Benoit Viellefon and his Orchestra

November 15, 2010


"I will have everyone dancing" - That's a bold claim... but it's one Benoit makes with supreme confidence when he visits the offices of Sternberg Clarke to show us a few sound clips and invite us to an upcoming gig. It's also a claim he reiterates in a bar above the Ritzy Cinema in Brixton; "I will have everyone dancing" - this time it's almost nonchalant as Benoit ties his silk scarf and introduces us to his band. Should someone tell this chap we're in Britain,  on a rainy Friday night in November and we're in the middle of a recession? Perhaps these guys have been tying their cravats too tightly?


But as Benoit and his band (of varying degrees of Frenchness) get into their set, two by two the punters start dancing... really dancing. Not only dancing, but dancing like they're trying to impress a Mitford sister with a belly full of cognac. Wrists become decadently limp, limbs waggle in directions that don't seem natural and heads are tilted backwards, braying with laughter as the band work their way through a repertoire spanning decades, including French gypsy swing, cuban jazz and even 50' s rock and roll.


As a band, the "orchestra" are extremely talented and alarmingly versatile, effortlessly shifting gears through 50-60 years worth of popular music history in the blink of an eye. By the time the band break into a distinctly 'Frenchified' version of 'Misirlou' (from the opening of Pulp Fiction) there's barely a genre of 20th Century music they haven't injected with a retro-Gallic twist and there's literally no room for anyone else in the bar to start dancing. Good job really, because I'd find it tough to arrange a gig for anyone who's seen my best Vincent Vega.


It seems unfair to pick out members of the band for special praise but it'd be a shame not to mention Accordionist Pete Watson's who's dabbled in everything from movies to TV ("they pick me because I'm the good looking one"), and then of course, Benoit's secret weapon; Eddie 'Tan Tan' Thornton who has worked with some of the biggest recording artists of the last 50 years. Eddie's forays into scat singing earn him howls of appreciation from the crowd and even though he's the only member of the band not adhering to the strict "berets, scarves and waistcoats" dress-code, no one really seems to mind.


And what can you say about Benoit himself? The archetypal French gentleman - so much so, you half expect it's an act; that you'll catch him on a cigarette break talking about West Ham's latest signing in a comparatively vulgar London drawl. But no, he really is that cool in real life. Damn him.