John Smith is branching out.
Who he? I hear you say. Well, when our paths first crossed about two years ago, John was a harmonica-player, who combined his guitar and fledgling saxophone skills with a voice born to sing the Blues. His band - The Big Sets - are a bunch of young, very talented blues-funk musicians from Sunderland, exiled in the ‘deep south’. Well, Newquay in south-west England, to be strictly accurate. (Their first EP was reviewed on 16/4/17 - see below)
The band has built quite a reputation at both ends of the country. Their performances are lively and popular, and I would urge anyone under the common misconception that blues is either bland, boring or both - music for old blokes by blokes just as old - to go and see them. Audiences for the Big Sets are full of music lovers from several generations, helping to ensure that blues and funk will live on and progress.
So, not satisfied with being part of the growing number of young solo performers and bands on the 'blues mission', John Smith has embarked on a project in another direction. Thankfully his compass is still set to avoid the route of the Bieber, the Sheeran or the lesser-spotted Murs. There's still plenty of angst and gloom in the lyrics, but it’s not all like that, and there’s a happier, almost sing-a-long feel to the music.
He’s teamed up with Martin Heath to form The Life Band, and their first recordings are entitled 'In My Blood’. The title track, which opens the album, has a misleadingly happy sounding rhythm. I say ‘misleadingly’ because the story that the song tells us is far from a happy one. We are taken through the life of a singer songwriter, whose attempts to not follow in the footsteps of his father fail miserably. His father was a man he never saw much, because he was always either on the road with his music, or out late when he came home for a while, and he smelt of rum by the time he made it back. We’re learning this from the note he leaves before he kills himself, after his wife and family had just left him - the realisation that he had “become my father, I was my father’s son...” and “...all I had was a head full of music and the beating of a drum” we're just too much for him to cope with.
‘In My Blood’ is a salutary tale that makes you wonder who the song is about, but it also indicates that the two fellas making this album hopefully won’t follow in their footsteps!
There’s a catchy beat and a couple of harmonica solos that help make ‘I’m Easy Too’ a lovely toe-tapping happy song - exactly the right way to follow the heavy nature of the story on the first track. The tales told in the two opening songs couldn’t be much more different in nature, and I like the way ‘I’m Easy Too’ ends with the drumsticks rattling some tins...a nice touch.
‘Same Sun, Same Moon, Same Sea’ opens with a slow to mid-tempo harmonica solo, and, in these ‘brexitful’ days, preaches that we should welcome folk who arrive at our shores having lost everything, and seeking a life like ours. The simple message is that we should treat desperate people, who are much less fortunate than ourselves, with love and compassion - we share the one world, and who’s to say that one day we won’t be in a similar position? It’s hard to believe that so many people in our country do not seem to share this view, and clearly fail to realise how lucky they are...for the moment, at least.
Mr Smith sings about having ‘Music In My Soul’ and in his fingers toes and everywhere else, as well, and he most certainly has. More of his skills on the harmonica are evident on this number, and they are a feature of this collection of eight songs. They demonstrate John’s versatility and ability to shine in another musical genre, many of them having a distinct ‘country feel’ to them. I don’t usually listen to this sort of music, but I have to say that I enjoyed this album more and more with each play, and I often find that an album that grows on me like this is one that I keep going back to for years to come.
14th September 2017
Ritchie Dave Porter is a singer songwriter from Birmingham. ‘Working Class Bluesman’ is his second album, released last year, and the title track demonstrates from the off that this guy certainly knows what to do with a guitar!
A few lovely acoustic bars leads into a very traditional blues rhythm, and arrangement, for the majority of the title track. The song is also on a pretty well worn blues theme - trouble with ‘wor lass’, as we would have it in the north-east, or ‘my woman’ to the rest of the world! However, there’s an impressive long solo on that acoustic guitar to close, which takes the track out of the ‘average’ category.
In fact, it’s Ritchie’s skill with both acoustic and electric guitars which I found to be the most pleasing aspects of the album. Eight of the ten numbers are under four minutes long, but ‘No More Hell’ is one that lasts almost double the length. It starts off with a hell of an electric guitar solo, one which almost blows exhaust fumes in your face as it gets into gear from the get-go. It keeps on going for just over a minute and a half of crackin’ slowish blues, before Ritchie starts to tell us that he’s had enough of the hell that is life with ‘wor lass’, and he’s off! Perhaps the fact that nearly four and a half minutes of strings being given the what-for, with no words required, tells us what was wrong with his woman....she may have given him the blues, but she sure didn’t want to hear him play them!
On ’Blood Turns To Ice’ we’re told how “all I want to do is play the blues”, not go to work (or listen to ‘wor lass’ bleatin’ on anymore,’ or is that me reading too much into all this?). I like the simple tale in this track, and it’s always good that bluesmen pay their respects the godfather of their blues afflicted soul. How? By selling theirs to the devil at the crossroads of course, at least once during their career. You see what some women can drive men to...well, bluesmen anyway!?!?
“After all this time, I’ve moved on” sings Ritchie in the middle of ‘Given Up On You’. Why it’s taken him till the penultimate track on the album to do it, I don’t know, but ‘wor lass’ is history, and about time is all I can say. This is only the second track on the album that Ritchie leads on an electric, rather than acoustic guitar, and much as I enjoyed the acoustic ones, this is my favourite number. It opens with a single note which builds in volume and intensity, before a repetitive triple stanza really gets you rockin’. Just a few lines, then the first of two powerful solos. It’s a crackin’ track that in my opinion puts the others in the shade, somewhat.
This is what we call in the north-east ‘a canny little album’, with ‘women trouble’ as a recurring theme. However, I do wonder whether Ritchie has used his blues box of tricks - the foremost of them being his masterful plucking, strumming and caressing of those strings on his guitar - as a metaphor for the battle he has had with cancer. His battle was successful, in the end, but not long before completing this review, a post on Facebook let us know that the joy of beating the Big C about a year ago may have been a bit premature.
Let’s hope that Ritchie Dave Porter can prove his battle-worthiness again, if cancer has returned to his body - the place would be a much poorer place if this skilful Working Class Bluesman couldn’t pick up his guitar and play.
13th September 2017
Dean Jamesand theBlack Dogs
at The County, South Shields,
Saturday 17th June 2017
Well, it’s not often you get to say this, but ‘it was a hot sultry night in South Shields!’
I kid you not, but the temperature had been around 30 degrees during the day, and it wasn’t much less than that when I arrived at ‘The County’ to see one of the North East’s premier blues rock bands. Dean James launched his seriously good first album, ‘Pure’, on Good Friday last year at the Independent in Sunderland. I had hoped that he had planned how he was going to follow this up, and that he wouldn’t get caught by ‘second album syndrome’, and the signs are good so far.
For a start, he decided to sign for a relatively new management and publishing company called Global Entertainment and Media (GEM). As the name suggests, they have artists on their books all around the world. They also operate music TV and radio channels both here in the UK, and across the pond in California. So, Dean’s potential audience got a lot lot bigger overnight.
Not content to stick to the same formula that he’d used to write and play ‘Pure’, Dean has developed his style in a more grunge-rock direction. I’d heard a couple of the new tracks before, and when he played them at The Harbour View ‘Speakeasy’ in March, the response must have been just what he’d hoped for. It’s always got to be a good thing for artists to try new approaches, and when it comes off well, even better.
One of these new songs, called ‘Hate Me’, kicked off the show at The County, and the crowd on Saturday night were equally as entranced by the great vibe that the song produces as the folks in Roker at the’Speakeasy’. A repetitive rhythm and beat get you mesmerised straight away. ‘Hollywood’ followed shortly after, and is along the same style lines, only it’s even more catchy, and hopefully it will be released as a single before too long.
‘Cole’ is the first track on ‘Pure’ and was the second one on the bill on Saturday night. It had been given the make-over treatment - the original starts extremely slowly, with some echo, as if it’s being played in a dark, dusty quiet room. At ‘The County’, a not-quite metronomic beat was introduced, an increase in tempo that worked well when playing ‘live’, and got the toes tapping right from the off. However, I have to say that the version on the album works better for me when listening to it at home.
