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The Goat Roper Rodeo Band
Wokingham Music Club
8th September 2017
Published in Blues In Britain magazine November 2017
[italic section edited out of published version]

With so many shades of blue around these days, I often find myself listening to an album – even an IBBA Pick Of The Month – and thinking “is this really blues?”  Boundaries are pushed to a point that I don’t always understand.  NOW I understand.  Sometimes you hear some music and you are passionately moved by it – transported almost – and the exactness of the pigeonhole becomes irrelevant.  If I was going out for a blues evening, I would be a bit surprised to hear The Goat Roper Rodeo Band – surprised, but delighted.

They describe themselves as a sort of country blues.  It’s a kind of country folk hillbilly blues.  Blues is definitely in there somewhere – on some songs.  If they had a banjo and a fiddle it would be bluegrass – but they don’t.  What they do have is two guitars and bass – perfectly matched.  And three voices that are not so much delivered as either hurled at the mic, or squeezed out at the mic, depending on the song.  Three voices that blend absolutely perfectly – just like the instrumentation, almost against the odds.  Their musicianship is excellent, they are perfectly tuned with each other, the lead guitar is inventive and prominent throughout without being in anyway obtrusive.  The bass man writhes around his instrument somehow making it look like a small toy.  They are high energy and exciting throughout the performance – if I moved like that I’d have a double hernia before the fourth song, a ruptured spleen by the end of the first set and a broken neck by the end of the evening. The energy is almost punk-like – wild an untamed, but with the anger and angst replaced by a straight forward drive for a good time.

It may look untamed – but it is professional throughout.

To focus on the blues aspects for a moment, if you take a Bob Dylan 12-bar – one of his gutsy renditions, then put the Everly Brothers on backing vocals, you start to get close.

The Wokingham Music Club was an excellent venue for them – it’s a genreless club – variety is the order of the day, and the Goat Roper Band touched on so many genres.

Whilst Bob Harris’ quote “Amazing” is justified, the fatea quote “Like the Everlys fronted by Gram Parsons” gives a more descripted indication.

[And although it may not be normal practice for one magazine to quote another, thereby inadvertently promoting the competition, allow me to quote R2 Magazine who said: “Wonderfully executed acoustic country blues with two guitars, a double bass and plaintive striking harmonies, a musical landscape driven by old timey sensibilities … there’s a lot to like about the Goat Roper Rodeo Band.”]

Not only are the harmonies close, inventive, and faultless, they are full are very clever nuances, as are the musical arrangements, and it is clear that they work incredibly hard at their craft, and take the execution of the material very seriously, though you would never tell from the boundless sense of fun presented on stage.

If you are looking for another interpretation of “Careless Love” “Lead Hearted Blues” or “St Louis Blues” or a purist approach to writing new material that sounds is if it was written in 1929, stay away.  If you want to go out and have a thoroughly enjoyable musically fun evening – this is all you need.

The Ma Bessie Trio
Smokin’ Billy’s, Reading
18th August 2017
Published in Blues In Britain magazine October 2017
[italic sections edited out of published version]

You may have noticed that my experiences at reviewing have often included slight mishaps, or erroneous timing calculations that have affecting my prompt attendance of the first set.  Tonight was no exception.  Past experience had told me that food was served in the performance area.  I was not privy to the information regarding the move of the performance area to the upstairs room.  I arrived very hungry. I had to eat.  I missed the first 20 minutes. Doh!

Smokin’ Billy’s Speakeasy was the perfect location for this evening of The Ma Bessie Trio presenting music steeped in the Bessie Smith era and capturing the mood perfectly.  Ma Bessie (aka Julia Titus) must be one of the most congenial, convivial, and generally smiley artists on the scene.  She revels in her music and spars off her supporting musicians, Matt and Chuck with sport and affection.  Matt has the knack of providing just the right support on his guitar delivering a solid chord structure with effective bass lines, leaving chuck free to chuck in anything he pleases, which he does with aplomb.  His saxophone adds the jazz influences essential to this brand of the blues.

[When Julia takes her Bessie Smith show on tour later this year, it will be very much the Bessie Smith story, with narration, and of course, all the music, however, for her regular gigs, she has the knack of introducing other flavours and styles without affecting the mood or feel of her chosen era.  Her set includes a couple of original songs as well as a touch of Bob Marley and others, woven into the fabric of a Ma Bessie back cloth.]

