Moonlighting By Name, Moonlighting By Nature

For many musicians, the jazz life is a constant struggle for survival. The pandemic has only made things more difficult, with venues going bust or booking only acts with broad appeal, attracting punters who will spend plenty at the bar. (Read: no jazz, no dancers.) But for some, playing gigs is a side gig: paying their mortgage with a day job, they perform mainly for the fun of it. British band Moonlighting is such an outfit—but don’t think they aren’t highly skilled, or in great demand. I chatted with violinist Matthew Gryspeerdt about their origins, their enduring appeal, and what the future might hold for these proud part-timers.

For Matt, as for many contemporary jazz musicians, the journey began with a parent’s passion. But his dad was more involved than most, as a gigging trombonist riding the coattails of British trad revivalists like Chris Barber, Acker Bilk, and Kenny Ball. “Dad was a doctor and a recreational musician, all through the 1970s to the 1990s,” said Matt, “so I was introduced to New Orleans-style jazz from a young age: I was made to listen to the records and watch it on TV.” He began taking violin lessons, but steered clear of jazz as it “didn’t really seem like the right instrument” for the genre. It seems odd now, but who knows—maybe Joe Venuti, Stéphanne Grapelli, Yehudi Menuhin, and Stuff Smith just didn’t feature in his dad’s collection.

Hot Jazz Jubile

So Matt’s childhood learning focused on classical music, which he learned to a “reasonable standard.” It was only in adulthood, when he began patronizing pubs and clubs, that his tastes began to change. “The music being served with alcohol was traditional Irish music and bluegrass,” he told me. “I fell in love with that and began playing at bluegrass festivals with the Thunderbridge Bluegrass Boys. It was a great scene.” Then, in the noughties, Matt married swing dancer Amanda, took up the hobby himself—and was unexpectedly thrust back into his dad’s world of hot jazz. This time, the music grabbed him with both hands and didn’t let go.

Moonlighting poses at the Stroud Brewery on Nov. 5, 2023, from left: Matthew Gryspeerdt, vn, ldr; Graham Silcock, g; Steve Holley, d; Martin Harvey, b; and Graham Barr, p. (photo courtesy

His experience of dance events inspired him to start a band catering just to them. “The dance fraternity is a lovely bunch of people,” said Matt, “very accepting and very loyal. I could see there was a potential audience there, so I got a band together and it’s evolved over 15 years.” By 2020 the group, then named Honeymoon Swing, was a popular act on the dance circuit of South West England. COVID-19 put a temporary stop to things—particularly for a band focused on live performance, not recording. “Our line-up kept changing, Matt explained, “and I wasn’t prepared to invest a lot of time or money in a group that wasn’t necessarily going to last a long time.”

Eventually the pandemic panic died down, allowing socially distanced outdoor events. Matt and friends were right there, providing the soundtrack. “We were doing outdoor dances in Cheltenham, playing for free just to keep our hands in and so the community didn’t completely dissipate,” remembered Matt. It was a relief for me, personally: I’d just moved to Cheltenham and was banking on dance as a vehicle for making friends. Those events in our local park were just the ticket—if you could ignore the somewhat sloping, rough tarmac dance floor. “Yeah, I think we did the local dance community a good service,” said Matt. I’m very much inclined to agree with him.


Now, it seems, dance band bookers are returning the favor and Moonlighting gets plenty of dance gigs. It helps that they keep the tunes short, the tempos moderate and the set lists interesting. Matt, who is also the outfit’s lead singer, is in charge of the repertoire. “Fundamentally it’s got to be upbeat and cheerful,” he told me. “It’s got to be good for swing dance, so we might slow things down or speed things up as appropriate.”