There’s only one thing to do on ‘hot sultry nights in South Shields’, and that’s make sure you take plenty of liquids on board, and those at ‘The County’ certainly made sure that they did that! It helped to produce a great atmosphere that even inspired some dancing, making me for one wish I knew where the ‘Energy Station’ was, so I could go and fill up!
Along with some of Dean’s older numbers, the brilliant ’Bad Day’ among them, we we're treated to a couple more new tracks from the forthcoming album. ‘Sleazy’ reinforced the great grungy vibe - again, a very repetitive rhythm, again, pretty damn good! John Timney, who also plays alongside Shannon Pearl Powell in YUMA, has recently joined the Black Dogs, and his fantastic fingers seem made for this kind of sound. I also saw John play with Bernie Christie a few months ago and was very impressed. Certainly, the style that he played that night is well suited to the new material that Dean has produced, making John a welcome addition to the band.
I hope that Dean James and the Black Dogs and GEM proves to be a marriage made in heaven, and the new album can be put together as soon as possible. On the evidence of this live show, the material will go down well wherever it is played. Who knows, with airplay outside of his native north east of England, Dean may end up having hot sultry nights like this in Swindon, Southampton..........or even Santa Monica!
Trevor Sewell -
UK Launch Date: 23rd June 2017
It’s sometimes hard to pin down where Trevor Sewell will be playing next, but come February it’s a fair bet that you’ll find him in Los Angeles. In recent years, he has crossed the pond on several occasions to play at some top venues, including the El Reay Theatre, the Whiskey A Go Go Club on Sunset Boulevard, and at the pre Grammy Soirees a couple of times. He has quite a following in the States, winning awards, and several nominations for his songwriting and performing. ‘Calling Nashville’ is his latest offering, and I foresee him having to dig out the black tie and passport once again come the turn of the year!
This modest master of the guitar is clearly held in high regard around the globe. Trevor’s songwriting and guitar playing is at a very high standard, up there with the best, which the names involved in the recording of his new album reflect.
The quality of the sound on ‘Calling Nashville’ is second to none. It was produced and recorded by Geoff Wilbourn, in, well, guess where! Geoff has produced songs by the likes of Johnny Winter and David ‘Honey Boy’ Edwards, and some of the musicians he has worked with were only too pleased to get involved with the album. It is a real coup to not only share duets with blues great Tracy Nelson, on ‘Long Time Ago’, and the wonderful Janis Ian, on a re-working of ‘Fade To Grey’, but they also appear as backing vocalists, along with the multi-talented Mia Moravis, and others.
Janis also tickles the ivories on a few tracks, and the opening bars of the first song on the album - ’Someday’ - have Trevor’s vocal alongside the very upbeat, attention grabbing fiddle playing of Kellen Michael Wenrich, who brings a totally new dimension to the Sewell library of songs.
Some music is hard to pigeon-hole into a particular genre, and this album is a prime example. The variety of styles between the songs and high quality musicianship are two of the reasons why the album could appeal to a wider audience than Trevor has experienced thus far in his career.
’Some Day’ is bordering on ‘heavy rock’, with Mr Sewell’s guitar showing he can get that head banging for a while, but how many of songs under this banner feature a fiddle? It’s a crackin’ way to open the album - rockin’ guitar riffs, a vibrant violin and dramatic, damn good drumming from Trevor Brewis - but is it followed by more exercises for those neck muscles? Not at all...
‘Mountain of Gold’ slows things down, with piano keys and guitar strings setting the rhythm. It is a beautiful song about the realisation that you can stay with someone for too long, searching for that special something you once saw in them, it was there once, but that was “a long time ago.”
The third track is a re-working of ‘Fade to Grey,’ which featured on Sewell’s last but one album, ‘Independence’. It’s my favourite number on that album, but this version knocks the socks of it. The original featured Trevor’s guitar and vocal, and some wonderful harmonica playing. This time around, Janis Ian shares centre stage on vocals, and her slow-jazz piano playing steals the show. She may no longer be in her teens, but Janis’ voice still sounds as young and as pure as it did in the mid 1970’s. We are treated to 7 minutes and 44 seconds, over twice as much as on ‘Independence’, which is a shame...I was waiting for it to stop much later...well, ‘at seventeen’ minutes, at the very least!
So, how do you follow that? With something completely different, of course! In all, there are eleven songs on ‘Calling Nashville’, inevitably including one which has a bit of a country-feel. This is on ‘Blanket of Hope’ - a happy catchy toe-tapper if ever there was one!
The final track lacks something that probably features on every other one that Trevor Sewell has ever recorded! ‘Shadows’ was released as a single before Christmas last year, and quite remarkably, there’s no guitar to be heard at all. The marvellous Janis Ian came into the studio on a day that Trevor was struggling to find the best arrangement for the song. She took a seat behind a piano, told Trevor to put his guitar down, and to just sing along - the track was laid down at the first attempt, and is absolutely beautiful!
Since relaunching his career in the blues 5/6 years ago, Trevor has released some crackin’ albums, containing some exceptionally good songs. He plays blues and blues/rock very much in his own style, and continuously develops new approaches. The title track of his previous album - ’Hollow’ - is a prime example, and very different to anything on previous albums.…very different, full-stop!
It’s good to see that Trevor’s style has developed even further on ‘Calling Nashville.’ Despite the majority of the lyrics covering some of the topics that many blues numbers have covered since the time of the great Robert Johnson, I would argue that to categorise this as a blues, or even blues and blues rock album, would be a mite misleading, and certainly would not do it justice. The mix of styles, which thankfully retain his blues roots, demonstrate the versatility and considerably enormous skill of this extremely talented artist.
27th May 2017.
Sunday 21st May 2017
Andy Fairweather Low is one of those performers who seems to have been around forever. I have vague memories of listening to a fairly high pitched voice singing “Bend me shape me anyway you want me...” when I was about eight or nine years old. It was a very distinctive voice and very different to most of the other ‘pop stars’ I’d heard up till then. When I eventually saw the face of the singer, I was shocked to see that he didn’t look much older than me, even though he was just over double my age!
Fifty years on, and he still doesn’t, even though there’s 11 years between us...he’s looking really good for a man who will turn 70 next year!
What’s more, his voice still sounds great, although apparently a voice coach told him that he had to change the way he sang, at the time when he was flying high in the charts!
Ha, ‘voice coaches’ - who needs ‘em!
AFW loves chatting to his audience, and this was one of many anecdotes, jokes with the Low Riders, and bits and pieces of repartee that he enjoyed sharing with his audience. His long career, going back to 1966 with Amen Corner, followed by leading more bands, collaborations and session work with some music greats, and playing solo, provide plenty of material to work with. One of my lasting impressions of this evening will be of Andy’s confident but not cocky, friendly and very approachable nature.
In between all that, of course, we were treated to some masterful guitar playing from ‘the man’; breathtakingly good sax and clarinet by former Wizzard, Nick Pentelow; Dave Bronze’s excellent bass; and, at just turned 60, the band’s ‘baby’ drummer, Paul Beavis bashing out an enthusiastic beat.
Along with AFW’s own material, the setlist in Shields included many songs that he loves by other artists. There was a good guitar solo on ‘Route 66’ early in the set, which was soon surpassed by a couple more, in Jimmy Read’s classic blues number, ‘Got Love If You Want It’, separated by a simply sexy sax solo...easy for me to say!
Insanity was not only on the loose on a great rendition of ‘Spider Jiving’, but in my mate’s head before the band took to the stage! I’d said that I hoped and expected to hear the early hits from Amen Corner, but he confidently disagreed, saying that he didn't think they’d get an outing. However when “(If Paradise Is ) Half As Nice” closed the show at the end of the encore, it was the last of perhaps the three best known hits from the late sixties (the others being ‘Bend Me, Shape Me,’ and ‘High In The Sky’) to be played.
