More clout than Ocean Colour Scene I’d expected after hearing frontman Mike Barham’s prior thrashing solo releases and drummer Luke Bartels previous band, but more roaring blues than Reef was an angle I didn’t see coming when I first checked our local purveyors of loud, NervEndings.
We’re countless gigs in now, the band, with bassist and secondary vocalist Rob McKelvey, still tight and raucous. I’m glad there’s a six-track album doing the rounds on the streaming sites, as by way of a meanderingly drunken tête-à-tête with Luke down the Gate, an album in the pipeline was one of the random topics breezed over, but so was the debatable aggression levels between Welsh and English badgers too, so I only held hope it’d see the light!
“For The People”they’re calling it, then, out last week. It’s got the kick I now predicted, with that surprising blues element to boot, particularly in the opening track, Infectious Groove. Yet the Muddy Puddles single we’ve reviewed in the past follows, and sets the ball really rolling; it takes no prisoners, yet, for its catchiness, contains a slither of something very sixties; imagine pre-Zeppelin metal.
Emo, to audaciously use an unfamiliar genre, I’d best describe Colour Blind; smoother, drifting indie rock. And in that, Fighting Medicine is more as I’d supposed, guitar riff rocking like a driving song and Mike’s brainy lyrics, with added profanity to describe the drunken hooligan spoiling for a rumble. You know the bloke, there’s always one.
With themes of non-pretentious indie, Chin up continues this ethos, forget the attempts to conform to expectances, it’s a be-yourself song. Best, in my humble opinion, though, is Dark Dance; as it says on the tin, teetering on crashing punk, it’s upbeat and danceable, in a throwing-your-head mosh-pit kind of way, which isn’t my way, usually, but it reaches a bridge of mellow romance-themed splendour. Here’s Jimi Hendrix covering Blur’s Song Two, as the blues is retained in all these contemporary rock tunes, and for a dude indifferent to the cliché indie sound, it works on my level too.
Nicely done, and, double-whammy, Mike has forced upon me this streaming inclination which defies all my generation stood for when collecting music. Our parents called us by name when shouting up the stairs to turn the music down, not “Alexa!” Ah, it needed to be done and I’m grateful, in a sense. “Send me a download or something,” I pleaded, “I don’t understand this Spotty-Fly thing!” But it only met with the reply, “it’s on all the streaming sites….” I’m of the generation who tried to turn over the first CD they got, to listen to the B-side, and only just got the hang of downloading. Now I’m causally informed downloading’s sooo millennial.
I dunno, all moving too fast it; seems so unphysical, not to have a record collection, rather a playlist. You can’t skin up on a Deezer playlist. At least downloading had a file, nearer, somewhat, to owning a record. But I’ve persevered and found the Spotify app on my PC more user friendly; I didn’t harass my daughter for assistance once, as I regularly do with the phone.
So, cheers, Mike. Hopefully this will help me surpass the “noob” label my son has tied to me, which, I’m told is a word for both a novice and an insult in one. Honestly, I feel like my grandad, who, when he came over once, stood staring at our new LCD television and asked, “where’s your tele?!” For the People needs to include the older people too, as I reckon many would either love it, or give this trio a ruddy good clip around the ear, which is maybe what they deserve for being so damn good; they’d have me talking emoji next.
Last time I saw Jon Amor he was queuing for Sainsburys. Sign of the times I suppose, would’ve much preferred to say we were in a pub or hall, and Jon was doing his thing. Capers, was what, he explained, he went in for. Those Mediterranean pickled berries, I figured; Jon is as epicure with his tucker as he is with his music. A new single, Peppercorn, expands the hypothesis; he’s cooking alright.
A contemporary blues performer with an established diverse repertoire, I was surprised upon reviewing his 2018 album, Colour in the Sky, of a distinctive and quirky fashion akin to late-seventies pop-rock in the more beguiling tracks; a drainpipe-suited Elvis Costello, of type, and songs as good to match. I’m thinking of the tracks Red Telephone and Illuminous Girl in particular, they don’t follow the archetypical modern bluesman manner, they’re upbeat, zany and define a certain panache emerging with Jon. I’m pleased to say Peppercorn doesn’t just correspond with this notion, but expands upon it.
Accompanied by video of crazy antics around his home, presumably recorded over his many entertaining lockdown live streams, with not only a rather perfected Ministry of Silly Walks tribute in snappy blue winkle-pickers, but an amusing puppet sequence to scream Sledgehammer at you. This is a quirky, catchy little tongue-in-cheek number. From Shanks & Bigfoot’s Sweet Like Chocolate to, more appropriately, The Soul Leaders’ boss reggae classic, Pour on the Sauce, food innuendo is no new thing in music; Louis Jordan nailed it in the thirties. Still with his demarcated and inimitable stylishness, here’s Jon’s own take on it.
With a little slide-guitar intro, after thirty seconds it’s having it; immediately enticing and definingly why Jon Amor sets the local live music bar high. Though he is, the hybrid between man-about-Devizes-town and blues legend. At a quid from Bandcamp, this shiny example of why is a winning dish.
On our promise, via The Indie Network Facebook group, and generally a growing cognisant inside me, for Devizine to musically venture outside our local area, geographically, here we go with a starter for ten. Though it’s no new thing, in the past we’ve mentioned many, from Cosmic Rays in Shropshire, to Mayyadda from Minnesota; I invite this pandemic to officially crash our borders….
One request recently came from one Vince Henry, who’s digitally-adapted Facebook profile pic makes Doug Bradley in his Pinhead guise from the Hellraiser films look like a bedtime Care Bear, and led me to assume the band he manages, Mr B & The Wolf was about to unleash some thrash death metal or psychobilly peculiarity unwillingly into my aging eardrums. I prepped myself accordingly, one ear in the headphone, paracetamol within reach, but I was pleasantly surprised.
As a function band based in my motherland, Essex, Mr B, and his wolf too, are lively, true, but present a flowing range from blues-based rock and Americana to “throwback” pop and soul, and do it with the finesse of a contemporary Fleetwood Mac. It’s a zephyr blowing your locks, the single I’ve been sent, Out of the Mist archetypal of the band’s bravura. I liked it and now have the album, LazyDay to give a fuller appraisal.
With echoes of driving rock Mr B and the Wolf keep a balance, there’s no tearing off metal as I preconceived, no angry underscores, rather a commercially viable equilibrium of uplifting rock radio stations cannot excuse for not spinning. Second tune, Rise Up, a great example of this breezy and enriching chic. Yet in the acceptance lies an aching sensation eighties power ballad bands, like Huey Lewis and the News should’ve been striving for a sound more like Mr B & The Wolf.
Three tunes in then, and Crazy Town strips the style back to a deeper blues riff, vocally gritty, vocalist Dean Baker handles it very well indeed. Out of the Mist combines the two and stands out, for both catchiness and composition. Chestnut subject matter, yeah, but it doesn’t sway me when it’s performed so well.
What we find here is a bonded, proficient band with stains of all rock has produced before but boy, do they know how to wear it well. They being, Ben Pellicci on lead and backing vocals, Jason Bird on bass and backing vocals, George Wallis on rhythm, and Jason Chown on Drums; unconfirmed which one is the wolf!
Phoenix ballads us to the finale, harmoniously and mellowly. I couldn’t go as far to compare it with the way Morrison would direct the Doors through an audience-mesmerising voyage, but it does equate the great soft metal bands of yore’s more magically rousing moments. I nod to Heart and of course, Bon Jovi, but they’d be knocking on the doors of Floyd or Cream, see if they’re coming out to play.
The finale though, belts back the blues riff and takes us full circle. In conclusion then, Mr B & The Wolf certainly don’t drift from blues-rock formulae, though it’s a damn fine established blueprint anyway, and this Chelmsford band do it with style. LazyDay would refrain you from road rage in traffic and compel you to turn it up when you hit the open road, Mr B & The Wolf would be a gig you’d return from with fond memories.
Joe Edwards has his debut solo album, Keep on Running released this week, here’s my tuppence on it…..
Under the “write what you know,” philosophy, if I’ve been critical in the past regarding local Country-fashioned artists using cultural references alien to their natural environment, i.e. a band from Wotton Bassett crooning about boxcars and wranglers, I have to waive the argument in the case of Keep on Running, the debut solo album by Joe Edwards, of Devizes. Not because Joe is well-travelled to apt locations and it was recorded and produced at Henhouse Studios in Nashville, though he is and it was, or it’s so authentic it’s more authentic than the authentic stuff, but because, in a word, it’s so absolutely gorgeous.
I’m going to be hard-pressed to find a different album of the year, as if this was a new Bob Dylan release the headline would be “Dylan Back on Form.” But it isn’t, and if one can rebuke Dylan as eaten by wealth and the machine he once repelled against, here, with freshness, is Highway 61 really revisited. The characters here can be akin to Dylan’s, questioning romance, bittersweet with humanity’s cruelty. Keep on Running never faulters nor diverts from its mellow method, if the tempo raises it’s only slight, and if it slips a toe under the door of rock, shards of both folk and blues roots are methodically preserved with finesse.
“…if this was a new Bob Dylan release the headline would be “Dylan Back on Form.”
When preacher Casey picks up hitchhiking Tom Joad, recently paroled from the McAlester pen in the Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck paints a picture with his words so immaculately precise you’re in that pickup with them, sensing the raw sting of the dustbowl and the smell of the dying cornfields of Oklahoma. With every banjo riff, or twangy guitar, Joe paints a similarly genuine image of the Southern American states.
