Just three points between them saw the Saddlebacks lose over Walcot this Saturday, but by the evening the Sports Club came up trumps as the polished sound of electric blues blessed wall to wall; Beaux Gris Gris & The Apocalypse came to rock, and did with a passion. Not before local blues legend Jon Amor eased the crowd in with his own entertaining, and often amusing compositions, one such inspired by shenanigans of his youth in Devizes, “Just Another Stitch in You Party Dress.”
There was tight professionalism and even balance for a band only formed a year ago, with members spread across the pond. Smiling in an airy back room, dynamic front girl, Greta Valenti clarified she grew up in Louisiana, hence the New Orleans blues label, but now lives in California. “That’s how it all started,” she begun, “because Robin wanted to do a blues project, so I said only if it’s in a Louisiana style.”
Guitarist and UK British Blues Hall of Fame inductee, Robin Davey of The Hoax, who had worked with Greta in the band Well Hung Heart, has dual citizenship, now residing in California. “Technically,” Greta informed, there’s four Americans and one British in the band.”
Already smitten with her iridescent azure bob and striking accent, I was keen to ask Greta how they overcome the distance. “Well, the first time we started writing songs it was just me, Ali, and Robin,” she explained, “just doing recordings with our phones and sending them over to Bob Fridzema, and Mark [Barrett.]” I shrugged, yep; so easy now with the internet. But Greta continued, “we had one practise before we went on tour. This time though, we flew Mark over to California to do a couple of shows over there and, yeah, now we’re here!” Opening their new tour only for a night in Devizes though, as this morning saw them land in Holland for the Breda Barst Festival.
Not hanging around, the tour is promoting their debut album; “Don’t let the Bastards Drag you Down,” surprisingly released just, “a couple of days ago,” Greta smiled. “Yeah, and we’ll go from there, we needed the album so people know who we are, as we’ve just put out a video for Heartbreaker.”
The only reference I came into the interview with though, was the video of the title track, which, to me, heralded an evident country inspiration to their blues panache. So, I was surprised on asking Greta the band’s influences that Motown popped up. She stumbled on this question, but without pretention, more pride in her band, she replied, “umm, this question is always hard; everything, I dunno, everyone here, our band!” Still struggling she murmured, “Nick Cave meets Louisiana Blues meets, ermm, gypsy and a little bit of Motown soul.” The third song into the set, I could sense the soul influence, with a sprinkling of swing too, divergent from the punk attitude I preconceived; still, it was kick-ass!
We continued to discuss, how when it came down to blue’s level, all these genres blend effortlessly, as it is, after all, the root of all of them. For some reason I babbled a bit about friends arguing over ska and metal, but with this in mind, mentioning how Fats Domino would’ve influenced both, it’s all one and the same thing at base level; Greta agreed. Here then is why we need to throw off preconceptions about blues as a genre, and Beaux Gris Gris are a prime example, breaking that down and redefining blues with nods to its contemporary offshoots, and bringing those genres crashing back to blues, stylishly. For no matter what offshoots this band referenced, it always returned to raw and spirited electric blues.
There was clearly a connection akin to Ray Manzarek and John Densmore of the Doors, with (drummer from the Hoax,) Mark Barrett, and Bob Fridzema (of King King and Joanne Shaw Taylor) on keys, as members subjugated entrancing and convoluted instrumental breaks. Vocally Greta and Ali mimicked this, stripping down a track, Thrill Me to the minimum and spellbinding the crowd.
Meanwhile Robin broke the fourth wall by stepping into the dancers with sublime guitar solos, at one point gathering chairs for the few still sitting to be moved closer to the action. Irish-American singer-songwriter in her own right, Ali Coyle shone on bass guitar and support vocals, and binding the team together for this awesome show, Greta has the kick-ass attitude of Gwen Stefani but the style and grace of Lulu, and a powerful vocal range to prompt me to think of Aretha Franklin performing Rock Steady.
Still, the punchy title track, which was performed with grace last, I had to ask, I mean, not paranoid or anything, just to elucidate, “who are the bastards, or is that a too obvious question?!”
“Well,” Greta considered her answer, “I think we all have our own bastards, in America there’s probably a particular bastard, an orange-coloured bastard.” I assured her he’s not predominantly liked here either. An interruption broke our chain of thought, I tried to clarify, it wasn’t a direct link to Trump, rather more general. “We just felt like it’s a way a lot of people feel at this time, in a lot of different places. But if it’s not those bastards, it’s your boss at work, or, you know.”
So, who’s writing? “A lot of the songs I write the melodies and lyrics, Ali wrote one she bought into the group, others we wrote together, Robin wrote Bastards.” So, like the composition of the band, it’s an amalgamation. It’s this shareware ethos which bonds the band and gave us this unforgettable performance. The encore of which saw Jon Amor invited back, concluding with a mutually respectful guitar-off for want of a better term, against Davey.
While I chatted to John about the prospects of another Saddleback, which was confirmed for next summer, I was keen to ask organiser Mirko, if this was part of a series of smaller “Saddleback Presents” nights, of which he confirmed another is due in November. If this then, is the only the beginning of autumn for Saddleback events, it’s going to be a most welcomed stormy fall.