In fact, I think we were treated to all the well known songs that have contributed to a superb catalogue of music by AFL. On this fabulous night of top quality music, the awesome ‘Gin House Blues’ was possibly my favourite track. It continued for what seemed like 10 minutes or so, and resembled a jamming session, with each band member taking it in turns to demonstrate how good they undoubtedly are. The clarinet playing from Nick Pentelow was simply sublime on Sidney Bechet’s beautiful ‘Petite Fleur', which was made famous by Chris Barber.
“I don’t really enjoy doing this anymore,” Andy said to one of his fans as he signed the cover of a CD she had bought after the show. “I love it!” he almost shouted out, as a big smile engrossed his face. Unlike a certain judge, on a certain TV show with one of the last three letters in the alphabet kicking off its title, this most definitely wasn’t said for effect.
In fact, the whole band seemed to genuinely enjoy the evening as much as their audience. When you’ve been watching musicians who have shared much larger stages in world class venues, with megastars of this business, and they still feel like that, even when playing in relatively small, fairly intimate places like The Customs House, I think it’s very refreshing.
'The Big Sets'
‘The Bigs Sets’ are surely set to become ‘big’ in every sense!
They are a sensational live band from Sunderland, who play as often as possible in their adopted home town of Newquay, and the surrounding area. Thankfully for the folks back home in the north-east, they still manage to get back up there occasionally, and just can’t stop themselves from getting onto that stage, clocking up over 100 gigs in all last year. They featured on the local BBC TV station down in the south-west, and future slots must be guaranteed if they continue to develop their blues funk sound.
This is the band’s first EP, and the opening track - ‘Perfect Woman’ - starts with what sounds like the end of the song, before launching into a guitar solo. It's not a bad trick, and grabs the listener’s attention right from the off. These lads certainly know their way around the tools of their trade, with Chris Hogg on lead vocals, and it’s the guitar and harmonica in particular that stand out on this lively track, which keeps your fingers and toes tapping for the full three minutes.
However, for me, the standout track on the EP is ‘Get Down’. The simple repetitive chorus sets the rhythm, with John ‘Smokeydoodar’ Smith on lead vocal this time, and it suits his style perfectly. His sax playing also plays a major role on this very catchy number. The only problem I have with it, is that the best track on an EP should be the first one you hear, not the last, but that’s a minor gripe.
John has all the qualities of an excellent frontman in a blues band - a good voice, the ability to play several instruments well (guitar, as well as the harmonica and saxophone, to name but three) - and confidence in his own ability. Providing it’s not combined with arrogance, confidence will win most people over. Let’s face it, there are plenty of over-confident musicians that do well despite the fact that they have very little ability on which to base that confidence. Equally, some skilled ones fail to realise their potential through self-doubt. Well, although John Smith still has a way to go, in my opinion, he has the skill and character to carry it off. It wouldn’t surprise me if he becomes a big name in the music business, if he continues to dedicate his time to honing those skills in the right direction.
Tracks two and three also see the lead vocals shared, with Hogg on ’I’m Gonna Get Drunk’ and Smith on ‘Come With Me’, which hits the tracks running. The guitar strings get a good work out on their own for five or six seconds, before the bass and drums join the party. The bass solo towards the end of the track is very funky, very cool! When you see the band play live, you soon realise how good Jonny ‘Dr Funk’ Rubin’s bass playing is, so I’m glad he gets this, albeit short-lived, opportunity to go-it-alone on the EP. Again, this is a very catchy funky rock number, with lyrics that you first hear praising how a woman looks, but pretty quickly get to the point - no metaphors required!
This EP demonstrates that ‘The Big Sets’ are a group of pretty damn good musicians - John Smith on harmonica, sax and rhythm guitar, Johnny Rubin on bass, Chris Hogg and Jake Landers on lead guitar, and Pete on drums - who combine to produce a quartet of quality tracks. My one criticism would be that I don't think the keyboards bring much to the sound, but that may just be my own personal taste.
So, the first track starts like it's about to finish; the last track could really have been the first one; and this very talented young band play fantastic music, some of which is from a genre normally associated with older people....oh, and the lads are based in Cornwall, despite coming from Sunderland, at the opposite end of the country!
Who said it was a crazy mixed up world....
16th April 2017
Wily Bo Walker at The Cluny, 13/11/15
To say that Wily Bo Walker is a prolific writer and performer is about as big an understatement as calling Billy Connolly ‘quite funny’.
In 2016, as well as releasing two compilation albums - ‘The Wily Bo Walker Story Volumes I & II’ - he also completed a trilogy that he started the previous year, of which ‘Moon Over Indigo’ is the final instalment....there was just no stopping the man! And listening to the album, it’s easy to see why Walker was a runner up for the ‘Kevin Thorpe Award for Songwriting’ at the 2016 British Blues awards.
Unlike Billy Connolly, it’s hard to tell where Wily Bo comes from when you listen to him perform. To discover that he is also a Glaswegian may come as a bit of a shock, if you’ve only heard him sing. I’m not usually a fan of British artists trying to sound American, but Wily Bo carries it off tremendously well. The ‘Delta drawl’ is reminiscent of Dr John, to my ears anyway, and is entirely in keeping with the style of music on this great album - if you heard some of these tracks coming out of a bar on Frenchmen Street in New Orleans, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was Mr Walker’s local....
The opening track on ‘Moon Over Indigo’ could be straight from the Big Easy. ’Walking With The Devil (Voodoo Mix)’ bounces along with a whispering devilish beat, with Wily Bo’s tremendous guitar playing highlighted from the opening keys.
Along with Wily Bo’s deep, often gravely voice on many tracks, a great sounding brass section combines with his lead guitar. They make their presence felt from track two onwards and really add something to the ’big sound’ that is a feature of this album. The slow muzzled trumpet that the title track opens with takes you straight to a sleazy club in Tremé, as Walker’s fantastic drawl bemoans a love affair coming to an end. You can almost feel his pain as the emotional vocals combine with the slow rhythm, while the moaning trumpet gnaws at your soul...simply magnificent!
‘When The Angels Call Your Time’ has a jaunty beat created by the brass section taking control. I often find it difficult to appreciate why songs with sad or downright miserable lyrics are sung to a happy beat - it just seems strange! At first that appears to be the case here, as Wily Bo sings “I heard last night...goodbye baby, bye bye, I heard last night that you’d gone.” but about half way through, the line changes to “I heard last night, I ain’t got no trouble no more.” Nice one Wily Bo - this time it makes perfect sense!
I first heard the Muddy Waters number ‘Same Thing’ performed live a few years ago by American singer songwriter Jess Klein. Her extremely seductive treatment of the song hooked me straight away, and I have to say that Wily Bo’s interpretation is just about as powerful. It’s the second slow track on the album, and his voice is perfectly suited to singing about what can make women so ‘gawd-damn’ attractive.
The album has ten tracks that are a mix of up-tempo bluesy numbers and slow to snail-like songs, all of which tell a downbeat story. It’s a very accomplished pace of work that I enjoyed getting to know.
The first time I saw Wily Bo Walker perform was in November 2015 at the Cluny in Newcastle, at the launch of Trevor Sewell’s album ‘Hollow’. I quite liked what I saw, but hadn’t heard any of his material before. Having been given the chance to listen to ‘Moon Over Indigo’, you can bet on me investing in a few more albums while scouring the listings for Wily Bo’s next visit to the north-east.
Nine Below Zero
at The Cluny, Newcastle
Friday 24th March 2016
I’m ashamed to say that I couldn’t name you a song by Nine Below Zero, so this was one of those nights when I wasn't not sure how it was going to turn out. But, when my mate had asked back in December if I fancied going to see them, I’d had no hesitation.
I'd seen Nine Below Zero live once before, several years ago in Kendal when we were staying with friends. I wasn't a big fan, but they were quite impressive on the night. So, three months ago, when Mick Firth asked if I fancied going to see them at the Cluny, I gave my standard response of "why not!".....and thank goodness I did - they were treeeemendous!
The night got under way with a set from Charlie Austen playing acoustic guitar and singing some of her own numbers. "She's one to keep an eye out for," I thought - she's got a great voice. Well, I didn't have long to wait to see her after she finished a promising set - she shares lead vocals in NBZ with Dennis Greaves!