The writing is sublime, acute blues. Characters are often despondent, impecunious and dejected. Yet this is not Springsteen’s Nebraska, somewhere they’re thrown a curveball and the air of melancholy is introverted, altered to positivity in the face of all things terrible. You may be riding their train of pessimism, yet it’s not discouraging on the ear, rather selfless muse executed with such passion there’s an air uplifting, best compared with Tom Petty’s “Free Falling.”
You sense a running theme; yes, life is shit but I’m dammed if I’m going to let it piss on my chips. A feeling Joe nurtures as the album continues, reaching an apex with a track called “Don’t Let the Bastards Get you Down,” and continuing to the title track. Hereafter you understand the metaphor to “Keep on Running.” If not, the cover is a meek lino-cut akin to labelling of a Jack Daniels bottle, with a road heading off to the mountains, just to make sure.
“Yet this is not Springsteen’s Nebraska, somewhere they’re thrown a curveball and the air of melancholy is introverted, altered to positivity in the face of all things terrible.”
After the title track, there’s a road ballad in true Americana style, the venerable symbolism for changing your life, which is never a negative notion. If the finale then spells the most adroit blues tune, “Mine oh Mine,” the beginnings, “Beth’s Song” and “Cross the Line” herald the better country-inspired ones, but between them, an insolvent blues tune, “Capital Blues,” as a beguiling teaser for what’s to come. In contrast the achingly poignant, “Gambler” is perhaps the most accomplished bluegrass, filled by a tormented soul pouring his heart out for want of an extra six dollars.
It flows so incredibly well, George Harrison well, though, like a concept album of the 1970s it’s a single unit to be heard complete. This doesn’t prove a problem; you’re engaged throughout and wouldn’t dare press pause.
Nothing is tentative about Keep on Running; you get the sense Joe is deliberate in where he wants to take you. Despite remaining faithful to the formulae set by Guthrie and continued by Dylan, Segar and Lynyrd Skynyrd, where nothing is experimental, nothing is cliché either. One listen and you’ve entered a grimy western saloon, biker citizens pause shooting pool to glare, and a cowgirl in daisy dukes and a red chequered shirt tied at the waist welcomes you, piercingly.
“It flows so incredibly well, George Harrison well.”
There is no in-your-face blast of sound, it traipses mellowly, and Joe executes his vocals with a whisper, as though he’s pouring a heartfelt secret to you alone, and for that you’re honoured; you should be. This is sweltering Sunday morning music, preferably slouching in a rocking chair on the veranda of a log cabin, sipping whiskey and rye, plucking a banjo. Though the least I can do right now is watch Oh Brother Where Art Thou!
Had a nice chat with Sheer Music’s Kieran about acts, live streaming, future plans, and gardening this week… what am I on about? It’s always nice to chat with Mr Moore….
If the beginnings of Devizine was a learning curve in which I realised I’d bitten off more than I could chew, one might be mistaken to think now we must’ve covered every musical talent in Devizes, if not Wiltshire. Not so, as a post from Kieran J Moore of Sheer Music incited me to shudder. Why have I not heard the name Joe Edwards before?
Name does ring a bell, must have posted about the cancelled album launch at the Wharf which would’ve happened this week. Well-travelled, Joe has been touring through Europe as a drummer for Australian band The Wishing Well, plus his debut solo album Keep on Running was mixed in Nashville and mastered in New Jersey with Grammy nominee Kim Rosen; might explain it, and if I have encountered the name I had no idea how renowned and awesome he is.
Hoisted in the help of Kieran for this then, to insure I’m bought up to date; there is a new cool in Devizes, and I’m going to prompt him about it. The initial message on any chat window these days is enquiring of wellbeing, understandably. Mr Moore is positively beaming, “[I’m] getting so much done and achieved,” he explained.
I replied with a question, “Like the gardening?!”
A boundless list of household chores followed which included, “how to programme moving head lights, learned how to live stream, learned how to record and edit videos.” Bless, that’s our Kieran, dedicated to fetching us the best live music and promoting local artists, no matter what the era brings us; you have to tip your hat to the man. Seeking permissions to release sets Sheer recorded from 2012-14 and bootleg them onto Bandcamp being the latest venture.
What of the live stream though? My Virtual Festival started with good intentions, but there’s been so much of it it’s hard to keep up, some may not be appreciative my sharing of their stream; it’s a close call. In these frustrating times, I asked Mr M if he felt “people are going to get bored with the live stream.” I often feel it doesn’t make up for the real thing and enforces my sadness that we’re missing out on live music. Yeah, I know, right; then I apologised for my despondent attitude.
It’s a close call because artists earning from a live stream is problematic. Some have found methods of a pay-per-view stream, but many rely on a PayPal donation option. While I sympathise with the artists, also I ponder if charging for a live stream is justified when Wi-Fi can drop out, be overloaded, etc. “So,” Kieran added, “live streams have become a necessary evil, in the sense that everyone is doing them, and it’s really difficult to earn from them. Let’s be clear, live streams will never replace the real thing. No need to go into detail, we all know why, it just won’t.”
He believes they have a place in the future, though, after lockdown has ended. “You’d be a dolt not to recognise it! Whilst it may be difficult and lacking for most of us, these streams have enabled many people who wouldn’t usually be present, be it social anxiety, disability, or a myriad of other reasons, be able to take part and fell part of something.”
I gave mention to a stream-festival by Swindon Shuffle, it doesn’t have to be geographically grounded, organisers said people attended as far away as Mexico, and this increases the fandom of the performers to international levels.
In these few short weeks, we’ve seen musicians getting more creative with the concept, nice to see Benji & Hibbs sitting around a fire rather than indoors,Jon Amor climbed onto his roof last night, and Phil Cooper is getting tech with green screens for a Lost Trades stream on 1st May. “A lot of people have invested in the technology,” Kieran expressed, “so why would it stop after? It’s just daft, of course it won’t. Also, the reality is that venues won’t be back and open before 2021. The possibilities are currently being peddled by MVT,” He continued, “and it’s being taken seriously.”
I felt the need to apologise for my grumpiness, it had been a long day at the diary. I would, however, like to see artists getting some releases out rather than live stream, but accept that’s not easy either, for a band, with social distancing. Talking blues though, surely some the most poignant music, particularly blues, comes from feelings of isolation, depression and disappointment; from teenage anguish or working on the chain gang! The lockdown should deliver some interesting content.
Talking local blues, though, on top of Joe Edwards, who after a listen to I’m liking to a raw George Harrison or Clapton, what else has Kieran got for me? “Jon Amor likens Joe to JJ Cale, which is nice,” he compliments. “Then we have Little Geneva, who actually do covers, but they’re so obscure, people don’t know them. I actually like that slant.” Ticked that box some time ago, Little Geneva playing the Cellar Bar was knockout, and I’ve nothing but praise for their authentic blues sound.
This said, Little Geneva have since recruited female singer Mariam Maz to add to their already talented gang, and this I have to witness.
“Then we have Will Blake in Bromham, a honky-tonk 12-bar type of guy,” but I’ve recently bookmarked Will too, sharing this soul cover multi-instrumentalist’s Isolation Sessions, which see him on piano in the middle of a Bromham field giving us a marvellous rendition of Man in the Mirror et all.
And finally, Kieran aims one I don’t know at me, a “swampy and dirty” contemporary Trowbridge four-piece, Sober Son. This is hard-hitting rock and one to watch. Looking to the future, where I predict an aching aftermath for concerts and gigs, many might frivolously suggest we have the party of parties, but Kieran is a doer. Can I spill the beans on his “overall idea?” “Say it’s currently Sheer’s intention to host an event!” he informs, yeah, will do.
Hosting a “Devizes Music Festival” is said idea, when the lock down is over, and to do a multi-stage bill, across the whole venue. Kieran’s dream team would consist of Jon Amor, Sober Son, Little Geneva, Joe Edwards, Will Blake and The Lost Trades, “etc.” I’m saying no more, not to get over-excited too soon, we’ve a long way to go with the lockdown; I could be a pensioner by then and only wishing to listen to Pat Boone!
Ah bugger, back to the now; do like the Sheer Music Facebook page, currently dedicated to bringing you the best local live streams, “the necessary evil.” But most importantly is the notion I’ve said before and will no doubt say again, unless you want to pop the bubbles of musician’s aspirations and see them pushing supermarket trollies, it’s vital you check out local artists and buy their music, be it from Bandcamp, streaming sites, their sites or send Vinyl Realm a message, as they stock a selection of local music too.
If I divide rock music into three favoured eras; its birth from rhythm and blues to form rock n roll, psychedelia moulding it back to wailing blues, and second gen mod or new wave from the eighties, and anything post these I don’t care for so much, be it heavy, soft or Nu-metal, I paused for thought last night, observing these three pillars firmly personified at this most fantastic jam at the Devizes Sports Club. And what is more, it’s fused, together in one great monster of a performance, which, in a word, was spellbinding.
Impelled to duck out the Cavy early, as while I figured our writer Andy would be in attendance, and be willing to put some words into action, I had to see this for myself. It was as I predicted in our preview, no musician singled out, no-one-on-one-off exhibition, rather a humongous blues jam amalgamating the exceptional talents of all present. Already underway on my arrival, our guitar heroes Ruzz Evans, representing the rock n roll in my three-pillar theory, with his classy suit and quiff, Innes Sibun on the psychedelia with that long hair and wailing guitar, and Jon Amor in his trademark drainpipes and sneakers. To boot, not only is Ruzz’s backing band present on bass, drums and horns, there’s the legend who is Peter Gage causally making the keys look like Child’s play.