Just as important, he added, is that the tunes fit the instruments available. This requirement isn’t as restrictive as one might assume, as the unusual fusion of a QHCF-like combo featuring violin (Matt), guitar (Graham Silcock), and bass (Martin Harvey) with drums (Steve Holley) and also piano (Graham Barr) means Moonlighting can play almost anything a dancer might want to hear. “I like to be vague about what styles we play and not exclude anything,” said Matt. “The exception is rock ’n’ roll because there are too many rock ’n’ roll bands around already. And we try to avoid just trotting out the big hits—a lot of bands do that, and I find it deathly boring.”

You might be thinking that a lack of brass would be some limitation, but Matt also has a secret weapon up his sleeve—or, more accurately, on it. His highly unusual violin has five strings, not four, the extra one tuned low and stretching the instrument’s range to that of the deeper-toned viola. “It means I can cover that range that the sax and brass would normally fill,” Matt explained, “so I can play a lot of back-up while someone else is soloing.” He added, “Mine’s a rather crude, rhythmic style—but it’s very effective with the other instruments. It’s something I’ve never heard anyone else do, so that gives us a unique sound.”

The variety of styles covered and a dedication to deep cuts are Moonlighting’s unique selling point. Matt has packed the band’s repertoire with B-sides and rarities cribbed from the playlists of his favorite jazz DJs, as well as contemporary bands like Tuba Skinny. In fact, it was an eclectic set I saw the band play in Stroud that prompted me to approach Matt for a chat. The gig featured tunes written or recorded by Cole Porter, Trixie Smith, Bing Crosby and none—curiously enough, for a group led by a violinist—by the likes of Grapelli or Menuhin. (“I wouldn’t dare try to emulate them,” Matt told me. “Lots of people do that, and I just don’t have their technique.”)

Graham Barr’s rollicking piano work also facilitates ragtime, boogie woogie, stride, and jump blues—Fats Waller and Louis Jordan are frequently heard at Moonlighting gigs—and most members also contribute vocals, making covers by the Ink Spots and Mills Brothers possible. “I’d like to include even more ambitious vocal harmonies,” said Matt. But essentially we play what we like playing. As long as it’s good for dancing and groups keep booking us, that’s great.”


Overall, Matt says he still hasn’t seen bookings return to pre-pandemic levels in 2024. “The vintage festivals have come back, but there aren’t as many pop-up events as there used to be,” he said—“not so much short-notice stuff in village halls.” I asked him if that was because those sit-down gigs tend to attract older audiences, who may not be able or willing to return to crowded concert venues. “I think that’s very much the case,” he replied. “It’s an aging population who support these things. If you look at the audience in a jazz or blues club, it’s all retired people. And thank goodness some of them are still able to go out, but they won’t be able to forever.”

Moonlighting at the 2024 Cheltenham Jazz Fest

But unlike a lot of full-time bands, part-timers Moonlighting are happy with whatever gigs they can get. They tend to avoid weddings (“too much waiting around”) and corporate functions (“not well paid”), and are happy to receive what the dance band bookers can afford. But that’s not to say they aren’t ambitious: having wowed the old-time fashion scene—playing Vintage Nostalgia Festival (Wiltshire), Twinwood Festival (Bedfordshire), Retro Festival Newbury (Berkshire), Nighthawks Festival (Buckinghamshire) and others—Matt aspires to cracking the jazz festival circuit. “Retro and Twinwood have been real highlights for us,” said Matt. “We’re doing a big dance at Retro and the small stage at Twinwood again this year, and both are fantastic fun.”

And fun is what it’s all about, for Moonlighting. “We don’t treat it as a job,” said Matt, who sells antique violins by day, “we do it because we love it.” Amateurs in the original sense of the word—but don’t discount them for that. British band bookers and gig-goers can check them out at, which includes videos of past performances. For interested listeners who aren’t so local, Matt says an album release is on the cards. You know, if the busy members of Moonlighting can find time between gigs and the day job.


Dave Doyle is a swing dancer, dance teacher, and journalist based in Gloucestershire, England. Write him at [email protected]. Find him on Twitter @DaveDoyleComms.

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