The Cluny is hardly a big venue, but I have to say the 8 members of Nine Below Zero surprisingly didn't seem too crowded on the almost matchbox-like stage. The band has been around for 40 years now, and whilst founder members Dennis Greaves on lead guitar and vocals and harmonica player Mark Feltham are still there, there’s been several changes in personnel. I don't know how long they’ve included a brass section, but however many it is, it's not enough! The sax and trumpet really brought the performance of the band up a notch or two, and that's some feat when you are sharing the stage with one of the country's best harmonica players.
Mark Feltham was voted Best Harmonica Player in the British Blues Awards 2016, so it was brilliant to see this master of the harp at work. But to be honest, the whole band were pretty damn good at what they do - a tighter unit you couldn't possibly wish to see. Even Dennis' Cockney wit and repartee went down well with the Geordies!
The whole set kept the toes tapping and I’d challenge anyone present if they said otherwise. While still not sure of any of the song names - I’m pretty rubbish at remembering track names for my favourite bands, never mind any others - but there were one or two that I think I got, and which stood out for me. ‘Crawling Up a Hill’ was vaguely familiar, and a quick glimpse at Google reminded me that I’d heard the original by John Mayall a while back; and ‘Once, Twice, Three Times Is Enough’.
But this wasn’t an evening for examining your naval and noting down every track name - it was all about enjoying the moment, and keeping those toes tapping. It reassured me that going to see live music can be very therapeutic - I hadn't been feeling 100% for a few hours before the gig, and had contemplated staying at home. But not long after arriving at this great little venue in Newcastle, and listening to the first few numbers I perked up no end, and by the time came to wend a weary way back to Wearside, all was well with the world!
Sunderland is one of the favourites to be nominated as City of Culture for 2021, and one of the strengths of the bid is the lively music scene. All genres seem to be thriving, and work commenced this summer on a new 450 seat performance space, a heritage centre and a bar and restaurant. It is scheduled to open in summer 2017, on a site that includes the derelict former city centre fire station, right next to the Empire theatre and Dun Cow pub, which was the first home for the Sunderland Blues Club.
Much of modern music has its roots in blues, and while there is a strong indie scene in Sunderland, more and more places are featuring local blues artists. The Ship Isis is another historic pub, not a kick of the pants away from the Empire, which has been added to the music circuit, and the latest to put blues on its menu. The first night of a new venture kicked off here on 2nd October under the incongruous name of ‘The Strugglin’ Blues Club.
The choice of name seems odd at first glance, and is hopefully not prophetic! It derives from the name of the band whose baby it is - Struggle Buggy - and those who made it to the opening gig will hopefully spread the word sufficiently to help ensure that it succeeds.
The club is a vehicle for Struggle Buggy to demonstrate the art of vintage blues, and didn’t they do just that to great effect! The songs were almost exclusively from the 1920’s and 30’s, many written about the hard times people suffered living through the Depression, from Chicago way down to the deep south. So, I often wonder, how come so many of the songs sound so flaming happy?
A lot of people who aren’t too familiar with blues music have the impression that it’s dull and depressing, when usually it’s quite the opposite. The likes of ‘The Panic is On’ and Blind Boy Fuller’s ‘I Want Some of Your Pie’ got the feet twitching alright. Lead singer and guitarist Lee Bates got his fingers plucking the strings to great effect on ‘Papa’s on the House Top,’ and Billy Newton’s harmonica made a good impression of an old train hooter honking away on ‘Crazy for My Baby’.
Lee and Billy, Struggle Buggy’s two front men, are really entertaining. They create a happy atmosphere, with good humour on top of great foot-tapping blues numbers. I’ve seen these guys three times now, and at times, they’re laugh-out-loud funny. “Aye, we talk all kinds of sh*te” Lee said at one point. “Of course, you could've stopped at home tonight and watched some reality TV, like ‘The Great British Bake-Off’ or something. What’ll they put on next FFS? Celebrity hoovering?”
Lee introduced Keith Smith on drums and Paul Simpson on bass, to complete the band’s line up, before they finished the set with ‘Fourth Street Mess Around,’ which was impossible not to enjoy......except it wasn’t the last one, of course, as they were encouraged to do one more - their very own version of Robert Johnson’s classic ‘Terraplane Blues’.
This was a different way to spend a Sunday afternoon, and very enjoyable it was too. It felt a bit strange coming out of a pub after listening to a couple of hours of blues music, and it was still only 6.15. But....this is Sunderland, and if you want some live music, it doesn’t really matter what time of the day it is. A band called ‘Hot Pies’ were about to start playing just up the road in The Museum Vaults, and ‘Open Mic Night’ got under way at The Smugglers bar in Roker at 8.30pm, to name but two more events that night, if you still had the stamina for more.
Hopefully, ‘The Strugglin’ Blues Club’ will not live down to its name, and on the evidence of its opening night, Lee and Billy might consider changing the name to ‘The Struttin’ Blues Club’....but perhaps not! However, what’s in a name? Hopefully, the club will be as successful as it deserves to be, and will form yet another string to the city of Sunderland’s bow, as it strives to prove that it is a worthy competitor in the race to become City of Culture 2021.
[The club operates from the Ship Isis every first and third Sunday of the month, starting at 4.30pm, with free entry, and will feature Struggle Buggy and special guests. Check out the club’s Facebook page for details.]
Release Date: 7th October 2016
Paul Liddell’s songs just absolutely demand to be listened to!
It might be the clarity and purity of his voice; or it may be the terrific tales that he tells with it; or it could be that you literally love listening to the language he uses; and, what’s that lovely accent anyway - it sounds like Geordie, but...?
There are many things to admire about the songs that Paul Liddell writes and sings...and the fact that we both come from the same city, and even went to the same school, for some reason makes me feel proud (he has a Mackem accent, by-the-way, from Sunderland, not that place 12 miles up the road!). Not everyone likes listening to performers with distinctive accents, but I find it far better than someone trying to hide part of their identity.
After seeing Liddell for the first time last year, when he and I went to the launch of his previous album, ‘Andelain’, the editor of the NE:MM website, Russell Poad, compared Paul’s music with that of KT Tunstall - a great compliment, and one that I wholly concurred with.
So, almost 18 months on, will ‘The Mean Seeds of Yield’ help Paul to keep running up that hill, building a reputation that has the potential to be as good as KT Tunstall’s? Or could it result in that reputation being as elusive as chasing a ball down Tunstall Hill in his home town?
‘Little Rivers’ gets the ball rolling in the right direction, with Paul’s acoustic guitar leading us into a beautiful song about new beginnings, taking new roads that may lead to new places, but which might also bring you back home. The use of a slight echo is really effective, making the song sound quite haunting.
The album forms a commentary on the depressing nature of many aspects of modern life. When I saw Paul play live recently, he jokingly told his audience that he always finishes with a depressing song. Well, not many of the numbers on this album could be described as happy or uplifting, so he has more to choose from now. However, they are all written from the heart, and the way Paul delivers his material has its own unique kind of beauty, even if the subject matter is hardly a bundle of laughs.
I heard a local musician once say that he likes the fact that people interpret the meaning of song lyrics in different ways, so that the same song can have many different meanings. Sometimes it just takes time, and you need to listen to a song a few times before you feel like you’ve got it.
‘Too Much Talk’ reflects this, in a way, bemoaning the fact that people are always looking at screens, listening to others telling them what to do - no time these days for taking time out, time to consider what’s important for them. The words cleverly describe where depression could lead to:
“...there comes a point in every life, a moment when you realise the world you used to recognise, holds no place for you. Too many thoughts and too much talk in the world of modern man....troubles multiplying....because the world can make you feel like disappearing.”
Seriously heavy stuff, but the beautiful tones of Paul’s acoustic guitar and voice, and again the use of a slight echo, combine to make a sound that should make anyone want to stay with us, if only to listen to more sounds like this!