I am reliably informed that the first set started rather well. Certainly the crowd was already cheering the songs by the time I made my entrance.
The second set started with a slightly more modern song “I Wish I knew How It Would Feel To Be Free” – a Nina Simone recording from the 1960’s; meaningful and sincere, delivered with a rhythm ideal for the slinky dancers who were in the house this evening.  Then straight back to Bessie with “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out” a hit for Bessie in the thick of the depression and a song which could almost have been written for the era, but was in fact written as a cautionary tale in the affluent early roaring 20’s by Jimmy Cox who sadly died before it became well known.  Every song was cheered as Julia made her way through a slow Gospel and Van Morrison’s “Moondance” before returning to Bessie for “Give Me A Pigfoot” – whoops and hollers ensued once more.  Original song “I’ve Been Around Lovin” led us to the Bessie feel again, although in fact we were some 20 years after her reign –this time with the Leiber and Stoller classic “Hound Dog” made famous by Mama Thornton before Elvis (or his team) reinvented it and made it famous all over again.  Ella Fitzgerald’s “Don’t Fence Me In” was next.  Originally written for a failed musical, Cole Porter acquired the original poem on which it was based from Robert Fletcher in the 1930’s, later to see success with it coming from Bing Crosby.  The challenge then was to get the dancers up and raving to “Amazing Grace” – and this they did it very successfully.  WC Handy’s 2014 composition “St. Louis Blues” first saw success when recorded by Bessie and Louis Armstrong, and Julia reliably informed us that this was the basis of Bessie’s one and only film, and this was another great interpretation. The final song of the set was clearly not going to be the final song of the evening.  Staying firmly in the middle of the Bessie era, playing a song by Ed Richard and made famous by one of Bessie’s closest rivals, Clara Smith (who, so it is said, lost out to Bessie Smith when they eventually came to physical blows) which has become a bit of a hallmark for Julia: “Whip It To A Jelly”.  Julia’s mischievous chuckle making the most of the risqué lyrics.  Julia always draws the audience into her performance, so the call and response elements of the song never fail.

It was a great end to a well-balanced set and, not surprisingly, the crowd was not going to let her go without one more.  “Down By The Riverside” was the song that brought the evening to close [with a final reminder that her Bessie Smith show ‘Empress Of The Blues’ will be touring with Sam Kelley on drums, Richard Sadler (bass), Ray Carless & Chuck Lloyd (Sax) and Kevin Davy & Claude Deppa (trumpet), starting off in Reading’s ’21 South Street’ venue on Friday 22nd September].
23rd August 2017

 

 

Big Yella Festival
Purple Turtle
Reading
27th & 28th May 2017
Published in Blues In Britain magazine July 2017

The bank holiday weekend of 27th & 28th May saw another year of the Big Yella Blues Festival at the Purple Turtle in Reading.  The concept is to bring “The best international musicians on the planet alongside the very best of the local talent”.  In selecting the artists, the organisers hoped to cover “ … the entire range of the blues, telling the story from its early beginnings through the twentieth century and onto now”.

When you consider that this is also a free festival – that is no mean achievement.

I was unable to catch all the acts, but did arrive in time to watch the Sam Kelly band on Saturday.  Each manifestation of the band takes on a new personality and feel.  With regular collaborator Richard Sadler on bass, today’s guitar and vocal slot was taken by TJ Johnson.  The resultant brand of blues fell, for the large part, somewhere between Hendix and Cream, and having established a solid mood for the set, proved that within that frame work, you can introduce a lot more than straight blues as song number four drove its way through Bob Marley’s Jammin’.  Riff based tunes with some subtle rhythmic arrangements had the crowd dancing from the start.  The tempo picked up with a track that almost morphed briefly into ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ during the middle break before returning to the original rhythm and charging to an ending complete with feedback and great applause.  There was more morphing in the next track, a very rootsy sound with a Cream feel being blended with a little more Marley.  Very clever, inventive, and successful.  The driving closing song brought to an end a set that had given us an interesting mix of styles that successfully blended into a very stylised set.

Moving from the main stage to the courtyard stage took me to a performance by Laine Hines.  No stranger to Big Yella, Laine once again treated us to a glimpse into the past through his brilliant musical time travelling window.  It doesn’t get much more authentic than this.  His great mix of well loved, and totally obscure blues, mainly from the first quarter of the last century, really does transport you.

Laine was followed on the courtyard stage by Ma Bessie and the Pigfoot Band, so as you might imagine, we stayed rooted in the 20’s and 30’s, but with a more rounded, sophisticated feel. No one does Bessie Smith better that Ma Bessie, and we are lucky to have her as a local artist here in Reading.  As her Pigfoot duo finished getting ready for the set, Ms Bessie launched into an unaccompanied ‘Life Is Too Short’ taken from her album of the same name.  As soon as she takes to the stage she creates an immediate connection with her audience.  They are all her friends, and she chats her way through the set.  With timeless classics such as ‘Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight’ and ‘Do Your Duty’, Bessie Smith featured highly in the set.  Songs like ‘Downhearted Blues’ and ‘Trouble Trouble’ kept the mood intact, whilst songs like ‘Sugar In My Bowl’ and ‘Whip It To A Jelly’ highlighted the risqué fun elements of the music of the era. Matt Foster provides the perfect solid guitar rhythm and bass line support for the smooth yet gutsy vocal, and with Chuck Lloyd adding his superb saxophone it was another fine performance.  Julia Titus plans to be taking her Bessie Smith tribute show on tour from September this year through to next April. That will be something to watch out for.