Afterwards I made a beeline for Ruzz, inquiring how one goes about creating this wonderful amalgamation and how rehearsed it needed to be. There was no rehearsal, he explained, it’s based on specific templates in which the musicians observe each other’s changes and improv takes control. This takes a wealth of experience and talent, as Ruzz continued to get technical it showed both his obsession with his craft, and my incompetence in such matters. I should’ve recorded his explanation for a quote, as the jargon pursued and I’d drunk far too much! (Note dodgy photographs as proof!)
Again, the slight topic of conversation that was passed around the club related to the current virus situation. Naturally people are concerned, yet it didn’t stop this venue filling sufficiently with our blues aficionados, matured or otherwise. I figured if times do go terribly wrong in the coming days, this could potentially be my last night out for a while, and if so, or even if not, I’m out to party. This event satisfied that ideal, but I knew it would, it said so on the tin.
It was good to bump into singer-songwriter Joe Hicks, where we expressed concern for the decline and postponing of events and its effect on organisers and musicians alike. He had, as I suggested, already an album up his sleeve. Perhaps the coming month will see musicians take to recording studios as the bread and butter of gigs phases out. It’s a sad thought, but absently unnecessary tonight, as the power of live music blessed the hall in a way which should make Devizes proud.
Staggeringly as ever, Innes was on lead when I got there, taking the audience on one of his magical journeys, only for Ruzz to be frontman for one of my favourites of his tunes, Sweet as Honey. After a short break it was Jon’s turn, picking Juggernaut to blast us with, ever so proficiently. Then, was it a Billy Price song which Peter Gage so skilfully but causally covered with the honky tonk of Howlin’ Wolf, The Price I Paid for Loving You? I dunno, no expert, but I’d lost the will to keep track, allowing the blessed music to flow over me.
With a hypnotic guitar-off, if that’s the appropriate terminology, between Ruzz and Innes, sections provided for all musicians to show off, including the drum solo of drum solos and the most amazing bass guitar solo too, it was one heck of a brilliant blend of electric blues I’ve bared witness to.
If my only criticism was pondering if the sound could contain this monster of supergroups, and that a semi-circle barrier between the musicians and audience had naturally formed, with the blues preservation society of Devizes merely wobbling on their feet, the sound system took the strain adequately, and after not too long the movers penetrated the semi-circle and all round dancing ensued. Otherwise, this gig was perfection on all levels, my blessings to all involved. If there is, gloomily, to be no Saddleback Festival this year, last night thoroughly made up for it and leaves me pondering what will be next from this fantastic venue.
Ah, hold tight, two preview pieces from me tonight; I’m an unstoppable steam train of broadcasts, choo-choo! Yet, I’m not sure this needs an introduction, not because we’ve been running the poster for it a while now, but if you’re in the know regarding Devizes links to blues then the line up at the R’n’B Bar at The Sports Club on Saturday 14th March will appeal no end, and you’ve probably snapped the tenner tickets already. If you’re new to said scene, then this gig would act as the ideal taster; digest this……
Legendary bluesman Peter Gage, former frontman of The Jet Harris Band, member of Dr Feelgood who blew the roof off Long Street with Dave Raeburn, Paul Hartshorn and Pete Lowrey as The Pink Tornados in December, will headline. But come here, there’s more. The guitar maestro I’ve been raving about, Mr Ruzz Guitar and his Blues Revue will also be there, his trio backing, or blessing these otherwise solo performances. I swear his guitar is like a phaser in Star Trek, set to stun, and I’m still speechless after his performance at the Gate a number of moons ago.
While Ruzz is Bristol based, and Peter resides in the west country too, both Devizes links to the contemporary blues scene also show up to do their thing. Innes Sibun, who we featured partnered with Marcus Malone as the Malone Sibun Band on the night they allowed me to roam free at the Long Street Blues Club, and be astounded by the quality of goings-on there. And of course, Jon Amor who is regularly featured here as, well, he’s regularly here, but more-so, because his talent is unsurpassed. Though I’m sure, as when such heroes meet, there will be a communal feeling and we’ll be treated to some improv and guitar-showdowns, rather than a balanced one-off-next-one-on scenario; least I’m hoping.
All in all, this event is like pulling four bells in a row on the fruity; need I say more? See you there. Oh, nearly forgot, slow down, man; tickets on door or in advance from Sports Club.
On Saturday night we had a packed room to listen to Liam Ward & Malcolm Thorne (support) and the Kirk Fletcher band.
Ward & Thorne, who are new names to me, were a delight. Their set was clean, fresh, quirky and entertaining. Featuring guitar, vocals and some deft touches on harmonica, these two produced a wonderful set of originals which were laid-back and nicely bluesy. I particularly liked their song “You Are My Medicine”. I’d be happy to go and see these guys again.
Then a single extended set from the main star Kirk Fletcher and his band. Kirk hails from California and is ex-lead guitarist with the Fabulous Thunderbirds. He’s had some great reviews on this tour so far. Ian Hopkins reports that Innes Sibun said he was amazing when he shared a bill with him last year, and Joe Bonamassa rates him as one of the world’s best guitarists. Well, I didn’t know anything about all that, so I could only judge on what I saw and heard.
Kirk himself was obviously up at the front with some snarling guitar work, but there was plenty of featured keyboards too. It took a few numbers to really get the room warmed up, but once the trio hit their stride, the band were really cooking and in their groove. We had guitar solos aplenty, the band providing a solid platform of driving rhythms. There was minimal chat from the stage, and the guys delivered number after number, hardly pausing for breath. The playing was always technically superb, and at times inspired, and the crowd lapped it up, but (for me at least) it didn’t carry that magic spark of real excitement. Don’t get me wrong – I really enjoyed the gig, but it didn’t quite hit my hot-spot.
Then just 24 hours later, on Sunday night we had Thompson Smurthwaite (support) and Billy Bremner’s Rockfiles. A slightly smaller crowd this time, but still a great atmosphere.
Thompson Smurthwaite is starting to become a regular in these here parts. Having played support here at the Club a few months ago, Thompson has also recently played slots at The White Bear and The Southgate. It was good to see him back with a large audience again. He was relaxed and confident, joking with the audience, whacking out some great tunes from guitar, harmonica (his “Mississippi saxophone”) and stomp-box. The guy put such heart and soul into his performance. Great entertainment.
Then on to the second main act of the week-end. Billy Bremner was one of the founding members of Dave Edmunds’ Rockpile along with Nick Lowe, and produced some great music during the seventies. Prior to this particular outfit he has had a long track record in session work and a member of Lulu’s backing band the Bruvers. Then a season as guitarist with The Pretenders during the recording of On The Chain Gang – he has always been the guitarist to go to. Billy now resides in Sweden and his touring is carefully rationed so the Club were delighted to be one of a few carefully selected club dates on this UK tour.
Rockfiles are probably the polar musical opposite to Kirk Fletcher. Whilst the latter was focussed on originality, improvisation and exploration, Rockfiles were just as firmly set on reproducing classic hits of the seventies and eighties. The songs were short, snappy, catchy pop/rock classics. The four-piece hit the stage running, sharing the vocals between them, and never let up for the whole of their 75-minute set. This was Old Skool retro and nostalgia at its very best. And the hits just kept on coming, including “I Knew The Bride When She Used to Rock & Roll”, “Three-time Loser”, “Cruel To Be Kind”, “I Hear You Knocking” and many, many more. The inter-song chat was absolutely minimal, so they could pack more in. The music wasn’t complex, but it was solid, thumping good stuff, and difficult not to enjoy. Absolutely no blues were involved in the making of their performance.
Overall a great weekend of music – four great acts, four different styles, but all enjoyable and great value for money. There was something there for everybody. Devizes is so lucky to have access to so much great live music.
Only a week after John Coughlan’s Quo’s rousing set, it was back up to Long Street Blues Club for another great gig. If you needed the Christmas blues blowing away, this was the gig to do it.
Support act for the night was Jamie R Hawkins, aided and abetted by his sometime collaborator Phil Cooper. I suppose you could say that this was two thirds of the newly-formed Lost Trades, but we’ll have to wait until later to hear their new songs. This set was Jamie and Phil classics from their back catalogues, taking it in turn to take centre stage with mic and guitar, then to drop back onto cajon to provide backing beats and vocals. Of the two, Jamie’s presence and performance is the stronger, and his songs stand up much better. And it was great to hear Jamie belting out his rather non-PC “Hope You Have A Bloody Good Christmas”, with enthusiastic audience participation, to finish up with.
Then an amazing, raucous almost two-hour set from the The Pink Torpedoes. Fronted by ex Dr Feelgood Pete Gage, backed up by former Hoax drummer Dave Raeburn, with guitarist Paul Hartshorn and bassist Pete Lowrey, this four-piece really delivered the goods in this one-off gig.
Keeping the chat to an absolute minimum, the boys launched straight in and played their way through an enormous song-book of rock, blues, R&B, boogie-woogie – you name it. Sounding as tight and professional as if they were gigging every night of the week, the set was full of excitement, raw power and incendiary licks. Pete, on vocals, harmonica and keyboards was the dominating presence up front, but the rest of the band absolutely played their parts.