‘Wasting Time’ reflects what many people like to do, but also wish that they could stop doing quite so much! Social media has become a big part of so many people’s lives, but how much time is wasted staring at screens, often ‘talking’ to people you don’t know, counting how many likes you got for posting a comment or lovely photograph. Thoughts jump from one thing to the next, and before you know it, the day’s over....you’re right Paul, and I for one will change my ways....it says here!
The album closes with a rage against the wish of the powers that be to cram yet more ‘things’ into towns and cities, rather than build houses that we need, or even leave open spaces to enjoy. Instead, let’s ‘Build Another Car Park’ - the final track on the album - and make it look like any other place.....planners and politicians, are you listening?!?!
This is a lovely album, full of intelligent songs, sung with a wonderful voice and accompanied by simple but beautiful guitar playing, and very few other instruments. Will it take Paul Liddell towards the recognition achieved by KT Tunstall? Probably not, but that is not what he appears to want anyway. His eye is still definitely on the ball, building a reputation as one of the best singer songwriters around, and the fact that he’s still on our own doorstep is our good fortune. What do you reckon KT?
A snap decision to go to Pop Recs last night, and boy am I glad that I did! YUMA (aka Shannon Powell and John Timney) organised the event, and when she realised that I hadn’t brought any drinks, Shannon even provided me with a beer....to use one of Les Young’s catch phrases, “How good is that!”
The evening began with the lovely voice of Bernie Christie, singing some of her own and some covers. Thankfully, four tracks in, on it came.....Bernie is possibly the only artist I've heard do a decent version of one of my favourite songs of all time - 'Love will Tear Us Apart’. Her set finished with ‘Romeo’, one of her own, with John on guitar adding to the quality sounds.
Next up, and an addition to the bill, was Mark Thompson, and the pick of his set was an original number called ‘Lighter Shade of Grey’, with Shannon helping out on backing vocals, and a lovely song it is too.
Sheona McQue played some lovely self-penned numbers, with John providing a catchy beat on cajon. One of the great things about the night, and it’s the same at the Speakeasy, is how the musos present on the night join in with each other’s sets. After Shannon had added vocals on Sheona’s final number, YUMA (just them!) did a fantastic version of ‘House of the Rising Sun’- one of my highlights of the night! It was very different to, and slower than, the original, and John included some short pauses and very slow chords, which when added to Shannon’s great delivery, producing a tremendous result.
Sheona joined in on cajon for ‘Before You Accuse Me’ and a really good version of ‘Wicked Game’, before we had our first glimpse of four people trying to perform on a sixpence, as Afnan finally got in on the act.
Afnan Prince - final artist on - what a voice he has, and doesn’t he know how to deliver! Over the last couple of years, I’ve seen and heard quite a lot of local music, and there are some really talented artists out there. Well, this guy is well up at the highest end of the quality spectrum! His voice is one second strong, low, and slow, and then suddenly high pitched and slightly vulnerable-sounding....easy to see how he’s had plays of his material on BBC 6 Music, not so easy to see how we’re lucky enough to be seeing him play here!
After a set of solo (and I’m assuming) original numbers, Shannon joined in the fun on a track called ‘Poison Wine’, and Afnan even got the audience joining in - just oooing and aaaarrring mind! Then....
....he thought it was all over - it wasn’t yet! The audience wouldn't let him go till he did one more with Shannon, and they did a very distinctive slow slow and beautiful version of ‘Creep’!
Graham Parker and the Rumour were a pretty popular group in the late seventies, but you can be forgiven if you don’t really remember much about them. They had limited chart success but regularly sold out live performances. Supporting Bob Dylan at ‘The Picnic at Blackbushe’ in July 1978, and guest vocals by Bruce Springsteen on the 1980 album ‘The Up Escalator’, give clues to the esteem in which they were held.
The mate I went to the Cluny with reckons they are still one of the best acts he’s seen live, and that was the first time he saw them in 1976. So, how did Graham and lead guitarist from the Rumour, Brinsley Schwarz, measure up 40 years later?
They opened with ‘Watch The Moon Come Down’ from ‘Howlin’ Wind’, Graham Parker and the Rumour’s debut album from 1976, and it was immediately clear that Graham’s voice has still got that vibrant urgency that that made it stand out back in his heyday. That ain’t bad for a 66 year old, and, at 69, Brinsley’s fingers still work pretty well on that electric guitar.
Parker has great rapport with his audience, and from the off on Saturday he was telling anecdotes from his life in music, taking the Michael out of himself and generally having a good time. With tongue firmly placed in his cheek, he said how nice it was “to see so many young faces in the audience”, and that “this was supposed to be a theatre tour”, as he took a sweeping look around the Cluny....then quickly said how much he loved this venue!
The second track they played was one of my favourites, the marvellous ‘Silly Thing’, which has some great lines in it, mostly penned by Parker, such as....
“You want me to write you a letter,
But the words won’t come out the right way,
My pen won’t listen to a thing that I say.”
The whole song has a happy frivolous feel to it, making you want to sing along. And even if you don’t know the words, the chorus takes a phrase from the great Duke Ellington that most people will have heard at some point, which could have been written specifically for this more modern song...
“It don't mean a thing if you aint got that swing,
You silly thing, hey hey.”
The majority of tracks that Parker and Schwarz played came from the early part of their career with the Rumour. Well, as Graham put it, “...then we took 30 years off to enjoy ourselves!” However they did play some tracks from other periods, notably their 2012 comeback album ‘Three Chords Good’, the best of which was probably ’Stop Crying About The Rain’. Mind you, ‘Socks’n’Sandles’ (next line - “As I hold onto your Love Handles”) from 2001 brought a smile - I suppose now we know how they were enjoying themselves!
But, it was the older material that stood out to me. One of the tracks from that time, ’Fools Gold’, was introduced by Graham as a “sea shanty”, but he said that Brinsley thought it was a waltz - “....well he was Chichester ballroom dancing champion in 1956.”
‘Stick To Me’ really demonstrated that Parker’s voice is still as good as ever, and was made for this kind of music. This was reinforced as we listened to the title track of the Rumour’s second album, ‘Heat Treatment’. It was probably just a coincidence, but thankfully some cool fresh air wafted into the Cluny as the song finished, and just before we all expired!
Despite a nice short solo from Brinsley on ‘New York Shuffle’ I thought the track was played far too slowly - more a crawl than a shuffle! It’s a great song, and the original rocks along at a high tempo. I do like to see artists playing tracks at different speeds, but this didn’t work for me.
‘White Honey’ brought the set to a close, before Graham emerged to play the first encore song on his own, and what a great choice - ‘You Can’t Be Too Strong’ - a crackin’ slow number, sang with real emotion. Brinsley returned to the stage to help Graham take to p**s out of himself on ‘My Life in Movieland’ - a song from last year about his time in Hollywood, working on the 2012 Judd Apatow film ‘This Is Forty’, in which Graham Parker and The Rumour play themselves!
So to the final song, and of course it was the band’s first hit, the rather splendid Trammps song ’Hold Back The Night’ - a great way to finish a pretty good show.
Parker really has still got a good voice, and it was great to see him and Brinsley. My only criticism of the night would be that it was all pretty much played at a similar pace. I’ve got nothing against slowing some songs down, or giving them a different treatment, but this set was crying out for one or two tracks to be a bit ‘rockier’. However, overall this was a good show - the rapport with the audience was excellent, great vocals and string work, and two lovely guys enjoying themselves.
Monday 5th September 2016
Until the morning of the gig, I must confess to not having heard of Anderson East, but I am sooooo grateful to Victoria Ling for giving me the chance to see him - what a star this fella is!
He comes from the deep south - Athens, Alabama - but despite having played here a couple of times before, the intimate surroundings of The Sage 2 seemed to come as a surprise to Anderson. It’s the first time I’d seen cabaret-style tables on the floor, and our man was keen to encourage folk to get to their feet, not that much encouragement was needed.