Back to the mainstage for one of Reading’s most respected and sought after bands – 3-Buck Shirt.  They always pull in the crowd, and certainly had the main stage area packed for their opening number.  They continued with some good old rocky blues before jazzing it up briefly.  Once again we had a variety of styles that were blended perfectly into a well-balanced blues set.  We had a touch of Hendix, some great slow blues, a lovely African rhythm based number before the familiar ‘Got My Mojo Working’ brought us firmly back into the blues setting. With Jason Manners leading the band on guitar and vocals, ably supported by Les Calvert on Bass, Craig Broadfoot on keyboard and on drums; Luke Calvert filling in for regular band member, Deano Robinson, this was another fine set from one of Reading’s finest.

My Sunday started with a firmly jazz based blues set from BB Keane whose excellent vocals were superbly supported by the equally excellent jazz guitar playing of Jamie Howell.  Mainly ‘straight from the heart’ originals that got you wondering just what experiences she’s had with the men in her life.  Great jazz tunes and heartfelt, storytelling lyrics showed BB to be a thoroughly singer/songwriter kind of performer. The smattering of covers included ‘Black Magic Woman’ and ‘Ain’t No Sunshine In My Life’, which gives you a good indication of her musical direction.  Great Sunday afternoon listening – and a new EP out too!

I only managed to catch a glimpse of James Morton on the mainstage, before returning to the courtyard.  All I can tell you is that with James leading on sax leading this jazz ensemble, when they reached the end of the set the crowd did not want to let them go.

Meanwhile – I headed off to see the Rag and Moan Men lead by Martin Wood who never ceases to amaze and inform with his encyclopaedic knowledge of all things old blues.  Once again it was a great mix of well-loved and obscure. Andy Wilkin provides a solid yet varied cajon rhythm support completed by the highly musical bass playing of – Dominic Geraghty.  Together they produce a stylistically ‘laid back and contented’ delivery of a style that is very much Martin’s own.  With songs such as Robert Nighthawk’s ‘Take It Easy’, That’s Alright (not by Jimmy Read but Sam Chatmon – we were politely informed), and finishing with ‘Bright Lights, Big City’ the crowded courtyard arena felt thoroughly entertained.

I was only able to see a few short minutes of Big Boy Bloater on the main stage before heading off to prepare for my own set.  How I wish I could have stayed.  He has one of those huge gravelly voices that is so right.  It just works.  And as this was a solo performance, his impressive use of loops gave a totally complete, authentic and rounded performance.  This was a fine example of loop work at its very best.

I had to leave, but modesty prevents me from further comment on our set.  I caught I glimpse of Sister Cookie whipping the crowd into a frenzy at the end of her set – and Big Jo Louis and his Blue Kings kicking off the final performance of the evening, before lack of oxygen got the better of me and I took myself home to continue my jet-lag recovery.

With additional performances from Little Barrie, John J Presley, Blues Cruise, Hipbone Slim, Tete Frite, Greg Mayston, Johnny Marvels Blues Groove and Millie & The Millionaires, the Big Yella Festival can chalk up another great success.
29th May 2017 John Cee Stannard

Mike Vernon & The Mighty Combo
Norden Farm Arts Centre
Maidenhead
19th February 2017
Published in Blues In Britain magazine April 2017

The Mighty Combo took to the stage to start the evening with an instrumental Texas shuffle – setting the scene perfectly for what was to follow.  As the opener skipped its way to a conclusion, Mike Vernon bounced on to the stage.  From the start, he looked like a man intent on enjoying himself, and it was also clear that he wanted the band and the audience to enjoy the music just as much as he did. And he succeeded. It was an evening of good old fashioned blues – deliberately not too flashy – not attempting to be too clever – just good fun.

The shuffle mood continued into his first song ‘Kansas City’ and was probably the predominant styling, which is not surprising if you are aiming to generate a good time feel.  The evening continued with covers of songs by Broonzy (as by Fats Domino) Willie Dixon, Junior Parker, Alvin Young and more.  There was one original in the first set: A stunning slow blues ‘Old Man Dreams’ that could have come straight from the pen of  Percy Mayfield on a Jimmy Witherspoon album. Whether it’s a slow blues like this, or the mid-tempo shuffle ‘Jump up’,  or slightly faster shuffle ‘Hate To Leave – Hate To Say Goodbye’, Mike’s original compositions all have a great authenticity about them – both musically, and lyrically.  If you heard the set without introductions you would assume it was all established blues standards.  The authenticity was maintained by the support of the Mighty Combo comprising Kid Carlos on guitar, Ian Jennings – bass, Mike Hellier – Drums, Matt Little – keyboard and Paul Tasker playing Saxophone.