At times there was a definite “feel-good” factor in the room, and the dance-floor filled up number by number. There was no tin, but if there had been a tin it would have said “open with care – raw, undiluted and powerful”. And the band did exactly what that tin would have said. Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Pride and Joy”, Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie-Coochie Man”, Little Richard’s “Lucille”, Bob Troup’s “Route 66” and Albert King’s/ The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues” all came tumbling out, one after the other. This was R&B at its very best.
And it was clear that the band thoroughly enjoyed their outing playing together again – the smiles and the laughs, and the audience rapport were great to see.
Another amazingly good gig, another bargain night’s entertainment at Long Street Blues.
• Saturday 25th January Kirk Fletcher (Fabulous Thunderbirds)
• Sunday 26th January Billy Bremner’s Rockpiles
• Saturday 7th March Ian Parker Band
• Saturday 4th April Mike Zito Band
• Saturday 18th April Mark Flanagan Band
• Saturday 30th May Antonio Forcione Quartet
A cheetah can achieve motorway speeds, but not long enough to get off the slip road; worthless trivia, unless you’re an antelope. I like to think cheetahs listen to rock n roll; no, hear me out. Akin to this feline fact, those RnB and rock n roll classics are one short burst of energy. Fortunately for the artists the 78rpm record lasted a maximum of five minutes, and for radio play they’d cut it to little over three, any longer they surely risk congestive heart failure.
As the era passed to late sixties, psychedelia stretched recorded music to live and extended dimensions Little Richard could never maintain. Mellowing tendency matured rock, but arguably robbed its dynamism. Ah, come the eighties twelve inch single and the mega-mix, prompting the question; why didn’t Glenn Close choose the Jive Bunny to boil?
Rare then it is, to hear a frenzied traditional rock n roll sound encompass ten minutes; welcome to Ruzz Evans’ world. Embodiment of Johnny B Goode, Ruzz can pick guitar like he’s ringing a bell, for an astounding period too. Due for release on 10th February, but available for pre-order from December 1st, I’ve been adoring this album recorded live at the Louisiana in Ruzz’s hometown of Bristol.
Forgive me for sustaining the rock n roll pigeonhole, for Ruzz has the quiff and is photographed in a teddy boy drape jacket. With backing from an incredible band including drummer Mike Hoddinott and upright bassist Joe Allen, the panache of Ruzz Guitar’s Blues Revue straddles rock and its namesake blues. Since 2016, when they added an awesome horn trio to the roster, we can add big band jazz to their style. That’s my thoughts while absorbed in this, of what Miles Davis did to jazz, or Pink Floyd to prog rock, Ruzz does to traditional rhythm and blues come rock n roll; the result is breath-taking.
Bearing in mind his voice isn’t growling Tennessean, yet neither was Gene Vincent’s, rather quirky Bristolian, the vocals are sporadic, instruments reign. There’s an amusing conclusion to “Under Your Spell,” where 10 minutes of detonating electric blues is broken by a genuinely surprised thank you from Ruzz in said accent. This often amuses me, pondering, no, thank you, mate, I just clapped, you’ve just held me spellbound for ten minutes, the pleasure is all mine!
In this instance I’m not even there, merely listening on my headphones, but still entranced. While they’re Bristol based Ruzz and his Guitar’s Blues Revue are no strangers here, and you can catch them at the Southgate (Nov 30th), White Swan Trowbridge (tonight 9th Nov) at the R&B bar in March at Devizes Sports Club. I’m quivering, ashamed after hearing this that I’ve not caught them live yet; an offence I will rectify, you would too if you hear this.
Live at the Louisiana explodes from the off; the two, Hold It and Baby Please Come Home, for starters envelope all I’ve said, lively jump blues come big band rock n roll. Catchy, you’ll be lindy hopping before your first sip. Yet if Movin On groovily notches to allegro moderato, Back Home to Stay boogie-woogies again, and Sleepwalk is as dreamy as it suggests. The last two tunes, Sweet as Honey and the aforementioned Under You Spell embrace all we’ve so far said, making this release, I reckon, a treasure; fantastic!
With two self-released studios albums already under their big rockabilly buckles, and opening for Dr Feelgood, The BlockHeads, Kirk Fletcher and Bill Kirchen and Darrel Higham, they’re stamping an authority of quality worldwide. Ruzz has been honoured by being officially endorsed by Gretsch Guitars, and that’s what I perceive of him, the kind of obsessive guy who will turn any conversation to his labour of love, but when it’s this proficient, you cannot help but take heed. I’m off to find out what they can do in the studio, but with such a formula I think this live album captures the spirit perfectly.
Your intrepid reporter had been on the sick/ injured list for most of the past week, and only received his clearance to enter the field of play at the 11th hour after a very late fitness check. Having felt ill, and having suffered the misery of watching England fail to win the RU World Cup, I was feeling pretty low. So what sort of music did I need to fit my mood? Of course there was only one place to head for, and that was Long Street Blues Club.
Not as large an audience as some gigs, but still a very respectable showing. Playing support were acoustic blues guitar duo Mojo Hand, who entertained with a whole string of classic blues covers, including Crossroads, Smokestack Lightnin’, Let’s Work Together, Little Red Rooster, Walkin’ Blues and the eponymous Got My Mojo Working. This was all classic blues stuff from across the spectrum from Chicago right down to the Delta, played straight-up, undiluted and with little fuss and not much chat. Good set from a great pair of musicians.
The main act were Paris-based Big Dez Blues Band, an extremely tight, competent blues outfit. Of course it was a big notch up on the volume front from the support act, but all the better for that. A great four-piece of drums, bass and twin guitars, this was full-fat, leaded R&B. Both vocals and lead-guitar parts were shared, adding more depth and dimension to the set, which consisted of both originals and covers, again delivered with minimal inter-song chat. The accent was on letting the music do all the talking, and it spoke well. The sound was clean and uncluttered, and the audience certainly warmed to it. The joint was certainly jumping.
Unfortunately, lack of match fitness (and alcohol) on my part led to major fatigue and I didn’t quite make it to the end of the gig, and I had to retire from the field of play. However I certainly felt I’d had my money’s-worth, and wandered off happily to my bed.
I think it’s fair to say that both Jon, and a lot of the audience last night, had been looking forward to this gig for quite a long while. No surprise then that a packed room was there to witness one of the gigs of the year.
Support act was Thomas Smurthwaite, an artist I’d not seen before. But it didn’t take the guy long to impress me and the rest of the room. An imposing, grizzled and bearded figure, he seemed slightly dwarfed by all the equipment set up on stage around him. But sound-wise he punched well above his weight with voice, guitar, harmonica and stomp-box. His set was confident, laid-back and bluesy. In a short 30-minute set he won the crowd over, finishing with a great singalong version of Janis Joplin’s “Oh Lord, Won’t You Buy Me a Mercedes-Benz?”
Then on with the main act, and the reason we were all there. Jon, stick-thin and suavely suited & booted, was there to tour his latest album “Colour In The Sky”, and he was joined on stage by an impressive band of old friends and great musicians – Jonny Henderson on keyboards, Mark Barrett on drums, with Little Geneva’s Dave Doherty on guitar, and brother Chris Doherty on bass.
From the first number, “Faith Reborn” we were in for a treat. Thereafter Jon picked his way through several numbers from the new album, carefully interspersed with many favourites from his back catalogue of albums and bands. The rhythm section, as you might have expected, was solid and strong, laying down a great platform for Jon to let rip with some great solos. The keyboards added that bit of extra depth and texture to the songs. And they were proper songs too, not just excuses for long rambling improvisations, with clear beginnings and endings, Jon’s vocals stringing it all together. This gave the band plenty of opportunity to show off different styles, moving from rocky to bluesy and back again.
Jon was on great form, clearly relaxed, laughing and joking with the crowd between numbers. There was no doubt that this was a home-town gig, and there was plenty of love in the room. And deservedly so. Jon is a world-class artist, and deserves it for the crowd to let him know it.
Highlight of the night for me was “Juggernaut”. This was the first time I’d heard it played in full-band format, and it was worth waiting for – heavy, driving, and really solid – a real classic.
And if you haven’t yet made it to Long Street Blues Club (at The Conservative Club), it’s time you made the effort – world-class blues & rock entertainment in a great atmosphere at an absolute bargain price. Tickets for future gigs from Devizes Books, Sound Knowledge (Marlborough) and from the club itself.
Upcoming gigs at Long Street Blues Club are:
• Saturday 2nd Nov Big Dez Blues Band
• Friday 8th Nov Ian Siegal Unplugged
• Saturday 30th Nov Gerry Jablonski Band
• Saturday 21st December John Coughlan’s Quo (support from George Wilding)
• Saturday 28th December Pink Torpedoes
If you like your soul and blues with an authentic vintage feel, look no further than this new Bristol group, The King Dukes….
If Bristol wasn’t the birthplace of a “new cool” through electronic blues in the nineties, with the likes of Massive Attack and Portishead, it certainly led the way. I have to take a deep breath, fetch my pipe and slippers; this is a new era of anti-pop, an era of retrospective tendency, where traditional instruments override our technological desire of the pre-millennium. An era where technology is used only to market, allowing sounds to hark back to a time before drum loops, rap, and the DJ as king.
The king is dead, long live this exciting renovation, and long live The King Dukes. I’m honoured to give you the low-down, about their new journey. Formed in Bristol in April, a merger of a variety of local bands, including Crippled Black Phoenix, Screamin’ Miss Jackson and the John E. Vistic Experience, The King Dukes combine said talent and experience to create a unique, authentic sound, dipped in a heritage reuniting contemporary slices of British RnB with a dollop of Memphis soul.
