Devizes Gives Wiltshire Blues & Soul Club a Warm Welcome

Since their formation last June, Wiltshire Blues & Soul Club have held jamming sessions at the rather splendid Owl Lodge, tucked away on Bowden Hill, near Lacock. Video teasers on the book of face attracted my eye; membership-schemed freestyle blues within a cosy log cabin setting, firepit et al. But if this rural blues society has been stealthy, it was high time for them to blow the lid on the secret.….

And they pulled it off with bells on, staging a multiple act show at The Corn Exchange, in the bright city lights of Devizes(!); a market town historically marked on the blues map of England.

If the event came off with niggling teething troubles, organisers admitted hosting a show on this scale was a learning curve for them. Yet the exceptional high standard of acts booked guaranteed it infallible to be anything less than the awesome night it was.

Failsafe came in the form of the part rockabilly part big band-edged blues frenzy of headliners, Ruzz Guitar Blues Revue, with that guitar virtuoso frontman you could worry will dehydrate up there for want of extending feverish moments from traditional three-minute hero into Pink Floyd record lengths.

Our homegrown legend, Innes Sibun, who glides electric guitar strings as if the lovechild of Page and Hendrix, in sporadically performing, internationally famed collaboration Innes Sibun Blues Explosion. If this was any kind of detonation as the band name suggests, it was a seriously smooth one. Frontman Patrick Hibbert eased sublimely delivered soulful vocals, while Innes did his matchless thing.

Bristol-based one-man-band and regular favourite at Devizes’ Southgate, Eddie Martin, who perfectly filled gaps between bands with sublime solo renditions of long-lost blues legends, encouraging audience participation, with nuggets of a blues history lesson and witty repartee.

And part co-ordinator of the Wiltshire Blues & Soul Club, Will Blake, who with full band straddled a burgundy grand piano akin to Jerry-Lee Lewis, when I walked into the joint, and delivered some outstanding soul and rock n roll classics with a few originals thrown in. Alluring singer Rosa Gray occasionally complimented this line-up with sassy vocals, perhaps most memorable duetting with Will on Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell’s Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.

If, in comparison to the later acts, one debates the repertoire of The Will Blake Band to be wedding requests, it would surely be the one wedding you’ll remember for the rest of your life. Besides, platitude covers added a dimension and awoke the majority elder audience with familiarity; it was a booming flinch creating a buzz of anticipation; this was to be grand night of quality entertainment.

If similar shows fill gaps between bands with recorded sound or second-rate comedians, drafting in the great Eddie Martin proved the club never skipped on quality, even for intervals. A prolific recording artist whose devotion to the old-timey blues of legends like Robert Johnson, Son House and Blind Willie Johnson, Ed’s spellbinding solo tribute is unparalleled, and just as all other acts here tonight, would’ve made an unforgettable show alone.

In this, one prevention of selling out that vast hall could arguably be the score ticket-stub, but to deliver a lush line-up this rammed costs. Nevertheless, it was adequately filled to begin with, a mature majority able to justify and swallow the cost lessened off gradually as the evening drew late. This left the hall disappointingly bare by the time Ruzz Guitar belted on stage, but those who remained made the most of it and dancing upfront lambasted the decision to provide show styled seating. If I’m nit-picking criticisms they’re justified as future considerations, because cost is insignificant when the proficiency of all these acts, combined, was priceless, seating arrangements are hugely debatable, considering the age demographic, and others, well, I’m certain there was no more. This was a great evening, presenting Wiltshire Blues & Soul Club with potential new members, as jams are planned to kick off again in April; will keep you posted.

Long Street Blues Club proprietors Ian and Liz in attendance proved no rivalry, I conversed with Exchange club owner Ian James, who reminisced on blues gigs of yore, based in town; something I never tire of hearing. These, combined with the likes of Innes and Jon Amor affirms Devizes’ place of the blues map of England, surely? So, there was no local location more apt for this kind of event, and a massive respect to the Wiltshire Blues & Soul Club for taking on the challenge of appeasing local blues aficionados, proud of Devizes, akin to what Coventry means to Two-Tone or Bristol to UK hip hop, least near as dammit for a small town!

I personally think you guys pulled the rabbit from the hat.

It was something I was pondering beforehand, now confirmed my need to relabel after Innes Sibun Blues Explosion’s textbook performance last night, that my terminology “local music” I often overuse. It’s inapt to refer to the likes of Innes and Jon Amor as local musicians, despite being born here, with the same marker as those rarely venturing outside our local circuit. Last time I was standing beside Innes and Jon, I earwigged their recollections of tours of eastern European countries; these guys are internationally renowned, The Innes Sibun Blues Explosion have been somewhat dormant for over thirty years, likely due to their individual location being so far apart, and this was a reunion gig for them. But where does one draw the line? With folk trio The Lost Trades’ recent success, they too straddle this borderline now.

Four of the Five original members, Innes Sibun, John Baggot, Patrick Hibbert and also drummer for Ruzz, Mike Hoddinott, reformed for this gig, performing songs from their 1991 album That’s What The Blues Can Do. Coupled with Ruzz, officially endorsed by Gretsch Guitars, who knocked my personal favourite Sweet as Honey out of the park as a grand finale, encored by Will Blake joining them adlibbing on piano, made this evening a notable notch on the history of blues events in town, and a delight to have attended such a memorable occasion.

Where the Wiltshire Blues & Soul Club go from here is anyone’s guess, but we look forward to prospect they might least match this again rather top it, or even hope it breathes interest into their more humbling jamming sessions at the Owl Lodge. Top marks all round I say; anyone got an ibuprofen?!


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