After an incredible career in record production, and now in the prime of later years, Mr Vernon is enjoying this new venture to the full – bouncing on to the stage and enthusiastically sharing his music with us, like a child who had been waiting all week for his birthday treat in the ball cage.  He had a delightful way of chatting his introductions to us as if he was talking to us in the local pub over a pint of beer.  And as he led us into ‘Shake Rattle and Roll’ (more like Joe Turner than Bill Haley or Elvis) or ‘Going Home Tomorrow’ we also received a brief history lesson.  I was thrilled to hear a song by one of my heroes, Johnny “Guitar” Watson.  Also of merit was ‘Next Time You See Me’, by Junior Parker – which, when he released it in the mid 1950’s, was described as “ … more melodic that the average blues.” It would be hard to pick a highlight, the evening moved along so well, but if I had to pick just one song, I think it might be the aforementioned Mike Vernon epic (9 minutes) original ‘Old Man Dreams’ which was rightfully cheered as it came to an end.

Worth every penny of the ticket price – I look forward to the next opportunity to see Mike Vernon and the Mighty Combo.

Check out their web site at http://www.movinmusic.co.uk/mike_vernon_mighty_combo.htm

 

 

King Biscuit Boys
Rose & Crown
4th February 2017

I didn’t expect ordering a bitter shandy would cause such a problem, but 10 minutes later it arrived, together with a request for £4:20, we eventually settled on £3.  This event, coupled with the band starting 10 minutes early, meant I wasn’t quite primed for maximum observation when the King Biscuit Boys took to the stage area at the Rose and Crown in Sandhurst on 4th Feb.  Having missed part of I’m Tired Of Working, a Jon Townsend original, they swiftly moved on through Motor Mouth and Just Can’t Keep From Crying.  Jonathan’s guitar style and Craig Stocker’s harmonica blend perfectly, and with Craig also adding some cajon or washboard to the occasional song, the set was varied and entertaining.  About half of the songs are originals, and they sit comfortably with the tried and tested standards such as Sun House’s Death Letter, and Depot Blues. One of the things you soon notice is that the songs contain a lot of humour, as do Craig’s anecdotal ramblings between songs, and Jon’s assertion that “blues is fun”, all of which adds to the performance.  The set included song like Pep In My Step, from their Got My Eyes On You album, alongside Little Red Rooster, Steelin’ and Cocaine which was based more on the Rev Gary Davies version.

Other originals from the album included My Middle Name Is Lonesome and She Scares Me.  Just the song title alone can hint at their humorous approach to the music – Jonathan’s My Buddy Done Stole My Baby being a perfect example, which reminds me I should get back to work on my English middle class blues – Waitrose Done Run Out Of Marmite One More Time.

The set also included some less obvious choices, such as a cover of Dr Feelgood’s Twenty Yards Behind; an instrumental Hit The Road Jack to close the first half; Waiting (No Longer), an original featuring Craig on the Melodica (you know, that instrument invented in Italy in the 50’s that you blow into and play on a miniature keyboard); and a bit of Pink Floyd to open the second half, performed by Craig who again demonstrated his multi-instrumentalist tendencies by performing this on the Hand Pan (you know, that instrument that looks like a dustbin lid and sounds like a complete steel band).

The mix of basic good time acoustic blues on guitar and harmonica, supplemented with a sprinkling of other instruments and a good balance of originals and covers, with a generous drizzle of humour thrown in, left me going home have had a thoroughly entertaining evening.

Check out their web site at http://www.somethinglikethis.org.uk/

 

 

Gary Fletcher
Basingstoke Blues Club
14th January 2017
Published in Blues In Britain magazine March 2017

[It was with a hint of sadness that Basingstoke Blues club opened it’s doors last night to a capacity crowd expecting this evening of great music from Gary Fletcher to be the club’s swansong. To everyone’s delight, Rex started by telling us it was not all over.  Rex and Ted would still be running the monthly open mic nights as well as hosting hoc concerts and events.  Sigh of relief!].

Before introducing us to his all-star line-up, Gary treated us to an enthusiastically received solo performance of Willie Dixon’s “The Same Thing”.  As you would expect from an accomplished singer songwriter, this was going to be Gary’s own interpretation of the song rather than another carbon copy, and the crowd cheered their approval.  This set a great pace for the rest of the evening.  Then on came the band. With Sam Kelly on drums ( Tom Robson Band, Dave Kelly Band), Derek White on bass (Larry Miller, Storm Warning), Tom Leary on violin and mandolin (Feast Of Fiddles, Lindisfarn, Tanna), Alan Glen on harmonica (Yardbirds, Nine Below Zero), and  Nick Richie on guitar(Mud, The Turn), you just knew this would be something special.

As you would expect, the majority of the material was Gary’s own, starting with his “Payback” (from his Human Spirit’ album) which immediately demonstrated just how tight this band was and how good the evening was going to be. Moving into a moody “Other Side Of The Street” with some great haunting harmonica and virtuoso fiddle playing and tastefully searing guitar solos.