Set to unleash their debut album ‘Numb Tongues’ on October 25th, I’ve had a listen or ten, and can plainly see why it’s been picked up by UK label, Paratone, as well as French label QSounds Recording. Chatting to guitarist and frontman, Marc Griffiths, I asked him what’s in a name, predicting it might relate to Duke Ellington. While pondering he sent a YouTube link of a track not on the album. This song, titled King Cyrille, is Hammond organ boss reggae, akin to Harry J’s Allstars. It’ a tribute to West Bromwich Albion player Cyrille Regis. “The team used to come out to Liquidator,” he explained, “it’s in conjunction with West Brom, for their podcast, so we did something similar.” Momentarily contemplating the name possibly nods more to Duke Reid, Marc cleared it up, informing me they had a residency at the Old Duke in Bristol, “but that’s named after Duke Ellington.”
I can see why, aside this one-off tune, Numb Tongues is not only dependent on a classic RnB sound, there’s sprinkles of jazz, blues, yet formulated like Stax or dare I say it, Motown. It rolls out in a manner able to slip its tunes into a set of old-time soul unnoticed. Caril-Anne, for example, is up-tempo soul, beguiling through that recipe of yore, simplicity. Kid Gloves is another lively number, foot-stomping soul with a subtle nod to rockabilly akin to The Big Bopper. This one reminded me of Jack and Elwood Blues marching back and forth.
But if this four-beat soul formula rings through tracks like I Gotta Go, and Gone, Gone, Gone is stepping, handclapping doo-wop reliant, Rub You The Right Way hooks into a blues riff taking me to Howlin’ Wolf, and True, True, True nods to bebop. This one has a sublime vocal by April Jackson, who holds a note like Etta James. Generally, the vocals are as polished as the aforementioned soul legends, yet grittily Caucasian, like Jim Morrison’s finest hour.
As a whole there’s much going on here, but whether there’s echoing vocals like the ballad, Dying Man, with a breezy jazz-come Otis Redding passion, or, like Marlo Cooper, it’s a blast of instrumental groove, comparable to Stax session musicians Booker T & the MG’s, it’s all stylised and flows superbly. In fact, it was mention of an Otis Redding post on their Facebook page which got Marc and I chatting; glad I did now.
With Marc and April, there’s drummer Dan Clibery, bassist Mandrake Fantastico, Henry Slim owning that Hammond Organ and Harmonica, and a fiery three-piece brass section with Joss Murray on Trumpet, Rebecca Sneddon on Tenor Sax and Sarah Loveday-Drury handling the Trombone.
Together they’re a force to be reckoned with. Throwing modern recording techniques aside and using methods for a fifties-sixties sounding album, such as recording a section with multiple instruments all at one time, and playing period-specific instruments, The King Dukes have captured perfectly this raw, vintage backline on ‘Numb Tongues.’
We’ve seen a similar blueprint around our way with the brilliant Little Geneva, and if this is the trend then I’m in, hook, line and sinker. Although, naturally, those ol’ time classic soul songs never wane in appreciation, sometimes looking further afield to the rare grooves, like Northern Soul aficionados, often the tunes never make equal approval in production and quality. Numb Tongues meet this notion in middle; The King Dukes deliver fresh material with honours, and if heard in 1965 would surely be considered classics.
You can pre-save a copy of Numb Tongues here, there’s an album launch on December 7th at the LeftBank in Bristol; I’m keen to hear of anyone willing to bring these guys local for a gig. As you know Devizine doesn’t usually cover Bristol, too much going on and not enough hours in the day, but when it’s this good…….
A cracking night for our blues club last night, which I managed to finally appear at!
After publishing a run of awesome reviews from our man Andy, and with a flimsy hunch he wasn’t going to make it Saturday night (though he did,) I figured it high time and a good opportunity to break my Long Street Blues Club cherry; can’t let him have all the fun.
If I only popped my head around the door towards the end on a previous occasion, it was plentiful to note in our preview of their new season that, “there’s a lack of background noise at Long Street, the audience don’t chitter-chatter through the act like the backroom of a pub, it’s a fully entrancing appreciation society.” In fact, upon entry I was thanking Ian Hopkins the organiser, only to be shushed by a member. Who shushes at a gig? At least one in a hall chockful of blues aficionados captivated by the music, that’s who!
After pondering out loud, feasibly too loudly for this attendee, if this blues club needs a review at all, being it’s marked with exceptionally high-regard on our music scene and the hall of the Cons Club is bustling, I took heed of Ian’s reply, “any publicity is good publicity,” and tiptoed to the bar as if in a Christian Science Reading Room.
With family ties to Devizes, we’ve mentioned the support act on Devizine in the past, and it was good to finally meet him, even better to hear him perform live. Newbury-based answer to David Gray, Joe Hicks is wonderful, simple as. At ease with his surroundings he chats enough only to tune and give a modest synopsis of the following song, or to praise Livewired, for his last gig at the Electric Bear in Bath. He delivers his original songs with appetite but no strain, and aptitude which he makes look like child’s play. Among others, we were treated to his new single, Swim and another spellbinding comfort song called Rest Your Head. Mildly dreamy rather than sombre, his chants sublime, making a perfect cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Everywhere so apt for a finale.
Now for the main act, you know how levels of cool range? I mean, there’s that mate in the pub with the amusing party-trick, he’s pretty cool, right, but compared to someone like Hendrix, he’s a total nerd. Smoothly Detroit’s Marcus Malone frontstages, oozing cool from his gaze to his fingertips like the lovechild of aforementioned Hendrix and Lenny Kravitz. His talent replicates his persona, and combined with a tight band, and Devizes-own electric blues guitar-legend, Innes Sibun, this is loud, proud and quite simply, mesmerising.
I realise now, witnessing the brilliant Beaux Gris & The Apocalypse, and Mr Amor, I was only a fraction engulfed into my epiphany of contemporary blues, the Malone Sibun Band completes it. Innes may appear more like that air-guitar playing headbanger at school who was asking for bullies to pick on him, drawing metal band logos on his army surplus bag in biro and all, but this guy wows and visually loves that he’s wowing, probably sighting a said school tormenter in the crowd, rocking out! The quality of this duo, this collective, is second-to-none, and their music takes no prisoners.
It was rock, harking back to times of yore, when the blues influence was prevalent, yet more refined than psychedelic sixties, edging more towards traditional Delta or jump-blues than even Cream and Hendrix did. In contrast it was gritty, persistent and never waived from its ethos. Whether leisurelier tempo or all-out detonation, it was not experimental, rather a tried and tested formula. It neither clichéd or borrowed from previous works, it never waited for you to compare it, it was entirely unique, and it was full on in your face. There was no sing-a-long section, popular covers, there was no idle chatter; they came, they saw, they blasted their labour and treasured every minute of it.
I was left entranced, my jaw hanging low and my mind whisked away, as said noise restrictions of the club crumbled, and its preconceived barriers collapsed, there was no associating the Long Street Blues Club to a library any longer. In all, this club may attract an older majority, but if you’re thinking fuddy-duddies you’d better think again! Next up, Jon Amor, his full band, on the 12th October, but you’d have known that if your read our preview! Yep, in it I did speculate The Long Street Blues is “simply addictive. Hook line and sinker,” I feared, “they’d have me in the palm of their hands.” It’s confirmed now.
With the dependability our gallant roving reporter, Andy will attend The Long Street Blues Club and send us a review to make me jealous, I ponder if I’ll ever make have to make it down there. Thing is, the Club which is about to launch into its incredible twelfth season at the Devizes Conservative Club this Saturday, is simply addictive. Hook line and sinker, they’d have me in the palm of their hands.
Yet there’s good reason to succumb, I did pop my head around the door once, to find a hall chockful of blues aficionados captivated by the act. This is nothing rare, there’s a lack of background noise at Long Street, the audience don’t chitter-chatter through the act like the backroom of a pub, it’s a fully entrancing appreciation society.
Enough said to state, these guys know their blues, claiming for their opening night on Saturday 21st September with the merger of two forces of nature Marcus Malone and Innes Sibun, “we’ve been inundated with requests to get them back.” Coveted by Motown records, Detroit-born Marcus worked on demos with some of the biggest names in the business, before being moved to LA by Ike Turner’s management team and signing with United Artists Records.
He opened for Bob Seger and Iggy Pop, now adding BB King at the Albert Hall to his impressive résumé. Marcus has written, produced and recorded seven albums on the Redline Music Label since relocating to the UK, the magnum opus being “A Better Man.” In all, it was hearing BB King which inspired the twelve-year-old Innes Sibun to pick a guitar. Legendary producer Mike Vernon produced his first band, Blues Explosion’s debut album. By 1993 he joined Robert Plant’s band for his “Fate of nations” tour, spurring a prolific musical career.
I’m glad to hear incredible Newbury singer-songwriter, Joe Hicks will be supporting, blending his pop, blues and folk influences which Linda Serck at BBC Introducing critiques as “absolutely smashing it!”
If I needed to bio these musicians, you’ve not been indoctrinated into the contemporary blues scene, something Mr Hopkins and his crew will be able to help you with. But the name of the second night at Long Street needs no introduction. You can source blues on an international market, as they do, but Saturday 12th October is owned by the man who put Devizes on that map, Jon Amor.