The first song - ‘Quit You’ from his album ‘Delilah’ - got the feet tapping from the get-go, with a crackin’ keyboard solo. The brass section - sax and trumpet - also well and truly introduced themselves. Anderson’s gruff voice is well suited to this kind of music, as he demonstrated with a fabulously stretched solo to finish the second track.
It was a bit disconcerting to see the lead guitar player making more than a passing resemblance to Slade’s Dave Hill. However, he was certainly a decent player in his own right.
Anderson did his own version of Van Morrison’s ‘Tupelo Honey’, and it’s the slowest I’ve ever heard it done. It included great solos on guitar, by Anderson, and also on sax. This was just one of several numbers we heard that had been stripped right back, and initially played very slowly, demonstrating a confidence that was well warranted.
After ’Keep The Fire Burning’ got the Sage 2 rocking again, we were treated to a tremendous version of ‘Knock on Wood’. Anderson then did a very slow solo number before he was joined by the band in the middle of the next track. “You we're the only woman” Anderson belted out, as the audience lapped it up....
‘Stay With Me’ got everyone to their feet, where they remained till the end of the gig....great stuff from a man I’d mark down as one not to be missed the next time he comes to these shores!
Music from the Wear Delta - Volume 1
Some of the regular performers from 'Speakeasy' at the Harbour View in Roker, Sunderland, have got togeher and recorded eleven , mainly self-penned songs. The CD goes on sale on 18th August, and all proceeds will go to Sunderland R.N.L.I. My review of the album appears on nemm.org.uk
This CD celebrates what has become one of the most successful free music nights in the north-east over the last two years.
In September 2014, George Shovlin was inducted into the American Heritage Blues Hall of Fame, alongside legends such as Howlin’ Wolf and the like. This is partly in recognition of the top quality music he has played to audiences for over 40 years. However, it also recognises the great enthusiasm and skill he uses to teach the art of playing delta blues, encouraging future generations to take up the baton.
George has done the latter partly by organising and running blues and acoustic evenings all over, what he calls, the ‘Wear Delta’. A few months before his Hall of Fame induction, he embarked on his latest venture, in partnership with long-time friend, musical partner and magnificent guitarist, George Lamb, in the Harbour View pub at Roker, in Sunderland.
They called the Thursday evenings ‘Speakeasy’, which is a concept that Shovlin had seen operate successfully in the blues bars of New York a year or two earlier. Why ‘Speakeasy’? Well, music is playing in a pub, where most people come to have drink and a chat with friends, so why should they feel pressured to keep quiet when the musicians are playing or singing. However, as in NYC, respect is deserved by the players in the HV, and it is hoped and expected that those within earshot and eyesight of the performers will keep their voices down.
The album contains eleven acoustic tracks, mostly written by the artists themselves. Few instruments have been used, often making use of just a guitar and the vocals. This clever approach helps the quality of the voices to be heard very clearly.
Messrs Shovlin and Lamb open the CD with the self-penned ‘Got Home This Morning’, which has a very catchy, yet slowish rhythm that the two of them keep going throughout the song, apart from a short calm solo by George Lamb. Shovlin’s voice was made for singing the blues, and now sounds better than it ever did, gruffly complaining that he doesn’t want his baby more.
There is only one instrumental track on the album, and this comes from Jim Bullock, surely one of the best harmonica players around. This slightly shorter than usual version of his ’Cuba Calling’ is typical of the beautiful sounds that Jim creates. When he plays live, he can cleverly grab the attention of everyone in the crowded bar, by slowing it down, and playing so quietly into the microphone, that you can almost hear a pin drop - absolutely tremendous! On the album, the track is played with a much more upbeat tempo and is no less beautiful for that.
The CD was produced and recorded by Les Dodd, who also wrote two of the tracks, one of which is sung by Paul Old, and the other by himself. Both have beautiful lyrics, telling moving stories. Les sings a love song in his marvellous Mackem brogue, about how Jack met Mary and how they strolled along to Whitburn under the dim street lights, and made plans while sitting on a wooden bench facing the sea. But they’ve gone now, and all that’s left to celebrate their lives together is a ‘Brass Plaque’. It’s a lovely simple tale making you wonder whether a brass plaque is a big enough memorial, lovely as it is.....
Paul Old is one of the gems of the ‘Speakeasy’, usually singing without any musical accompaniment. His fantastic deep voice sounds simply perfect on this album, accompanied by some lovely gentle guitar work, painting a sad picture of the senseless loss of ‘Soldier Boys’ lives, who “should be kissing with their sweethearts on some ordinary day”.
Paul is one of the regulars who had little or no experience of singing in public before Speakeasy kicked off in 2104. It’s a wonder that such a pure-sounding voice has remained his secret until now, and much the same could be said about John Wilkins. His voice has a more industrial-feel but is no less effective. John writes most of his own material, and there are some wonderfully humorous lines in the stories he tells. ‘Empty Pockets’ is no exception, as it bemoans the north-south divide - “as the debt rode north through the Watford Gap” - but hey, we still know a good time up here - “I’ll be yours for two halves and a Mars Bar, there ain’t nothing I don’t know about romancing”. It’s a great song, sang slowly with real feeling, while John’s guitar is perfectly pitched to project the mood of the tale.
The great variety that ‘Speakeasy’ offers is clearly demonstrated by another regular, John Casey. John has a great musical pedigree, having played solo and in bands like the Toy Dolls since the punk era. He’d almost given up playing, but couldn’t resist giving it another go when ‘Speakeasy’ started in the Harbour View. Well, it’s his local, so it would have been rude not to!
When he was awoken at 4.00am to take his mother to hospital, on the day he was due to record his track for this album, John wondered what he would sound like by the time came for him to sing. Well, John has one of the best ‘gravelly’ voices you’ll ever hear, and the one take that it took to record ’Hurt’, the Nine Inch Nails Song that gave Johnny Cash a big hit, lasted only 13 minutes, and John....your voice and your guitar sound just fine to me!
The album has contributions from four more gifted musicians - George Pallas, Fred Craig, Andy McGill and Liam Lindsley - all of which ensure that the whole album comes together as a showcase for the great local talent that makes up the ‘Speakeasy’. They have all made the Harbour View a magnet for blues and acoustic music and this CD would grace any collection.
A very different and great night at the HV. It was Shovlinless, but was well MC'd in his place by Jim Bullock, who kicked things off in style with George Lamb, followed by some great offerings from John Wilkins, Bill Stewart, Liam Lindsley, a debut from Alex Armstrong on the harp, Fred Craig, and Eddie Miller was thankfully coaxed up, and played a great version of Joe Jackson's classic 'It's Different for Girls', and 'Roadhouse Blues' with Jim.
......and then we had The Big Sets......four extremely talented students from Sunderland, making a name for themselves up here, and on the south coast, where they spend term time, in Newquay. They played some great blues and some equally great 'funky stuff'. John Smokeydoodar Smith is a brilliant front man, on lead vocals, harmonica and saxaphone tonight (well, I suppose he couldn't carry his guitar as well!).
The rest of the band are pretty damn good as well, but I have to give special mention to bass player, Jonny Rubin, who I thought was superb.
There were quite a few people in the bar tonight specifically to see the band, and they helped make this a lively night with a great atmosphere that everyone seemed to enjoy....hopefully they liked some of the regular players enough to come back again soon.
The Headcutters are an amalgamation of some of the members of Struggle Buggy and The King Bees. Lee Bates and Billy Newton are two of the former, and I’d really enjoyed the short set that the two of them had done at the Sunderland Blues and Acoustic Festival in September last year. So when I saw an advert for a tribute night to Muddy Waters by The ‘Headcutters’ in a lovely bar in the centre of Sunderland, I snapped up a couple of tickets PDQ.
This was only the second time that the band had played together - the first also being a tribute to Muddy Waters, at The Cumberland in Newcastle in January - but you’d never know it.....they were absolutely outstanding!
Lee is the band leader, and as the room filled up, he started playing some Muddy numbers, and others from way-back-when, and humorously regaling us with some anecdotes about the great man. Lee’s steel guitar certainly produces a lovely sound, which was well demonstrated on the famous song that Hambone Willie Newbern first recorded in 1929, ‘Rollin’ and Tumblin’, and which Muddy reinterpreted in 1950.