In true Singer/songwriter style, Gary’s writing is never constrained by standard blues formats, though he is certainly happy to visit them.  This results is there being more story telling than you might expect, strong melody lines and inventive lyrics that cover many different subjects.  From the sensitive plea to properly understand another person’s point of view –as told in “You Just Can’t Know”, to the cynical view of political truth twisting on “I am The Doctor” via the history lesson of one aspect of the American Slave era given to us in “Jacob Burkle” – with Gary on banjo.   He sings about a simple love affair with a car, love with women – both confusing (Can’t Live with – Can’t Live Without) a fine up tempo shuffle with a nice vocal harmony from Nick, and plaintively hopeful (You Won’t Take It From Me).

A lot of blues is about what’s wrong in life.  Gary also gives us songs about what is right in life, including the melodically riff based song “I’ll never leave you” about standing by your friend when they need you, with the basic riff being superbly picked up by Tom’s fiddle.  Who do you trust these days? – Gary doesn’t know – and sums it all up in his “I Just Don’t Know” from his ‘Giant From The Blue’ album.  From the same album came “My Love Made You Wrong” which is almost ‘atmospheric blues’ (does that genre exist?) where we saw Gary’s expertise in the acoustic guitar solo – another view of love gone wrong.  The second set also included his “So Lonely” (which appeared on The Blues Band’s Itchy feet album), as well as his interpretation Blind Willie Johnson’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine”

Regardless of how quickly this band may have come together, the entire set sounded well-rehearsed, expertly and inventively arranged – I guess that’s to be expected after 37 years with the Blues Band.  Gary closed by taking up his uke for “Say You Will”, which of course, was not going to be the last song of the evening.  The band came back to give us “It Takes Love” – but that wasn’t enough for this crowd.  Gary closed the evening as he had started it. Just him and his guitar, and a song of his which he had kindly guested on on my own first solo album, “That’s My Way”.  The whole evening was done his way, and his way was certainly pretty damned good.

Check out his web site at  http://www.garyfletchermusic.net/

Watch out for future events  http://www.basingstokebluesclub.co.uk/

 [Not included in published article]

 

Martin Harley
The Studio, Norden Farm Arts Centre
4th December 2016
Published in Blues In Britain magazine February 2017

 Guess what? – I just bought another CD.  It seems that the better the concert, the harder it is to resist adding just one more CD to the collection.  Sunday 4th December saw Martin Harley playing to a packed Studio room at Maidenhead Arts Centre where he created the irresistible urge for me to increase the size of my CD collection.

Virtuoso is a well-used word these days, but when it comes to Martin’s guitar playing, it is a word that can be used justifiably.  Although  drawn from the blues music of the 30s and 40s, he manages to bring a very up to date vocal style to his very clever original songs as well as his individual and captivating covers of songs such as “Goodnight Irene” and “Nobody’s Fault But Mine”, but of which he performed during this solo performance, and both of which appear on his “Live At Southern Ground” album, (this is a ‘live’ studio recording – not a concert), recorded with his brilliant bass playing musical partner Daniel Kimbro.

The set also included songs from Martin and Daniel’s forthcoming album “Static In The Wire” due for release in February 2017.  Songs like “Trouble” and “One Horse Town”.  His show is almost a game of two halves.  The first – his brilliant slide based songs, blended perfectly with his sometimes soulful, sometimes fast furious and fluid finger picking style which on occasion reminded me a little of Doc Watson.

Watch out for that new album, and if you have never seen Martin perform, watch out for an appearance near you.  You will not be disappointed.

Check out his web site at  http://www.martinharley.com/

 

Giles Hedley
3rd Friday Blues, 21 South Street, Reading
18th November 2016
Published in Blues In Britain magazine January 2017

As if it wasn’t a big enough treat to be watching Giles Hedley come to our local blues club, the evening started with a welcome return by Bill Bozeman, a long-time friend of the club. Like Giles, Bill has a 50+ year pedigree of entertaining us with his fine guitar technique. His set covered a variety of styles from blues to jazz and folk and included such treats as his instrumental interpretation of Norwegian Wood.  With the emphasis more on tunes than songs, Bill gave us a perfect start to the evening.

It was at the previous month’s 3rd Friday Blues night that Andy Wilkin announced that after around 13 years of running the club, he was going to retire at the end of the year.  This is sad news to the blues fans on Reading, and we are all hoping that someone will come forward grab the reigns of this great club.

The success of the club during those years was typified by the turnout of 60 to 70 people who were hear to listen to an evening of Giles Hedley and the Aviators.  No-one was going to be disappointed. It was a stunning evening.  Giles gave a masterclass performance on how to deliver the blues with conviction, authenticity, and above all, fun.  Superbly supported by Sam Kelly’s usual sensitive and supportive drum, and the rhythm section completed as usual by Richard Sadler’s perfect bass.  On this occasion there was no Christophe on guitar, so it was a slightly (very slightly) stripped back version of the usual Aviators’ sound.

Having started his one hour forty five minute set with a little “Sleepy” John Estes number, closely followed by the Son House classic “My Black Woman”, he picked up his harmonica for the first of several songs from his So Glad I’m Living album, playing the title track by Arthur Crudup.   He then cranked up his self-wired “not entirely conventional” lap steel to slow things down with the powerful “Rain Is Such A Lonesome Sound” by Jimmy Witherspoon, before picking up the tempo again with Jimmy Reed’s mid-tempo shuffle: “Too Much”.