He brings the group; Mark Barrett of the Hoax, the Doherty Brothers, who’ve been enjoying a successful run as the band I can’t get enough of, Little Geneva, and keyboard genius Johnny Henderson. The Jon Amor Band, out to promote the critically-acclaimed album Colour in the Sky, will be a homecoming gig after his national tour, and you can rest assured they’ll be on top form.
Like Jumping Jack Flash, the blues club steps on the gas with a duo of gigs within a week. Saturday 2nd November Larry Miller band’s bassist Derek White joins the Cinelli Brothers, a project born form of a common passion for the electric Chicago and Texas blues from the sixties. It comprises of brothers Marco and Alessandro, Music Republic Magazine nominated Marco Cinelli as Best Guitar Player of 2018.
The following Friday, 8th November the club presents a solo, unplugged show from Ian Siegal, who Mojo credited as “one of the most gifted singers & writers in contemporary blues,” and Long Street claim it’s “simply a must.” The date unfortunately squashes a huge blues-related clash in our bustling town, with Chippenham’s Triple JD Rock Band playing the Southgate, The London Philharmonic Skiffle Orchestra at The Wharf Theatre, and the highly-anticipated arrival of Georgie Fame as a special Devizes Arts Festival evening at The Corn Exchange. While it’s clear, Devizes has an appetite for the blues, and the choice we have of live music is astounding for a town our size, this is one overloading Friday night. I only hope the best for all these great bookings, and that we have the capacity to fill them.
But business as usual for the Long Street Blues Club, it has a truly dedicated following, and this season’s line-up of shows confirm it’s standing as a benchmark for our county’s blues scene.
Final gig of the current season at Long Street Blues Club, and we went out with a bang with two great acts.
First up was local bluesman Andrew Bazeley. Having made this style of music his life-long hobby, I’d go so far as to say that what this guy doesn’t know about Delta Blues just ain’t worth knowing. He lives and breathes this stuff, and this is reflected in his playing – soulful, bluesy, stripped-back, atmospheric. His introductions and between-song patter are a delight for anyone who wants to know something about the songs they’re listening to – informative without being preachy. He told me before the gig that he was nervous, but it didn’t show one little bit. And afterwards said that it was probably the biggest audience he’d ever played to. No worries – the boy done good.
Then the main act. Two sets of howling, rasping blues from the trio fronted by Watermelon Slim. We started off, very unusually, with the main man introducing his band – before a note had even been played! But after that it was down to business. Slim himself alternated between playing his guitar lap-style on a table and his trusty harmonica, but always ably supported by solid drums and bass. The vocals were howling and husky-voiced, the playing effortless. The banter was self-mocking (“almost 50 years now”), drawling and laconic, betraying the man’s Deep South origins. Frequently Slim came off stage and into the front of the crowd to let his howling harmonica do the talking. And he talked a lot, and with laid-back humour. At times the performance felt a little hammy and hackneyed, pushing all the usual I’m-a-great-bluesman buttons but – hey – he IS a great bluesman, so who’s complaining? The audience certainly weren’t, lapping up both the chat and the music.
The start of the second set was my highlight – leaving his buddies backstage for a while, his opening number featured just acapella voice and that screaming harmonica – absolutely sublime.
It was a great finish to the current season, and I’m already looking forward to the next one. Ian Hopkins was very happy to discuss his forward booking plans and mentioned a few names, but I won’t steal his thunder until the new season is announced in full later in the year.
Great club, great venue, great artists and superb entertainment. A real advert for live music in our town.
In that year of the breakdancing fad waning my brother went off and bought Born in the USA, and we became Boss fans overnight. So, he nipped out and bought Nebraska too, and we were like, “oh…”
It took some time for my infantile mind, accustomed to pop, to appreciate acoustic, but as I listened to those dark portrayals, I saw the worth of the simplicity of just a person, a guitar and maybe a harmonica for good measure. I understood now, if a musician can strip back his music to the bear minimum and still captivate, they were among the most highly accomplished.
As Jon strummed the most popular song on his Colour in the Sky album, Red Telephone, singing “why don’t you call me on red telephone,” then adding “it’s 01380…” it produced a belly-laugh. I doubted it would elsewhere, being the audience recognised it as their own area code. I then considered if I need review this gig at all.
For Jon Amor is to Devizes as Springsteen is to New Jersey. He was among natives last night and with stripped back versions, some amusing covers and local banter, all knew what they’d come for. Do I really need to elucidate his excellence on a website with a commonly Devizes demographic?
Do I need to outline how great the evening was and what great company we were in, being over the last year and half, the Southgate has become widely known as Devizes haven for live music and friendly, grassroots atmosphere? It’s rough and ready, it makes do with what it has, but the Southgate is, simply, the best pub in town for music, through dependability. You can scroll through Devizine to see what’s going on locally, don’t let me put you off that, but if you’re ever stuck for something to do, you need not, just head down there, because nearly every Friday and Sunday, and defo each Saturday you’ll find a cracking band or solo artist doing their thing without regulations, without pretence.
During the week it’s either quiz night or an acoustic jam Wednesday, we know what Deborah and Dave have blessed us with, need I really go on? It is Sunday, for crying out loud! I left only a two-word note on my phone for this review, “Word Up,” a reminder that Jon did a comical cover of. The rest of the time was spent catching up with friends amassed for Mr Amor, for free, as that is the ethos of the Southgate. So, do I really need to review this evening, when everyone who is anyone in Devizes attended, even both Devizine’s roving reporters? Maybe I could delegate the task to Andy?!
Do I even need to whip out my little… (wait for it) … camera, when our own Nick Padmore is stood at the front with his sizable lens? Ack, I suspect you’re thinking now, lazy bugger; probably hungover. But truth be told, after walking uphill to town from my village for the past few weekends, I couldn’t face it this time, so I drove. Proof with the cracking combination of Jon Amor and the Southgate, with this blagger’s addition it was free, and so many gathered to chew the ears off, I needed not to intoxicate myself to have a blinding night. Shit, does this imply I’m mature? Bugger, I need to make up for lost time and have a Sunday afternoon drinkie. That’s me out of here, and no doubt unconscious on the sofa right after dinner!
Yet one thing you can be sure of, you need not feel sorrow if you missed it, The Southgate, check it out on our event guide, will continue to bring us many a grand and memorable night with Devizes written all over it, even if the enormity of Jon Amor is rare, you’ll never not be entertained by brilliantly sourced live music. Amen.
Just when you think the current season is over at Long Street Blues Club, Ian Hopkins sneakily adds a couple more gigs.
First up on tonight’s Friday gig, playing support, was local troubadour Vince Bell who delivered his usual thoughtful and well-polished set. Vince doesn’t always play the most cheerful or upbeat songs but, as he remarked later, he tends to go with the flow of whatever mood he’s in at the time. The audience didn’t give too much of a toss about that, judging by the well-deserved applause he received.
Then Skinny Molly, a Tennessee-based four-piece, hit the stage to thunderous applause and got straight down to work. From the very first minute we were in rock territory, with heavy driving bass and drums, fronted by a pair of hot guitarists who meant business. This was loud-and-proud, take-no-prisoners rock and roll. And the guys looked the part too – plenty of black leather, hats, long hair, tattoos. Sounded like a rock band, looked like a rock band. All boxes ticked.
A couple of numbers in and the band hit Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road at full speed, an absolutely belting version of this great song, quickly followed by the band’s own If You Don’t Care, complete with squealing guitar solo. The crowd was getting warmed up now and we knew we were in for something special. The Devil In The Bottle served up all the standard licks, followed by a stunningly good version of Free’s Wishing Well.
Only after this did the band rein it in a bit to draw breath and to indulge in a little chat and audience participation. But then we got lots of good stuff about “the look” and how their wanderings around Devizes earlier in the day had gone down with some of the locals. Sainsbury and Poundland will never be the same again.
But then we were back to the music – including Sweet Home Alabama (what else from the children of Lynyrd Skynyrd??) which turned into a bonkers dance-floor-filler. Following rapturous applause we got a double-number encore, culminating in (what else?) Freebird, which morphed into a belting long jam of a number before everyone retired to a darkened room to have a quiet lie-down.
Great band, great gig.
Tickets still available for next Friday’s gig at Long Street Blues Club – Watermelon Slim, one of the blues greats.
I’d been waiting for this gig for quite a while. Bearing in mind my general antipathy towards “tribute” bands, I was feeling both excited and apprehensive. Being of, let’s say, “a certain age”, Free (and later Bad Company) had been my go-to rock bands whilst I was still learning how to grow facial hair, and what girls were for. Just hoping they weren’t going to spoil my memories….
The late Paul Kossoff, erstwhile guitar genius behind that 60s/ 70s band Free, was the inspiration behind tonight’s particular line-up. It’s now over forty years since Koss, one of Britain’s finest guitarists tragically passed away at the tender age of only 25 in 1976. The break-up of Free had been, in part, due to Paul’s ongoing battle with drugs. Only when Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke had gone off to the US to form the highly-successful Bad Company, did Paul come to his senses enough to form his short-lived band Back Street Crawler.
Terry Slesser – the voice of that critically acclaimed band, and a close friend of Koss, is now keeping alive the memory and the music of one of the greatest British Blues guitarists. Sless chose the guitarist John Buckton, of whom Simon Kirke said “If Free were to reform, John would be my first choice as guitarist ” to play this series of special dates reviving for the first time since the 70s the catalogue of Back Street Crawler songs, as well as favourite Free numbers.
And a packed Long Street Blues Club was very much the beneficiary. The night was opened with great local support act Jamie R Hawkins (sounding superb with such a great sound system at his disposal, and doing his third gig of the day!). Then two fabulous sets from the main band.
