UB40. It was an incredible place with an amazing cellar, so we thought we would start running some parties. We didn't really want to have parties per se - we wanted them to be interactive, so we invited lots of musicians.
"There were some great musicians coming down because they heard about it. We did that for two or three years and Speedwell Road parties became quite well known. Eventually it got out of control and I was pleased to get out in the end.
"All the members of the band started playing together through these late-night jam sessions. From there, after I finished my degree I thought about bringing it together in a band. The core of it was my interest in Eastern European and gypsy music.
"I got four or five people together and it just grew. In the winter of 2004 we went and busked at the German market for a few weeks, and that's how it started. Then Tony Dudley-Evans from Birmingham Jazz offered us a gig and it just kind of went from there. It grew and now it's a 15-piece ensemble."
Initially the repertoire relied on transcriptions of authentic gypsy groups like Tarif de Haidouks, and Destroyers recordings you can hear on their website and Myspace page include a rare snippet of the Modern Jazz Quartet's Django.
The band has gradually built up a repertoire of original music, with Louis and his fellow violinist Leighton Hargreaves making major contributions alongside selections from Paul Murphy's extensive songbook, which dates back decades.
As well as straightforward gigs, which included a string of festivals last summer, The Destroyers are up for one-off projects which have included performing live soundtracks to silent films as different as Nosferatu and the recently-discovered Mitchell & Kenyon documentary shorts. In June they are planning a major Bollywood-flavoured collaboration with the Dhol Blasters at the Town Hall.
This year will also see the release of a debut album, which has already been recorded.
"It's been quite hard writing that amount of original material for a band of this size," says Louis. "It's taken us a while but now we're in that situation where we've recorded our first album and we're preparing to release it.
"We decided to do it ourselves, working with Gavin Monaghan at Magic Garden in Wolverhampton. He's done The Editors and The Twang, and he did the Nzlopi no 1. He's been doing really well, and we did really well to get him."
The economics of running a 15-piece band are obviously challenging, as are the logistics - particularly as the band's personnel has become geographically dispersed.
"It's had lots of different members along the way, but the line-up isn't really fluid now, it's pretty set.
"But our drummer has moved to London, our trumpeter has moved to Brighton and our clarinetist has moved to Liverpool. It makes it increasingly difficult to get people together, but the core of the band is still here.
"It just changes things slightly. You have to be more organised, and we can't do as many spur-of-the-moment gigs."
Financially, the band is poised at a crossroads, considering whether it should go down the subsidised arts route. Louis admits to being ambivalent: "It's really taken off this last year, we've been really busy, and we've got lots in the pipeline as well, but it is a struggle. We have to get paid and we try to hike our fees up, and that's partly by getting our name getting slightly more known, but we're just starting to get some funding applications in.
"We are an ensemble that's definitely doing some interesting things, crossing borders and working with different groups. At the same time my instinct is I don't want to be funded, because it's a band and it should work as a band and it should stand on its own feet.
"Up to this point we've been very much on a wave of enthusiasm. It's only now that we've done a full summer of festivals that it comes to crunch time. We need to get money into the band to get some rewards for our endeavours."
The Destroyers and the Dhol Blasters play Birmingham Jazz's Rush Hour Blues session at the Symphony Hall Bar on Friday, 5.30pm. Admission free