As well as a couple more songs by “Sleepy” John Estes, and great interpretations of songs by Willie Dixon(Back Door Man), Danny Brown(Standing On The Corner) and the classic Muddy Walter’s ballad “Stood In My Kitchen” we were treated to several of Giles’s own well-crafted songs including “The Dark Before the Dawning” and the slow jazzy smooth Jimmy Witherspoon-esk “Shadows Falling”.

By the time we got half way through the set, it was hard to imagine the set could become more infection, but that’s just what happened with as Giles and the Aviators launched into Sleepy John’s  “If The River Was Whisky”.

Giles saved his nose harmonica Gospel treat for his final song of the evening, which of course guaranteed an encore in the form of Giles’ high energy “Don’t Let ‘em Down”.  Another terrific evening of Giles Hedley music in the great 3rd Friday club in South Street Reading, to which Sam Kelly will return next month with his own band for the final club night – unless of course – you volunteer to take it over!!! Check Giles out at  http://www.gileshedley.com/

 

 

Mark Harrison
Cellar Bar, South Hill Park, Bracknell
15th Sept 2016.
Published in Blues In Britain magazine November 2016

When you come away from a gig feeling that it was in some way memorable, it’s a good indication that the artist has something unique to offer. None more so that Mark Harrison who made a welcome return to the Cellar Bar at South Hill Park Arts Centre in Bracknell to play a solo concert on the 15th of September.   Most of the first half of the set was based on tracks from his current album ‘Turpentine’ including the opening song ‘In The Dark’ and moving through ‘Black Dog Moan’, ‘Josephina Johnson’, ‘The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek’ and ‘Hell Of A Story’.  Once you recognise his particular strain of dry and somewhat quirky sense of humour (which doesn’t take long), you quickly recognise the tongue in cheek lyrics of many of his songs which also demonstrate his observational approach to writing which takes a distinctive look at life, as in ‘Mess Is Everywhere’ or ‘Dirty Business’.  Then he has a set of songs which are sensitive to the historical subject matter and include an element of social comment, such as the ‘Rabbit Creek’ song, and ‘John The Chinaman’.  The lyrics are always clever, even when talking about an old friend, or the rediscovery of the old bluesmen in the 1950’s, as in ‘House Full Of Children’ or ‘Rediscovery Blues’ both of which are not on the album. Mark always successfully tells the story, and if there’s a message, he gets it across.  The second half of the set was largely songs not from the album, including ‘Mess Is Everywhere’ and ‘Easy Does It’ which took us to the final song of the set; ‘Panic Attack’  which comes from his WORLD OUTSIDE album, and is supported by a brilliant video on his web site. Definitely worth a watch.

His early blues guitar playing is the perfect musical backdrop for his songs, and his humour and song writing ensures a really entertaining evening.  Not surprisingly, there was an enthusiastic call for an encore – another track not from the album –‘Reckless’ – brought the evening to a close. Having seen three solo performances now, I look forward to catching a full band gig at some point in the future.

Check out his dates (and that video) at http://www.markharrisonrootsmusic.com/

John Cee Stannard

 

 

Sari Schorr  26th Aug 2016
Norden Farm Arts Centre, Maidenhead.
26th Aug 2016
Published in Blues in Britain magazine  October 2016

The 26th of August saw the launch of Sari Schorr’s UK tour at the Norden Farm Arts Centre in Maidenhead.  It is a fabulous venue and a great place to start a tour.  My fear of being late usually results in my arriving ridiculously early.  Having enjoyed my bar meal, it was still 45 minutes to show time. So I went for a walk.  After 20 minutes I turned around and headed back.  20 minutes later I was not at my starting point.  I’m not sure where I went wrong, but with the help of some newly acquired directions I made it back just in time for the concert.  The Engine Room took to the stage.  At the count of four, the stage was transformed from an empty space into a powerhouse of blues as the band, with Innes Siburn’s cutting guitar to the fore, brought the entire theatre instantly to life.  A few bars in and Sari took to the stage and showed us immediately what we would be treated to for the next couple of hours.

When I saw them last October at London’s Surya music venue, I was put in memory of Elkie Brooks in the 6-Star General days of Vinegar Joe.  Since then she has written a bunch of new songs, including some co-written work with Mike Vernon, and completed her new album “A Force Of Nature” which Mike produced.

The band has absorbed the new material with relish and the enthusiasm shows. It’s infectious.  Much of the set was based on the new album, starting the show with the opening track ‘Ain’t Got No Money’ which moved seamlessly into ‘Demolition Man’.  The third track, also from the album was the slow shuffle ‘Cat & Mouse’.