The big advantage here was that Sless was actually a friend of Koss, and played with him back in the day, so the sets were liberally interspersed with genuine stories and anecdotes. This immediately lifted us out of the “tribute band” category, and into the realm of genuine homage. The focus was very much on early, rather than late, Free material. Whilst there was certainly time and space for such later classics as All Right Now (how could there not be??), Wishing Well and My Brother Jake, the emphasis was very much on the earlier more bluesy material with which Free originally gained their massive following. It was a real treat to hear I’m A Mover, Woman, Songs of Yesterday, I’ll Be Creeping and the stunning encore (as Free themselves used to do) of The Hunter.
All of this delivered with confidence and panache. But no room for anything over-polished – it was all down and dirty, reproducing that thick, squidgy bass sound, wandering round every number like a prowling wild-cat, superb screaming guitar solos and some spot-on vocals – a fruity, solid noise. Could have been in the room and all that. Nostalgia certainly – been good if Sless hadn’t kept mentioning “50 years ago” thanks very much! – but this material stood up to the test of time with some ease. Somehow the band managed to reproduce the sound of Free and Back Street Crawler with some accuracy, whilst still delivering it all in a fresh and full-on way.
It goes without saying that they brought the house down. Ian Hopkins mentioned in his introduction that the band had been one of the more expensive he’d managed to bring to Devizes, but from this punter anyway it was a solid thumbs-up – definitely worth it! Off home happy and heading for the Free CDs on the shelf!
Tipsy suggestions to those Saddlebackers at their gurt lush day festival at Devizes Sports Ground were poo-pooed from the off! With this year’s line up rolling out across social media, it’s easy to see they took my expansive notions as nonsensical dribble. A dance tent; yeah, right, circus and performing arts acts; get outta town, even a reggae stage is not to be. Feasibly, they know what they like!
With seemingly no plans to overinflate or cater for revellers outside their chosen target audience, this year’s Saddleback Festival drives surely on quality not quantity, and if good ol’ rock and blues music is what you want, and face it, it’s the most desirable around these backwaters, then it looks like Saddleback return to deliver.
Deliver they intend to, on 20th July, at a busy time with The Full Tone Orchestra promising a free event on the Green and Melksham’s Party in the Park on the same date, Devizes Carnival, Trowbridge’s Once Upon a Time in West Fest and the Swindon Shuffle the weekend prior, the Beer Festival and Devizes’ first scooter rally at the beginning of the month, perhaps it’s a reasonable move for Saddleback to stick with the working formula of previous years.
No extra acoustic stage for local acts has been announced, like the “bolt-on” last year. While being just that, it was at least a presence for them. It’s all focus on who’s performing main stage then, and tribute acts seem to feature predominantly. The longest running, full-time professional tribute to Led Zeppelin, Whole Lotta Led headline; and we all like a lotta Led.
Significant changes to their original line-up from 1996, six years ago, has seen considerable progress with the Whole Lotta Led’s customary two- and half-hour shows, receiving international acclamation from Zeppelin fans. With over 1,300 shows under the belts, they’ve performed Stairway to Heaven more than any other band in the world, interestingly, including Led Zeppelin!
To truly dedicated fans who witnessed the real McCoy at their prime, Whole Lotta Led avoid wigs, costumes, and look-alike paraphernalia to focus on recreating the music to an astonishing level of accuracy. They’ve recreated some of Led Zeppelin’s legendary live shows; 2001 they performed the ‘Bath Festival’ set, in 2003 staged the ‘Earl’s Court’ tour, in 2005 they recreated Zep’s last shows in England with the ‘Knebworth’ set, performed the live CD ‘How The West Was Won’ in 2006 and in 2008 they completed the ‘2007 O2 Reunion Show’ tour.
In a similar fashion, Creedence Clearwater Review are the UK’s premier tribute to Creedence Clearwater Revival, capturing the feel, sound and atmosphere of the short-lived late sixties American band. With audience involvement, singalongs and plenty of rousing choruses the Review promise an authentic and power packed tribute to the Creedence legacy, sticking as closely to the album tracks as possible. There’s also a nod to John Fogerty’s solo career in the show.
To concentrate on original acts, most are Bristol-based, like Elles Bailey is that wonderful hard-blues chick we’ve covered on Devizine before. With a prolific and authentic blend of country and blues, Elles is the UK dynamite on the scene.
The second name to continually popup locally is Ruzz Evans, who since 2014, with drummer Mike Hoddinott and Joe Allen on upright bass make up Ruzz’s Guitar Blues Revue. The trio house a powerful, soul-injected mesh of Blues, R’n’B and Rock’n’Roll of retrospective energy. The opportunities to open for some class acts, from Rockabilly’s the Delta Bombers and the Rhythm Shakers from Vegas to Dr Feelgood and The Blockheads. Plus, the newly released studio album, Burn Out, which features Pete Gage from Dr Feelgood’s band, certainly shows enthusiasm, skill and passion; this one is going to get lively.
Also booked is four-piece blues/funk outfit, The Will Edmunds Band, who perform interpretations of classics from the likes of Robert Johnson, BB King, Albert King and The Meters. Their sound promises to be tight and fresh, yet retaining old-school mojo!
And that’s what we’ve been told so far. No mention of Jon Amor; surely, he’ll drop in, would’ve thought? Ah, one step ahead of you. The Friday before , 19th July, he’s at the pre-festival event at the Sports Club, where for a tenner you’ll get Saddleback favourites Innes Sibun and Jon, with Mike Hoddinott of Ruzz’s Guitar Blues Revue and what’s worth the entire weekend price-tag in my humble opinion, for all it’s worth, the awesome UK-USA blues conglomerate, Beaux Gris Gris who we’ve reviewed a night of before.
A further tenner means you can camp for the weekend, from 5.00pm Friday 19th July, with campers asked to leave the site by 10.30am on Sunday 21st July. It may be whacking the total from £25, for a main ticket, to £45 for the whole shebang, and in all honesty the mods may have it cheaper than the rockers this year, the Scooter Rally tallying to £25 for the whole weekend with free camping, but a considerable donation of Saddleback is off to chosen charities Julia’s House and Care If, and going on the sturdy and reliable security, strategic setup and organisation that went into last year’s event, together with an awesome line-up, Saddleback will not go unnoticed, even if promotion of it seems somewhat lessened this year.
Here’s last year’s snaps to get you in the mood; all images by Nick Padmore
Little concern, Little Geneva fulfil expectations down the little Cellar Bar last night……
Awoke this morning and, on BBC Breakfast, witness middle-aged folk pulling themselves through an underground tunnel on a wheeled tea-tray, replicating the great escape on its anniversary. Unless you were there, or you’re Dr Who, you’ve no hope of comprehending the ambience of a smoky cavernous club at the eve of the early sixties British blues detonation any more than understanding the anxiety and fear to be levering through tunnel Harry to escape the prisoner of war camp.
Retrospective is big business, Hollywood ran out of ideas a decade ago, but replication is often forged and not without cliché. Yes, you could succumb to the paisley tribute act scene, or pay a king’s ransom for a blues legend in concert, but it’ll not capture the spirit of the era, or the artist in their prime. As generations roll genres gain acceptability, and the contemporary blues scene, though thriving, tends to centre around matured audiences, weary of intoxicating themselves and reluctant to shake a tail feather.
Yet if I squinted my eyes in the Cellar Bar last night, and allowed the music to flow through me, I’d be forgiven for pondering what it’d have been like to wander into a squalid nightclub in 1963 to hear The Animals, Kinks or Faces at their early stages, considering this is a close as I’m going to get.
I nod in appreciation that Little Geneva has simulated this, without cheesy or elderly representation. For this Bristol-based band with roots in Devizes aren’t here for pretence, this debut night is not passé, or deliberately treated with “tribute,” it is just a young band stripping back a sound to its raw roots, and thoroughly enjoying the attention it fashioned.
It was the most crowded I’ve ever seen the Bear Hotel’s dungeon-bar, Sheer Music’s sell-out show breathes life into the promoter’s quest to retake its hometown, after successfully branching to larger towns over hill yonder. It’s like punk never happened down there, like The Who time-travelled and waltzed in, spontaneously agreeing to perform. From its off, the band chilled the expectancy in the atmosphere with a smooth vocal and percussion mallet drum solo, akin to Jim Morrison’s spellbinding moments, which hypnotised crowds of acid-tripping hippies.
Yet this had not occurred before, armed with just acoustic guitar, Jon Amor done his thing, and done his thing as proficient as to be expected by locals. The Devizes legend as support, soothing blues, acoustically covering songs from his latest album, Colour in the Sky, with residential witticisms like obtaining a 1am chicken burger from the Market Place. It is always an honour to witness Jon, as a New Jersey resident’s admiration for a Springsteen gig.
This was raw, energetic blues-rock at its best, Little Geneva not covering known songs, least no classic immediately recognisable, just celebrating work done on their album, Eel Pie, in this explosive launch party; an awesome night, making the high bar prices at the Bear inconsequential, it’s a bucolic, rustic cavern of quality.
If anything, I find myself reflecting on my father, for the sixties was his era, and common banter in our family that he was in an amateur band. Mocked by my mother claiming “they were rubbish anyway,” and my father’s shunning, suggesting, “everyone was in a band back then, it was just a trend,” it’s only now occurring to me if it really meant something more to him, hanging up his guitar to dedicate his time to being “Dad.”
