The heatwave well and truly hit Harrogate on day three of the town’s five-week Music Festival, which runs to July 29. Not the heatwave of record-breaking temperatures – that’s not even news these days – but the heat coming out of the Spiegeltent on Harrogate’s Crescent Gardens.
Inside the huge wood, canvas and glass play tent, a sell-out crowd of perspiring middle-aged (mainly) women was swooning to the crooning of Didier Casnati, frontman of top-tier buskers the Gypsy Queens. These musical itinerants of indeterminate sexuality – “none of us are gay, but our husbands are” – lay claim to “legions of famous fans” including Elton John, Prince Harry and Robert De Niro. And what they offer, for admittedly a lot more than a pound coin tossed into a bowler hat, is a brilliant, non-stop pop classic singalong reaching back at least as far as the 1950s.
The band originates in France but this five-man line-up included two Englishmen, two Italians and a Spaniard. Any gloss taken off their exotic Mediterranean appeal by the inclusion of two rather un-glamorous Brits in the band didn’t seem to bother the audience. In fact, the Madridian guitarist Miguel played on it by pretending to be Scottish and leading a good rendition of 500 Miles by The Proclaimers, to everyone’s delight.
But it is Didier Casnati – or Didi as he’s known – who is the main man, in every sense: looks, smile, charisma, lead vocals, and that bit where the singer wanders round the audience intimately serenading chosen ‘victims’, which often turns out to be rather overweight, over-40 blokes, to gales of laughter. You’ll see and hear the likes of it in any good busking performance across the world this summer, but Didi does it better than most.
By the way, apparently they got their name after busking Gipsy Kings songs outside a famous gay restaurant in Rome, and the owner invited them in but said they had to be called the Gypsy Queens to play in his joint.
What makes them more than just good buskers, though, is the quality of the performance of their repertoire. They didn’t just ‘do’ Bamboleo, Country Road, Brown-Eyed Girl, Sweet Caroline, Don’t Look Back in Anger, Daydream Believer and innumerable other irresistibly catchy hooks from the best pop jukebox ever, they went out there and ‘smashed’ them, as a hyperventilating Voice/X-Factor judge might put it.
They’re not great singers, the Gypsy Queens, but they’re good singers, and all five of them sing while playing their instruments (two acoustic guitars, double bass, sax and a drummer-boy snare-and-cymbal). This gives them the latitude of full, five-part harmonies – cue, for example, the Beach Boys – and a broad vocal layering that makes the songs sound like their original studio recordings.
It took them a while to warm up the audience, mind you – at least 45 seconds before trios of women were dancing and swaying to the human jukebox playing, dangling their half-spilt proseccos in their hands while catching Didi’s winsome nods and winks along with various other gratuitous acts of ‘Queenuendo’ from the lads on stage.
Had it not been pinned securely to the genteel lawns of Crescent Gardens, the Spiegeltent may well have lifted into the sky with the amount of hot air in it that balmy, barmy night.
The Queens are no doubt serenading someone else swelteringly hot, cool and famous by now, but for the rest of us the Harrogate Festival show goes on, with highlights that include the Mercury-nominated Laura Mvula on July 27. See www.harrogateinternationalfestivals.com