Lee told us about how Tampa Red had taken a young Muddy under his wing after the latter’s arrival in Chicago, “...much as George Shovlin does here”, said Lee, and I couldn’t really see whether he had his tongue firmly place in his cheek or not, before launching into Tampa’s ‘Kingfish Blues’.
After about 20 minutes, and a beer-break, the rest of the Headcutters joined Lee....except it appeared that someone must be missing - there were two guitarists - Lee and Michael Littlefield - but no bass player. At short notice, he’d informed the others that he wasn’t well enough to play, which only makes the sound that the rest of the band produced even more impressive in my eyes. A combination of Michael and keyboard payer Dominic Hornsby ensured that the absentee wasn’t missed.
Lee’s guitar and vocals, and Billy’s harmonica were every bit as good, as I remembered them from last year, and the third ‘Buggy man’, drummer Keith Smith, created a beat that kept the feet tapping. The three King Bees - Michael, Dom and harp player and lead vocalist Scott Taylor - are three very talented young men, who, along with the likes of Broken Levee, Yuma and The Big Sets, give hope that there is a bright future for blues in the north-east.
Scott’s first main contribution came on the classic track ‘Please Don’t Go’, when he combined well with Lee’s guitar, and played a good harmonica solo. However, Scott really shone when he took over as lead vocalist - wow, what a voice! He sang with real power and sounded very much at home on these classic blues numbers - are you sure you’re from Newcastle and not Chicago or the deep south, Scott?
“The next one is a ‘proper blues song’,” said Lee as he introduced ‘Forty Days and Forty Nights’, and the audience raised the rafters again with their appreciation of the band’s great interpretation of the song, but especially Dom’s keyboard and Scott’s fantastic vocal delivery.
Ahead of the great ‘Mannish Boy’, Lee whipped up the audience even more, getting them to “whoooooop” every time “Mannnnn” left Scott’s lips. A crackin’ way to finish the first half of the set? Well, no....we had a ‘warm down’ first, with some great slow blues - Lee giving Scott a well-earned rest on ‘You Can’t Lose What You Never Had’.
After the break, the quality stayed right up there, with Michael and Dom also demonstrating that they can take the lead on vocals. On ‘Kansas City’, which was played by just the three King Bees, and Keith on the drums, Dom’s voice was on a par with his undoubted quality on the keyboards. Michael also impressed on lead guitar, as he did throughout the night.
As the end of the set approached, and Lee reminded everyone that they already knew he was here, and that he’s the ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’, the level and length of applause continued to grow with each song. The final number was written by Preston "Red" Foster and first recorded Ann Cole in 1956, but really became famous after Muddy Waters’ released his version a year later. ‘Got My Mojo Working’ is arguably one of the best known of the enormous catalogue of songs that bear the mark of this blues legend, so it was fitting that it finished what had been a great night.
The Headcutters can be really proud of the tribute they paid to one of the all time greats of blues music, and I hope that we don’t have to wait another six months before getting an opportunity to see them again.
Seeing Auld Man’s Baccie play, with or without the assistance of harmonica player extraordinaire Jim Bullock, is always an experience, and to see them play together in such an intimate venue as this was a real treat!
Fausto is a an extremely small, but rather wonderful, coffee shop across the road from the Roker seafront, with a capacity of about 20, at a push. So, with the Baccies, aka Davey Curtis and Nick Phillips, ensconced in the bay window, and Jim Bullock hovering at their side, we almost clattered into them as we entered the busy little room, which was almost full when we arrived.
Jim’s tremendous solo harmonica got the show on the road, and he kept joining Davey and Nick to great effect throughout the evening. Auld Man’s Baccie are based in Seaham, about five miles due south of Roker, and play acoustic Chicago Blues and Roots, with a wee bit of Gospel thrown in. They play some classic blues numbers by the likes of Muddy Waters and Elmore James, but very much in their own style, and also plenty of their own material as well.
Many of the tracks they played on Friday are on the album released in February called ‘Resonating with the Blues’. The slow blues of Muddy Waters’ ‘Champagne and Reefer’ gave Jim a chance to show how much he can contribute to the band, and he didn’t disappoint. Davey’s vocals are also well suited to this number, especially as he completed the rant at the end which as always brought a collective chuckle.
‘In the Jailhouse Now’ is a Jimmie Rodgers song from the 1920’s, which featured Davey yodelling his way around a story about Ramblin’ Bob cheating at cards, and finally getting his just deserts! Davey certainly sings in a unique and very entertaining manner, full of feeling, and not a little humour. The facial expressions that he pulls are a photographer’s dream, clearly showing how much he puts into his work, and boy does it work well with his audience.
The humour was well to the fore again in one of the original songs they played called ‘Bacccie Blues’, which tells of how much the singer’s woman loves the old tobaccie.... As the song describes the baccie in great detail, and the effect it has on her, it becomes clear that the singer loves it just as much, and he only just gets to the end of the song before coughing and spluttering to the close - great stuff!
Nick’s slide guitar has a great country sound to it, and on ‘Ain’t Nobody’s Business But My Own’ he demonstrated just how good that sound can be. In such a small venue, there was no need for any amplification, which only helped make the tones sound even clearer and more effective.
This was a lovely way to spend a Friday evening, and I think Auld Man’s Baccie and Jim Bullock enjoyed themselves as much as their audience enjoyed their playing. Hopefully, Fausto will continue to attract local artists of such quality to give others a chance to enjoy their performances ‘up close and personal’.......
....and as for Auld Man’s Baccie, I can’t wait to hear their new album, which I’m assured will finished very soon.
Writing for NE:MM on www.nemm.org.uk has been fantastic! The editor, Russell Poad, is so enthusiatic about all kinds of music that it is pretty infectious! There are several great things about being involved with the group, not least the fact that I get free tickets to the gigs that I write reviews of, and get advance copies of albums to review in advance of their release.
Another great aspect of getting involved with NE:MM is the opportunity to interview performers, and to quote Les Young - "How good is that!"
My first face-to-face interview took place at the Sunderland Blue and Acoustic Festival in The Dun Cow, on 5th September 2015. It was with Sunderland's own Trevor Sewell and the drummer from his band, Trevor Brewis. Twelve days earlier, my first interview of any kind toook place via telephone, when a world famous blues singer and guitarist phoned me! Normally this would be fantastic, but when it happens 24 hours earlier than sheduled, and you're in bed, just falling to sleep, it can take you a bit unawares, to say the least....but more of this story in another extract.
Since first seeing Trevor play in Gosforth in 2014, I've been lucky enough to see him play several times, and to get to know him a little too - and what a lovely fella he is! This made interiewing him, and the other Trevor, a very relaxed affair. The following is the text of the article as it appeared on the NE:MM website with an intro, followed by a full transcript of the conversation we had.
Trevor Sewell first came to the public’s attention in 1980’s punk band ‘The Revillos’, who later became ‘The Rezillos’. However, he was first inspired to pick up a guitar when listening to Eric Clapton play the blues, and after carving out a career playing in several different styles, returned to his first love in 2012. In recent years, Trevor has received international recognition for both his song writing, and his playing. Whilst in Los Angeles picking up some of these awards, Trevor was inducted into the American Heritage Blues Hall of Fame, alongside the likes of Muddy Waters et al.
Trevor released his latest album, ‘Hollow,’ a couple of weeks ago, and it’s certainly one of the best new releases I’ve heard this year. So, when I caught up with him, and his band’s drummer, Trevor Brewis, after their set at the Sunderland Blues & Acoustic Festival, I started by congratulating them on the album.
GS: As you saw from my review of ‘Hollow’, I really love it, and the title track is really brilliant, different to anything you’ve ever done. Can you tell me how it came about?
TS: And we really loved the review, Geoff….
GS: ….[cue embarrassed laughter on my behalf]….thanks very much….
