Northern Star Organ Trio at the Domino Club 19 May

A Sunday evening trip to the Domino Club makes an ideal end to the weekend. Northern Star Organ Trio were the ideal band to fill the final weekend music spot.

On a Sunday night the Grand Arcade is silent. The bar opposite, Tailors, which sells bespoke clothing by day and cocktails by night, is closed, so no one outside chatting and sipping gin. Bars on Merrion Street have closed or turned down the sound level, music no longer penetrating the arcade. It would be easy to miss the Domino Club, to mistake the bar security for a barber closing up. Head inside past the red leather chairs and through a simple wooden door, down the stairs to another realm.

Hammond organs were first popularised in jazz clubs, where an organ trio could create a big sound without the need to hire a big band. The Domino Club is the ideal setting for Northern Star Organ Trio: speak easy décor with a focus on funk and soul, while casting a knowing nod to the Jazz Age. The setting is intimate but large enough for the sound to flow and for people to sit or dance as they wish.

Bob Birch

The sound of Northern Star is certainly big. Bob Birch on Hammond organ, Robert Bromhead on guitars and Bruce Renshaw on drums filled the space with energetic groove. The trio perform in bars and clubs, at festivals and events across the north, playing 60s soul, jazz, funk, boogaloo, bossa nova and blues.

The evening opened with Booker T and the MGs’ Melting Pot. A great starting place, as the name suggests it gives a taste of many influences. Northern Star Organ Trio later played three more Booker T. Jones compositions: Soul Sanction, Chicken Pox and Hip Hug Her – a fitting tribute to a musician who can play many instruments but has embraced and popularised the Hammond organ.

All three men are accomplished musicians with decades of experience. They have a style that highlights each instrument without the need for solos. Birch, who previously played with the New Mastersounds, is also a composer and treated us to an original composition What Does That Say to You. The transition from melodic rhythm to funk was masterful and found in many other arrangements throughout the night. They all now teach music, passing their expertise to others. The first set lasted over forty minutes but was so engaging it seemed shorter.

The Domino does not serve food but there is a good selection of drinks. You could spend a lot of money on drinks at the Domino. They have an extensive range of spirits, including – fittingly – American whiskies. There is also a good range of Irish, Scotch, Japanese and even Australian whisky: a destination for anyone who wants an evening of whisky tasting.

There are plenty of other options, including beers, ciders and wines. Their cocktails, which cost around £10, are very competitive for a city centre bar. You could spend a lot on drink here, but you don’t have to. We settled on a pleasant bottle of Portuguese red at a reasonable £24. It was good to see that on a hot, humid evening the staff had put water and glasses on the tables to keep us hydrated.

Bruce Renshaw

My two favourite performances came in the second set, with renditions of County Basie’s One O’clock Jump and Bus Ride by Reuben Wilson. The line-up was obviously quite different from that playing Basie’s signature tune for decades, but it worked well for the trio. It was a great example of how the band’s arrangements enable each instrument to shine. I think Basie, who experimented with the Hammond organ later in his career, would have approved. Bus Ride was a great funky journey.

The band has gigs lined up across Yorkshire and will soon be adding more to their itinerary. Check out their Facebook page for more information. Their next outing will be at the Blues Bar in Harrogate on 30th June. I hope they will soon be back at the Domino Club. The music ended around 10pm, a great way to wind down the weekend, with plenty of time to relax before starting the grind of the new week.

The Domino Club
Vicar Lane
City Centre
Leeds LS1 6PG

Photography by Debbie Rolls.

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