Review: The Cope Street Parade

The Cope Street Parade with Geoff Bull and Aaron Flower
East Sydney Hotel
13 April 2011

Review by Lucian McGuiness

Picture of The Cope Street ParadeIn a city such as Sydney, prone to improper grandeur, discovering quietly confident champions of taste can take a some effort, but the reward is proportionately satisfactory. That the Cope Street Parade capture the spirit and warmth of early jazz styles, maintaining comfortably their currency as current-era hipsters all the while, reveals that they are not only masterful instrumentalists like so many music graduates, but are privy to a deeper, rarer understanding of the timeless elements within popular music and the art of entertainment.

At the core of Redfern-based jazz band, The Cope Street Parade, are three young musicians who are at the beginning of what everyone hopes will be long and happy careers; so far a familiar story. Saxophonist and principle vocalist Justin Fermino throws a sweet tenor sound over the band and the hubbub and a tuneful, if young, voice. Where there’s an opportunity to throw one off the other, Fermino will take it, ripping a shouting tenor line immediately after a sustained and calmly swinging vocal. Ben Panucci chimes rhythm and melody on the manouche, a style of guitar most associate with French gypsy-jazz. Panucci plays on the reference somewhat, injecting a fair amount of colloquial twang into his vocal numbers. Grant Arthur drives and provides occasional commentary from within the bass sousaphone. In the company of Geoff Bull, a special guest for this gig and a patriarchal figure in early jazz music in Sydney, Fermino is driven to pull more tricks out of the hat, in terms of both and tone and melody. Bull, a trumpeter and scholar of New Orleans music, completes the circle of both tradition and panache between the Parade, the pub and the music. Geoff Bull’s Olympia Jazz Band held a long residency at the East Sydney Hotel from the late 1970s, when the present owners took over. With a generation or more between the Parade boys and himself, Bull presents that same youthful currency as the younger musicians without irony.

The Cope Street Parade at the the East Sydney Hotel, a historical feature within historical Woolloomooloo, offered an experience almost unique in Sydney. Anyone too young to remember Sydney pubs before poker machines and televisions has probably backpacked Europe and therefore will recognise the small-pub theme from there. Polished brass taps, dark-stained bar and wall paneling, little room to move and a swelling, shunting brass band in the corner driving the mood and the drinking arms. It brought home the importance of marrying all the elements in a musical experience. In this environment a band of acoustic wind instruments, acoustic guitars and voices could express their full spectrum without the artificial packaging of PA systems and some forced, constrictive idea of concert decorum. The punters clearly reveled in being on the same level as the band, as if the absence of a stage meant everyone belonged to the same fraternity.

Although the setting provides a thrilled and vocal audience, and a suitable background, the  kernel of timelessness comes from The Cope Street Parade’s commitment to the key qualities of popular music: rich and malleable timbres, a subtle balance between saccharine and effervescence, and a command of tension in rhythm. This is true of any genre, we just move the goalposts around to match the style. In this case, where no percussion or drums are present, the momentum is constructed expertly by the syncopation and juxtaposition of the horns Fermino and Bull, relative to the guitars Panucci and Flower, and in turn the sousaphone of Arthur – everyone has a hand in driving feet to tapping and shoulders to bopping.

The Cope Street Parade show us what most elder musicians and knowledgeable punters already know; that regardless of the perceived relevance of any genre, mastery in spunk and fervor are the foundations of delivering a good time to an audience in your care.

© Lucian McGuiness

For more information about The Cope Street Parade, visit their website >>>>

Lucian McGuiness is a Sydney musician. He runs a creative workspace for musicians and the associated multimedia blog can be found at