There’s a Babylon Circus story – involving the Irish police, a crazy street chase and eventual arrest – which illustrates perfectly the craziness and charisma of this raucous French band.
Vocalist and guitar player David Baruchel, who is heading to Adelaide with the group in January, tells InDaily it began when they decided “just for fun” to give an impromptu free performance in the streets of Dublin.
Intrigued by the sight and sound of the 10-member menagerie playing their unique fusion of reggae/funk/gypsy/swing on a range of acoustic instruments, a small crowd quickly gathered.
And it grew and grew until it was suddenly so large it blocked a nearby lane.
Unlike Adelaide, Dublin clearly wasn’t pushing the vibrancy agenda. A policeman came – twice – asking them to cease and desist. After the second warning, appreciative audience members bought the band members drinks.
“The same policeman came for a third time and told us it was forbidden to drink in the street,” Baruchel says.
“So one of the guys argued with him, and the policeman said he was under arrest. So he ran and the policeman chased him and we all chased them … it was like in a Benny Hill show!”
The wandering minstrels had a very different experience when they played in the streets in Syria.
“In 2003 we played in Damascus in the street but the policemen there were clapping their hands with us … some shops in the market even closed so they could listen to us.
“It was the first time we had played for such a mixed crowd. It was very powerful, because they do not speak English, they do not speak French, but they could feel the energy and we could feel their energy.”
Since Babylon Circus’s inception around 20 years ago, the band has played more than 1500 gigs around the world and recorded four studio albums. They last visited South Australia for WOMADelaide in 2010, when they whipped the crowd into a frenzy with their extraordinary performance, and will return to the city for a Sessions gig at the Adelaide Festival Centre’s Space Theatre as part of a national tour on the back of their latest release, Never Stop.
Comprising two lead singers and instruments including bass, drums, guitar, keyboards, sax, trumpet, trombone, accordion and clarinet, the band has a sound that defies easy categorisation; their live shows are like a big crazy party.
Baruchel says Babylon Circus’s starting point was rock, reggae and ska, but it has continually evolved over the years to a more French folk-rock style.
“Never Stop is a little bit more rock, and maybe a bit more deeply emotional … I think we needed to do that. It is the first time we have got so intimate.”
Baruchel is one of the original members of the group, which evolved from a high school friendship between himself and drummer Manuel Nectoux. Their early influences included The Specials, The Clash, Bob Marley and Serge Gainsbourg.
“We shared the same dream – which was travelling with music, because music is like a universal passport,” Baruchel says.
“We spent hours and hours watching trucks driving on the highway and dreaming of this kind of travel … of a time we would have a little van and carry our stuff from one city to another. And then we had new dreams of playing in foreign countries and playing all around the world.
“Every time we achieve a dream we create a new one.”
Baruchel and Nectoux established the band after moving to Lyon, and Baruchel says the name Babylon Circus seemed apt because they are like a modern circus – a company of friends travelling from place to place.
“If we are not friends, we cannot have fun and we cannot communicate this feeling to the audience.
“Going on stage and meeting people is kind of a seduction – maybe it’s because we’re French, we like to seduce.”
Perhaps they’ll even be tempted to seduce their Australian fans with one or two impromptu street gigs.
Babylon Circus will play at the Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, on January 10. Other artists in the 2014 Sessions program at The Space include The Basics, Fefe, Lee Fields and the Expressions, and Lou Doillon.
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