Prohibition-era band formed over beers

IN CONCERT
The Capital City Syncopators with special guests Louise Rose and Al Pease
When: Saturday, 8 p.m.
Where: Hermann’s Jazz Club (753 View St.)
Tickets: $15

Despite the talent of all involved, banjoist Avram Devon McCagherty is astounded his band of more than a year, the Capital City Syncopators, gets paid to play every Tuesday night at Swans Brewpub.

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“I can’t believe we have not been fired yet,” McCagherty said with a laugh. “We just keep showing up, and people seem to keep liking it.”

The five-piece group, which bills itself “Victoria’s finest Prohibition-era dance band,” began its Swans weekly performance barely a month after the band formed. That had everything to do with the talent involved, no doubt.

McCagherty is joined in the Syncopators by a host of pro-grade players, including guitarist Reuben Weir, lap steel guitarist Chris Herbst, drummer Matt Pease and tuba player Don Cox, who recently replaced original Syncopator Marcus Hissen.

With a resumé that includes time in the Marc Atkinson Trio, the Victoria Symphony and Dixieland Express among many others, learning the core material by early jazz giants like King Oliver, Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke was a snap.

Finding wardrobes befitting a group that pays tribute to the excitement of the Roaring ’20s was a much bigger task. The band finally settled upon a look that was part barroom bartender, part Bonnie and Clyde. “When we play, usually everybody’s got a bow tie, out of respect for the artform and the occasion,” McCagherty said.

McCagherty, a well-known Victoria guitarist who also plays in the Stomp Club and the Yiddish Columbia State Orchestra, conceived the idea for the group after meeting Weir at the Victoria International Buskers Festival. That the basic idea for the band was hatched over a frosty one was a sign things were coming together as they should, McCagherty joked.

“We were playing in the beer tent at the buskers festival, and after that we sat down and had a pint and said, ‘;You know, we should start a band.’ ”

Weir and McCagherty are both avowed “Djangophiles” with a passion for guitar giant Django Reinhardt. “That’s where most of us start,” McCagherty said of the late pioneer most often associated with gypsy jazz.

“For guitar players, he’s like the gateway drug. When I started meeting and playing with other [Django fans], they’d say, ‘;Hey, you gotta get hip to Fats Waller.’ So it goes from there.”

The Capital City Syncopators have regular fans of their own, one of whom will join the group for its performance at Hermann’s Jazz Club on Saturday. Louise Rose, the popular Victoria performer, is apparently a regular at Swans when the Syncopators are on stage, something which took McCagherty completely by surprise.

“We have been very flattered and humbled that she happens to be a fan of the group. One night, we looked out, and with our knees knocking together said, ‘;Man, Louise Rose is in here!’ She comes every week.”

Rose will join another special guest, Al Pease, at Hermann’s this weekend. Pease was an easy catch, McCagherty joked, being the father of Syncopator Matt Pease and former bandmate (in Dixieland Express) of Syncopator Don Cox.

The idea of asking Rose was more difficult to imagine, McCagherty admitted.

“It took a lot of chutzpah to ask her to play with us. But her response was, ‘;Do birds fly?’ ”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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