Christmas parties rarely get messier than a joyous gig with The Original Rabbit Foot Spasm Band. Tim Hughes was there to pop his cork...

Stuart Macbeth adjusts his fedora with a flick, straightens his tie, and takes a long swig from an expensive-looking bottle of vintage Champagne.

It’s showtime for Oxford’s most unlikely musical stars, and he, and his six bandmates, have an image to maintain. Since bursting on to Oxford’s collective consciousness six years ago, The Original Rabbit Foot Spasm Band have energised the local music scene, not with riffs and power chords but with a sound which would not have sounded out of place in a New Orleans speakeasy 90 years ago.

From cult local heroes, the band, most of whose members all hold down regular jobs, have risen to the status of national treasures — graduating from Cowley Road Carnival and Truck Festival to Glastonbury, Ronnie Scott’s and The Royal Albert Hall.

A fast-living, hard-partying seven-piece, the lads have succeeded in turning a dated, largely-forgotten, and certainly unfashionable, genre, zapping it back to life with brass, string and piano-fuelled adrenaline and switching on a new generation to the soundtrack to Prohibition. “We’re a seven-piece beat group whose mission is to assassinate function bands and give New Orleans jazz back to the people,” Stuart grins, discarding the now empty bottle of Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs (“a favourite of Winston Churchill”) and dusting a speck of ash from a patent leather shoe, which dazzles with a shine to gladden the heart of the toughest regimental sergeant major.

The Oxford Times:

“Like all good New Orleans music, it’s a cocktail of jazz, blues, gospel, calypso and country, but our lyrics are all about living in England. We’re lewd, vulgar and occasionally filthy. How many other bands could claim to be a cross between Acker Bilk and Public Enemy?”

Just as the band, and their riot of brass, strings and keys, are an unlikely success story, the clean-shaven frontman, in his immaculate suit and penchant for 1920s jazz, gangster rap, and vintage fizz, is an improbable rock star.

So how did it start? “About seven years ago I couldn’t find anyone playing the kind of music I love, so I bought a banjo and a kazoo and started to do it myself,” he says. “The seven-piece band has grown out of that. I’m very committed to making sure this style of music doesn’t die out.

“We play clubs and festivals where you wouldn’t expect to hear our music. We’re building an audience for revivalist jazz. We don’t play old people’s homes, function or jazz clubs but specifically reach out to new places.”

On Saturday, singer and pianist Stuart, trumpeter Martin Martello, saxophonists Red Wilkins and Chuck Lloyd, guitarist Carlo Matassa, double-bass botherer Buzz Booker, and drummer John ‘Skippy’ Gannon gathered for their now-traditional Christmas party.

Even for a band with as hedonistic approach to making music as the Rabbit Foots, their seasonal shows have an enviable reputation for being Oxford’s liveliest, and messiest, festive bashes. And this year's at the Art Bar (aka The Bully), in Oxford's Cowley Road, was a vintage performance.

“This was our third annual Christmas knees-up in Oxford and it was a blast,” says Stuart, fiddling with a corkscrew while reaching into a case of claret.

“The band is on top form at the moment. We had a special guest, country singer Ags Connoly, and on the DJ decks we had Ska Cubano’s Natty Bo, who always does a great set.”

The show followed an exciting year for the band. “2013 has been one of our best years to date,” he says. “We kicked it off by launching our own brand of cider — which has gone down well. We’ve also played some exciting gigs and, of course, we’ve released our new album Party Seven.”

The album attracted rave reviews since its launch at the end of summer. “It has our best ever songs on it, and has quite a solid, celebratary feel,” he goes on. “The music is rooted in Oxford and the shire’s countryside; I wanted the music to really reflect our geographical origins as a band. It’s been very strange going to places like Helsinki last month and singing songs about driving down the A34.”

A couple of weeks ago, the band also filmed a video to stand-out song King of Wine. Shooting took place in a studio in St Clements, and involved two beautiful women brandishing bottles... and a crate of grapes.

“Filming King of Wine was a highlight of my year!” he laughs. “I wasn’t disappointed by my Morrissey impression — using bunches of grapes instead of daffodils. My enduring memory is slipping over in a pile of squashed fruit while our drummer looked down on me with a mixture of horror and disgust.

“We had some wonderful dancing girls in the studio with us and I’m sure it’ll be a cinematic masterpiece.”

And next year is set to be eventful: “We have a couple of huge festival shows to announce in the new year, and we’ll be working on a new project which I’m currently calling Exiles. It’s underworld gangster music, and hugely thrilling to write. We’re going to have an awful lot of fun in 2014.”

So who makes up the typical Rabbit Foot crowd? Stuart smiles and looks around mischeavously. “Imagine a warehouse full of people off their heads, and scatter a handful of glamorous jazz fans around the bar. That’s more or less the answer.

“Our music appeals to different people in different ways. We have a steady backbeat you can dance to, lyrics that aren’t just plain stupid, and some exceptional soloists. But most people just enjoy the way we fall over when drunk. And at the very best gigs they join in.”

They often follow the band’s cue, and dress up. So where did the band’s dedication to sartorial sophistication come from? “For decades people thought it was reactionary to go out wearing jeans but to us it’s quite drab,” says Stuart, who, remembering the bottle he has just opened, pours us both a generous glass.

“The band go for classic British and Italian suits. Why go out looking like a tramp when you could be throwing up on trousers designed by Gucci? But please, for goodness sake, don’t dress up like it’s 1926 – you’ll look odd fiddling with your iPhone!”

As one might expect, the band have acquired a following of those who don’t mind showing off their moves on the dancefloor. For those of us with two left feet, however, Stuart has his own advice on cutting a dash: “It’s easy,” he smiles. “Put your right hand on your hips, move the bottle to your lips – and slowly wind your pelvis!”

  • For more on the band, details of future gigs and to buy the new album, go to
  • The band play a lavish NYE Prohibition Party at The Square Club in Bristol on December 31. To book a ticket go to