Review – The Balagan Café Band at Bratton Clovelly Parish Hall 31st March, 2017

It was a wonderful  evening  at the Parish Hall in Bratton Clovelly, near Okehampton, Devon on the 31st March where a capacity audience were treated to the music of the London based Balagan Cafe Band.

Christian Miller ( Guitar), Richard Jones (Violin) and Shirley Smart (Cello) who together form the band, played some beautiful musical deconstructions of all sorts of music from Gypsy Jazz and Argentine tango to John Dowland music. They took the musical forms and wove them into new patterns with their virtuoso musicianship.

Particularly memorable was ‘Central Line’, written by Christian Miller. The piece began with a sparse latin gypsy jazz style refrain, led by the violin and accompanied brilliantly by Guitar and Cello. This was followed by a series of very impressive solos by Guitar, Violin and Cello in turn. Finally the melody returns and the piece ends in a final flourish  leaving  the audience applauding enthusiastically. We were also treated to Shirley’s Moebius Blues and Folk Tune, Christian’s Stomping at The Ajani and Malia together with Astor  Piazzola’s  Libertango and Fats Waller’s Honeysuckle Rose.

Balagan’s music is influenced by Jazz, Global Roots Music and world folk traditions and is distinctly original. Shirley, who spent ten years living in Jeruselum, is fond of explaining that ‘balagan’ is Yiddish for ‘mess’. There is nothing ‘messy’ about this band’s music – they work tightly together throughout – however this word does capture something of the freedom of their improvisation.

It’s not often that a fairly remote village in Devon is treated to such sophisticated and innovative music and the audience obviously appreciated their visit, judging by the hearty applause.

The concert the first of this season’s music and arts events produced by Bratton Clovelly Festival. Look for details of future events on Facebook and at and more details of the band at and their music on You Tube.


Martin Henning

(Martin Henning is a musician and teacher; he plays in a number of ensembles including Spinach for Norman, The Bootleg Swing Band, Poisson Rouge and Kevara and is also a session bass guitarist.)


And here’s some feedback from members of the audience:

’50+ years ago I was inspired by the guitar virtuosity of Django Reinhardt and have loved his music ever since. So seeing and hearing the Balagan Band was a real pleasure for me. And having such superb musicians come and play for us in Bratton Clovelly is a fantastic achievement of the Festival.’ BM

‘What a wonderful evening. I thoroughly enjoyed it and the nibbles and cheese were great. The music was superb. A big thank you.’ JH

‘Yet another very good evening of entertainment. Thank you. Three very talented musicians and it was especially nice to see a cello being played like a double bass.’ GC

‘We thoroughly enjoyed the music and watching the skill of the musicians at work.’ Y

‘We had a fabulous evening. Loved the music, loved the whole evening. The musicians were brilliant.’ JC

‘We really enjoyed the concert !’ SL