Before the show started, the couple in the seats next to me asked me what Sari was like. I had assured them they were in for a treat.  The smiles on their faces now confirmed I was right.   With the memory of their success at the New York Leadbelly Fest still in their minds, the band then played homage to the great man with a stunningly powerful arrangement of ‘In The Pines’.  The sensitive ‘Letting Go’ was followed by ‘Kiss Me’ before closing the first half with a rock steady version of Lazy Lester’s ‘Sugar Coated Lover’ taken from the great Excello label of 1958.

When the band is enjoying themselves, the music just comes alive. And Sari’s engaging style brought the audience right into the concert.

If I had any criticism, it would be that I would like to have heard a little more of sari’s voice.  But mixing is a subjective art form, and I would not have wanted to turn the band down.

It was equally high energy throughout the second half and Sari’s first song ‘Oklahoma’ was a moody and atmospheric song that did allow Sari’s lyrics to come through more clearly.  The song then morphed into a brilliantly rocky virtuoso demonstration of Innes’ fine guitar playing.  Towards the end of the set, the brilliantly written ‘Ordinary Life’ which sums up Sari’s principles for a happy life and serves as good advice for anyone, gave keyboard man Anders Olinder a chance to show us more of his piano musicianship. Bassist Kevin Jeffries and drummer Kevin O’Rouke perfectly supported the three front liners.

Sari does not shy from difficult subjects in her writing: From expected subjects such as love, or lack of it, to songs dealing with ultimate loss, and domestic violence, all are delivered with passion and conviction.
The set included her incredibly powerful ‘Black Betty’ (the current single), as well as the classic ‘I Just Wanna Make Love To You’ which had more in common with Quo (in a good way) than Willie Dixon.

Many people will be introduced to Sari Schorr and The Engine room for the first time during this tour and will no doubt become followers and long term fans. Check out her dates at http://www.sarischorr.com/tour/

John Cee Stannard

 

 

Zoe Schwarz Blue Commotion
Third Friday Blues – Reading
20th May 2016
Published in Blues in Britain magazine  July 2016

The current album “Livewire” has been attracting a lot of well deserved appreciation.  In was my introduction to the music of Zoe Schwarz Blue Commotion, so I was really looking forward to their concert at Reading’s Third Friday Blues, hoping it would be as good as the album.  You always hope a band will live up to the expectation, and there is no doubt that the band’s live performance was every bit as good, if not better, than the sounds captured on “Livewire”.  Zoe comfortably occupies the centre stage with a presence that keeps the audience engaged throughout the performance.

Third Friday Blues (previously 3rd Thursday) has been running at the 21 South Street Venue in Reading for 11 years now.  Refurbishment of the venue means that from June, they will transfer to Smokin’ Billy’s speakeasy in the Butt’s Centre, Reading until September, and Zoe provided a brilliant final evening at 21 South Street before the temporary closure.

Paul Critchfield kicked the evening off with some great guitar playing and an engaging vocal style, nicely setting the scene for Blue Commotion who blasted their way into their first set with ‘You’re Confusing Me’ to be closely followed by ‘You got the Blues’ which typified the high energy performance we were treated to throughout the evening.

Whilst the tempo slowed down for the several slow numbers in the set, the energy level never did, whether it was one of their own, or a cover such as their version of Feeling Good.  The majority of the set is made up of well crafted originals, but there’s a well chosen sprinkling of covers including Janis Joplin’s ‘Move Over’, originally from her 1971 Pearl album.

Throughout the two sets, Zoe’s powerful delivery was superbly matched by the band.  It is hardly surprising that Rob’s guitar work and writing contribute significantly, given the long association between him and Zoe, extending ten year prior to the formation of the band in 2012.  Pete Whittaker follows in the finest traditions of Hammond playing.  When there’s a Hammond in the band, you want it to deliver, and in Pete’s hands it certainly did.  Whilst Jimmy Smith may be considered the founder of modern jazz Hammond playing, I found Pete’s attack and sound a little closer to Jimmy McGriff, though I would have to say, more inventive; a great achievement, especially given his dual role of also supplying the bass line.  Paul Robison’s drumming provided a solid driving rhythm and then some, lots of musicality and nuance.

There’s plenty of melody in the writing of Zoe and Rob, and no more so than on their track Angel Of Mercy which would rival any standard.  This was released as a single earlier this year.  Having closed the set with a cover of ‘I Can’t Quit You Babe’, it only remained for them to draw the evening to a close with a well deserved encore, an original song titled  ‘Take it Back’.

Altogether, this was a great evening’s entertainment and another confirmation that the blues scene in this country is very much alive and kicking.

John Cee Stannard.

 

Boogaloo Weekend
South Downs Holiday Village, Bracklesham
22nd to 24th April 2016
Published (in part) in Blues in Britain magazine  June 2016
Mashed with a n excellent review by Bob Chaffey

Music weekends around the country are a lifeline to the hotels, holiday camps and holiday villages in which they are held.  Some are enjoyed in comparatively modern establishments whilst others give a quirky insight into the holiday habits of prior generations; often offering a room which is plenty big enough for the bed, and almost big enough for the suitcase.  The one thing they have in common is that they are invariable excellent value and a wonderful opportunity to see a host of favorite artists concentrated in one weekend of listening pleasure.  The Boogaloo Blues weekend in Brackelsham Bay of the weekend April 22nd to 25th, was no exception.  The line-up was a mixture of Boogaloo favourites and newcomers.