TS: It came about how the rest of the stuff comes about, really. I don’t really have anything in mind when I’m writing stuff, it was just time for another album, and I sat down and started strumming and it pretty much wrote itself. I thought it sounded like a good way to start the album, and also I thought, ’hollow, that sounds good for an album title’.
GS: So was it the words that came first, or the music?
TS: Both. It’s the same thing, I just sit down, and start playing, whatever instrument - if I’m playing a guitar, I just start strumming about and singing something, and I record it on my phone, and I play it back later on, then I sort of know what it’s about. I always think there’s a little….can you remember the Numbskulls?
TS: …in the comic, you know….it was about little blokes inside your head, and there’s a couple of them have got a telescope inside each eye, and I always think there’s a little bloke in my head with a little typewriter, and he’s alright at doing the words so I leave him to it. I start playing the guitar a bit, and I leave that to him. After a while, it’s great, he just spits something out.
GS: I think there’s a song there, Trevor….
TB: Do you like word, do you like the title ‘Hollow’?
GS: Yeah, I do.
TB: Two days before we got to the end, I went round to Trevor’s, and I could see this look of horror, and he said, ”Oh my God, we cannot call it ‘Hollow’.” ….and I’m thinking, why? what’s wrong? what’s happened?….”it’s this knee-jerk reaction, we can’t call it ‘Hollow’. People might think it’s hollow”.
TS: No, it’s…someone else had said that in America, and I thought, they might have a point. But then we thought, nah, it is what it is…
GS: Well, it’s a word that makes you think, isn’t it, it can have a number of meanings.
TS: Yeah. It’s like ‘Independence’ [Trevor’s previous album] - I quite like the one word album titles.
TB: It’s interesting, yesterday, someone from work, who is from Lithuania, listened to it, and I went to see her about an hour later, and said what do you think? And she said, oh my god, ‘Hollow 1’ and ‘Hollow 2’, oh my god’’. She loved it, and that was it….and she’s champion!!!
GS: Well, when our editor heard the track, after I’d sent the review, his reaction in a message to me was ”Wow! I cannot wait to hear the rest of the album.”
TS: That’s brilliant! Geoff, I’m really really happy with the reaction I’ve had, all round the world really, it’s been a huge reaction.
GS: You know why that is, don’t you? It’s bloody good!
GS: I was going to ask about who else plays on the album, and you’ve partly answered that by bringing Trevor along today…..I think you recorded it before Ray [Johns] joined the band, didn't you?
TS: Yeah, out of the band, Trevor’s playing drums on it, but we’ve got other people on it as well, so it’s not the usual band. On this album, there’s actually been eight people playing, half English and half American, a fifty fifty split.
GS: And you’ve got a few old friends on it, haven’t you?
TS: Yeah, yeah, Paul Barrere from Little Feat, he’s on two tracks. We’ve got a girl called Linda Chorney, whose a grammy award winner, doing backing vocals, there’s a girl called Mia Moravis on backing vocals on So Tired, but there’s also some great local musicians like Franky Gibbon on bass and Anthony McNally on fiddle. So, altogether a good little split between English and American.
GS: I’d just like to ask you about when you were over there in America, you recorded in Capitol Studios, didn’t you? Do you think the sound you got from recording there was any better than anywhere else you’ve recorded?
TS: It was very well recorded. It’s a great studio, and it’s quite inspirational justing being in there, but we actually did more of the sounds over in England. Paul did his two tracks in his studio in Los Angeles, Mia did her tracks on the road - Boston and New York hotel rooms - Linda has her own place in Touson, so lots of different things. Then, they all sent them to me, and I mixed and put everything together.
GS: Have you got any plans to go back over to the States?
TS: Yeah, we’re back over on 10th February. We’re going to be doing a couple of gigs there, and there’s a couple of other things that are really interesting, but we’re not in a position to say anything yet - we’ve got to wait till they’re finalised before we say anything.
GS: OK, we wait with baited breath! What about over here, you won’t have been touring much lately while you’ve been doing the album, so any plans to do that now?
TS: Yeah, we’ve been too busy recording and we’re short of time. We actually recorded an album and a half for this one, and one song that didn’t make it got recorded three times because we’re a bit parky about things, you know! But now we’ve been invited down to Nashville with a producer whose just had a number one album of recorded music on the BillBoard Blues chart last week.
GS: Whose that then?
TS: He’s called Geoff Wilbourn - I think he’s done Johnny Winter and loads of others.
TB: ….not forgetting all the covers as well….
TS: ….yeah,yeah, there’s lots of other things happening as well - we’ve had seven tracks covered on a gospel album; Brooke Nickerson’s covered five tracks - there’s just so much stuff happening, you know.
GS: What do you prefer - playing live or working in the studio?
TB: Oooh, hard one that….
TB: …very very different things. The ‘live’ thing, you can’t beat - it’s exciting, everything about it’s exciting! But the studio, is very interesting, because we recorded in such a diverse way, even in PM Studios.
TS: There’s a lot of percussion on this album as well, far more than you’d normally get on a blues album.
TB: We really challenged the recording process, you know, actually pushed it to the limits. Even after we’d done that, we’d try something different….
TS: The philosophy is that we’ll try anything and everything so long as it sounds good,and just as long as we enjoy it.
GS: It's always going to sound better with you enjoy it, isn’t it.
TS: Basically if we like what it sounds like, that's great. We’re making the album for ourselves really - we’re not trying to guess a market, or anything like that. Then, if nobody else likes it, at least we do……if you try to guess a market, and nobody likes, it that's worse.
TB: But live’s exciting, when we get on stage it’s incredibly vibrant, you know….
TS: Yeah….we’ll probably be going out on the road again in November, it’ll probably the a 4 or 5 piece band, but I’m going to try to launch the album around the 13th November in The Cluny, but it’s not confirmed yet.
GS: Don’t forget to send me a ticket mind!
TS: Oh, we won’t Geoff, don’t worry, ha ha!
GS: Have you ever been given a bit of advice, and followed it, and then regretted it later?
TS: Nothing I can particularly think of, because although I’m always open to advice, I’ll always go with what I think is right. But in the early days when we were very much younger, and we played through an agency down in London, and a bloke from Chrysalis Records wanted me and the singer, but the band weren’t interested. So he said we should have a different band, but we couldn’t get rid of our band. Then these other guys wouldn’t sign up with a label anyway, great!
GS: Was this before or after Max Atom?
TS: This was in the pre - Atom years! Ha ha….
TB: I remember someone saying that you're only ever two handshakes away from the person you really want to meet, and that’s happened so many times. It’s an incredible thing - you never know where you are and who you might meet.
TS: That’s so true , but you can’t make it happen, you just have to let it happen….
TB: No, no….if it happens, it happens, yeah.
TS: You wish you’d learned that when you were younger, because maybe you try too hard, don’t you. When you’re not really expecting anything, and it just happens, it’s blinding!
GS: I bet you had a great time in the Revillos?
TS: I’ll tell you one thing that summed it up just before I joined. They were on the front of the NME, or one of them, a big picture you know, and I think the headline inside was something like ”For such a bunch of wacky pop stars, why are the Revillos such a miserable set of b*****ds”! [Cue guffaws of laughter!]
GS: I can’t believe they were miserable with you there?
TS: Ahhh….no, they were were better after I joined them! Haha…. they were great characters - it was really good. I used to love the gigs because we played places that were sold out. In fact, we were one of the only bands to sell ‘The Venue’ out in London. Yet we didn’t have any chart success. I mean, we sold it out, and Tina Turner was on the next night, and it was only two thirds full. Mind you, she was on for two nights, and she did sell Wembley out two days later, which didn’t happen to us. It was just a fantastic time to be there!
GS: OK, lads, thanks very much for the chat, it’s much appreciated. Can I just bring it bring it back to the present, for one last question about ‘Hollow’, and I think I can predict the answer, but here goes - on the track ‘Small Change’ - who is it that thinks they’re so much better than you? What did they do?
TS: Ha ha, well, that’s for me to know…..but I think a lot of people may identify with similar situations.
GS: Yeah, that’s pretty much what I thought you’d say, Trevor! Cheers lads, and good luck….”
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