Friday evening was kicked off to a great start by the multi-national Wang Dang Doodle band who provided a high energy start to evening before Val Cowell brought her strong determined vocal delivery onto the stage with Bad Influence and a set that left the crowd yelling for more.

Cry Baby and the Hoochie Coochie men provided both excellent music and a fine cache of humour making sure that everyone was fired up for the Saturday headliners – The Stumble, making a welcome return to the Boogaloo stage.  Their twenty something years of playing a set rooted in hard Chicago styles of the 50’s and 60’s was a perfect close to the evening.

When a band stands out, it strikes me that the ingredient that sets them apart is the chemistry between the musicians.  For me, the best examples of this over the weekend were The Blues Duo and The Spikedrivers.

The Blues Duo would not be the same without either Tommy Allen or Johnny Hewitt.  They were made to be together.  They support each other perfectly delivering a hard driving early Chicago Blues style where the sum is most definitely greater that it’s parts.  As the welcoming act for the Friday afternoon, they were the perfect scene setters for a great weekend.

With a wealth of musical heritage behind each member of The Spikedrivers, there is no question that the performance would be flawless, but once again, the relationship between Constance Redgrave, Maurice McElroy, and founder Ben Tyzak, transforms the set from being a selection of songs, into an entertaining show. They feed off each other throughout the performance.  Not only is the music energetic and harmonious, but so are they in their delivery.  There is constant movement bring light and shade to the arrangements.  And above all of that, they exude a tremendous sense of fun.

It would be unfair not to mention Five Field Holler who hosted the three jam sessions running from mid-night to very late each night – and still managed to eat breakfast – albeit with closed eyes.  Tony Farinha provided the recorded warm ups for the live acts, and took to the stage with Neil Mercer for a dazzling display of fine guitar work during the Saturday afternoon acoustic session. The weekend would not have been complete without Earl Jackson taking to the stage at least once, on this occasion with Steve Smith and their band. The Nigel Bagge band delivered an excellent, tight, and exciting set leading to the Spikedrivers climax to the Sunday evening.

The surprise treat of the weekend was a performance by Joe Houghton who delivered a selection of his own material with some originally crafted covers (Isn’t She Lovely) for his first Boogaloo appearance. The only solo artist of the weekend, he introducing some well placed loop work to the blues arena during his afternoon set, leaving everyone in no doubt that we will be seeing more of him in the years to come.

John Cee Stannard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t not do something                 by John Cee Stannard

or

Just because you don’t do something is doesn’t mean you shouldn’t – ever.

I very rarely read a newspaper – it’s just not what I do.  I may have bought half a dozen in the last ten years.  I just don’t get any pleasure or satisfaction from them.

So when I got a phone call from the BBC asking me if I would like to go into Radio Berkshire to review the newspapers – well, there was only one answer – yes of course.  At 9 o’clock one morning, a couple of days ago, I dutifully arrived at the studio. I was given a cup of tea, a pile of newspapers and was told I was to join Sarah Walker on her show between 10:00 and 10:45.

Great – never done this before – where do I start? What will Sarah have expected me to have prepared?  I ended up making notes of about a dozen stories, and hoped that my view on the story would work.

One of the day’s stories involved UKIP, so I launched into that.  They claim that if they get into power, they will immediately repeal the Climate Change Act.  Their science spokesman explained that there is absolutely no proof that –  a) there is a problem, and b) we are contributing – he also mentioned that he is not a scientist.

But for me, the content of this story was not the big story.  The point of interest is that the story is there at all; that the party has such prevalence in our media, and that anything they say is reported as being significant.  This may or may not be justified, it’s not for me to say, but it seems to me that 2014 really has been the year they moved to centre stage.

There is a sizable section of our population that believes this to be really good news, and a sizeable portion that finds it very scary indeed.  I find it fascinating.  What a shot in the arm for the established parties.  No room for complacency now.  And several issues that were previously successfully hedged will now have to be very squarely faced.

And consider for a moment – some folks are saying that a slight shift from Conservative to Labour would create a scenario where it would be Labour trying to broker a deal with a Liberal Democrat party that didn’t actually get enough votes to swing a cat – yet somehow manages to hold the balance of power.

But hang on – of the LibDems continue to slide down as UKIP continue to slide up, what’s this, maybe Labour will have to make a difficult choice  – join forces with UKIP, or give up the chance of being part of government, and go back to the people.

We could be in for a fascinating political year.

Earlier this year I volunteered for polling duty for the first time in my life.  I think I might just do it again next year.

 

JohnCee

 

John Cee Stannard is the host of web site That’s My Song

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