Something I can only speculate, wishing I’d have had the opportunity to question him about his feeling towards it. Yet, it reflects the trend today, least I find locally, whereby twenty-somethings are taking to an instrument purely for the love, absent of my generation’s slouch into technology-driven repetitive beats. If there’s a growing trend for this, Little Geneva perhaps hold the belt now, and hold it under the influence of all which went before, but not in a contemptuous, plagiarising or cheesy method, but a renewed, lively manner.
Kyla Brox Band – Saturday 2nd March @ Long Street Blues Club, Devizes
Back up the road to the Con Club for Long Street Blues Club’s latest presentation – The Kyla Brox Band. And it was definitely worth the hike.
Yet again Ian Hopkins had managed to get one of Britain’s top blues & soul bands in front of a Devizes audience on a Saturday night, and the crowd lapped it up. Winner of the 2018 UK Blues Challenge, Kyla’s reputation preceded her. And we were not to be disappointed -an outstanding performer with an incredible pair of lungs on her, knocking out some soulful, smoky and gritty lyrics. Her voice covered all the bases, from the cool, sexy drawl, belting through the mid-range rock chick style, to the high-end screaming wail of soulful pain. And the band behind her were as tight as a tourniquet.
The three-piece featured the fluent guitar work of Paul Farr, some inspired bass playing by Danny Blomeley and tight drumming by Mark Warburton. Farr, in particular, impressed with some of his inspired solos, drawing wild applause from the crowd.
The absolute highlight for me was the final number in the first set – one of the best versions I’ve ever heard of the classic Etta James song “I’d Rather Go Blind”, with Kyla pulling out all the stops to press every emotional button. To say that she completely nailed this number would be something of an under-statement – worth the entrance money on its own. The material throughout varied from up-tempo, high-energy blues through to low and slow, crooning soul, and it was great to hear these different textures through the two sets. The band’s ability to turn up the burners, and then cool right down, number after number really demonstrated their versatility.
The only time I felt that the band put a slight foot wrong was the choice of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” for the first encore – can this song that has been one of the most-ever covered pieces still having anything else left to give? – the answer, sadly, was a No from me. Fortunately there was a great up-tempo number to finish the evening off, and the minor damage was thus quickly repaired.
All-in-all another beltingly good gig, and a great night out.
• Saturday 6th April Billy Walton Band – electric blues & Memphis soul
• Saturday 4th May Shemekia Copeland – passionate Americana roots & soul
• Friday 10th May Tom C Walker – young virtuoso guitarist
• Saturday 25th May Kossoff…The Band Plays On – fine, high-calibre tribute band
If Devizes folk have a love of blues, with a slash to rock, and all this I find a beautiful thing; Long Street Blues Club, the origins of Saddleback and of course our own legend Jon Amor, there have been occasions when a portion of visiting bands I take with a pinch. There’s cliché, whereas roots of blues are strictly raw, these convey the conventional, an earnest shot to commercialise to a middle-aged tolerable market, which in a way is fine and dandy, there’s clearly a thirst for it and historically such progress is natural.
You see where I’m coming from? At a time, Elvis was unacceptable, was edgy, now the rock n roll audience is pensioner age, consider it classic. Marlborough’s popular Jazz Festival fills with hoity-toity yet the rags of Scott Joplin at the time of their conception could only be heard in bawdy New York brothels. Similarly, I hear a once subversive, outrageous noise of nineties rave as a children’s TV cartoon theme tune.
From the crashing drums and thrumming guitar opening blast of “Key to Love,” there’s no doubt barriers have been stripped back. Echoes of raw energy from a time of yore rip through you, its two and a half minutes of screeching harmonica and growling vocals place you in 1967, under a blanket at an LA love-in. Little Geneva maybe newly constructed, but resonance images of The Animals, of Steppenwolf and the Stones with a truly proficient edge.
Putting my point to them, they agreed, “we feel very similar to you mate, very similar indeed… which is why we made those recordings, and, in the stripped back/vintage way we did.”
This EP satisfies retrospective mod-culture and beatniks more-so than contemporary indie fans, I’d say; imagine punk didn’t happen. “All Your Love” slides you into the smooth classical/jazz stimulus of The Doors, yet “Yer Blues” harks the blues which would’ve inspired these aforementioned legends. “Someday After a While,” again breezy melancholic blues sound of Cream or The Animals. Five tracks on this EP, but from the first note I was hooked.
Bristol-based, Little Geneva, name coined from a Muddy Waters track, only formed on the eve before 2019, conceived during a conversation between the Doherty brothers, Dave and Chris. Partisans of the UK contemporary blues scene for over a decade, they felt a need to get back on stage together, as part of a truly great live band; thus, Little Geneva spawned. Once the seed was sown, recruiting additional members didn’t prove a problem.
Chris, 32, and Dave Doherty, 36; both gifted guitarists, holding players such as B.B King, Albert King, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton in high regard, headhunted Rags Russell, 32, (vocals/harmonica) who fronts the youthful and energetic band with an emotive and soulful vocal style. Zak Ranyard, 27, (bass guitar) and Simon Small, 33, (drums) provide the rhythm section’s high level of energy and power, driving the band.
Having completed this blinding EP, the band is set to record their first album at the beginning of March, as they look for clubs and festivals dates across Europe. But the bestest part of it all, the album launch gig is based right here, in Devizes. I had to ask them, the connection.
You may know already, you see that’s where Devizine differs from being our town’s Time Out magazine, it’s a learning curve for me. There’s history behind this band, as individuals, Little Geneva members have opened shows for Ray Davies (The Kinks), John Fogerty (Creedence Clearwater Revival), Mud Morganfield and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Also sharing festival bills with The Red Devils, Jimmie Vaughan, The Hoax, B.B King and many others. But three members of the band began their musical relationship in Devizes, back in 2004. Chris, Simon and Dave went to Lavington Comprehensive.
“We all lived in Devizes at the time our first band formed,” explained Dave, “and we were quickly recruited by other older stalwarts of the scene. We helped create a thriving music scene at The Bell by The Green around this time and it was, for a time, a great little scene.”
“They go right back to the beginning of Sheer,” Sheer’s creator Kieran Moore informed, “Check out a band called Hitchmo; that’s where it started.”
“That early band came to an end around 2008,” Dave continued, “and the three of us went our separate ways, musically speaking. We all met other musicians, worked with other producers in different genres and countries. Chris now lives in Cornwall, as does Zak. Rags lives in Bristol, as did I when I met him. Simon and I now live in Devizes, where we feel rooted. Bristol is the hub of our activities; it’s obviously a more connected place than Devizes. Devizes is our home though, and all three of want to come back here for our first show, and smash it out of the park!”
It’s Little Geneva’s deep respect for, and knowledge of what made those early British blues recordings so energised, and exhilarating, coupled with the soulful spirit with which all members express themselves, that will make an unmissable launch date at The Cellar Bar on Saturday 23rd March. Initial reaction to this retrospective goodness was wow, great booking Kieran, but I see now, what’s news to me is a reunion, to a degree, for Sheer and aforementioned scene; indisputably making the gig even more poignant than simply this absolutely rocking sound.
I shit you not, it’s like being bought up with Neil Sedaka and suddenly discovering The Faces. Oh, and if you need more convincing, Jon Amor supports…. supports, I know, right!
Dave & Debbie have done a really great job in putting The Southgate back on the Devizes musical map since they took over the pub last year, booking a wide range of great acts from Friday nights through to Sunday afternoons. These gigs are all free entry and, with a comfortable & welcoming environment and all beers at only £3 a pint, it’s a no-brainer to get one’s arse up there to enjoy the musical fare on offer. Sunday afternoons in particular have become one of my favourites – a view obviously shared by the local cognoscenti – for the place was again packed with happy customers.
This Sunday last we were treated to a fabulous session from Kent Duchaine, a man described by Mike Harding as “a legend in his own lunchtime and a REAL bluesman”. I use the word “treat” advisedly, as the man turned out to be one helluva all-round entertainer. Not only did he play some wonderful stripped-back delta blues on his 1934 National Steel guitar Leadbessie, he also connected absolutely with his audience. Every break between songs, every intro, every outro, the man was talking, talking, talking about his life, his travels, his experiences, his deep love of the blues, the music he loved, the blues players he had met an known. And not without a good dose of self-deprecating humour. It was an education just listening to the man. Fascinating. And what a voice! The guy obviously gargles with lumps of granite in his throat! Whether talking or singing, to hear him, (and to look at him) I guess you’d say he’s “well lived-in”, and a well-travelled troubadour.
Lots of Leadbelly, Muddy Waters, and all the rest of the great bluesmen, just flowed out of him all afternoon. Kent spoke and sang; Leadbessie drawled and crooned. The punters lapped it up.
Absolutely perfect laid-back blues for a lazy Sunday afternoon. Perfect entertainment.
If you’ve not been up The Southgate lately, time you checked it out!
• Saturday 2nd February Drew Bryant
• Friday 8th February Clock Radio + The Jelas Live
• Saturday 9th February Tim Manning
• Friday 15th February Fake Walnut Dash
• Saturday 16th February Guilty Pleasure
Back to the top of the hill to The Conservative Club aka Long Street Blues Club to catch the last date of the UK tour by Californian band Rick Estrin & The Wildcats.
The advance billing was impressive, and the short UK tour had had several sold-out dates. Not sure this gig was technically sold out, but it was certainly pretty rammed in there.
Ian Hopkins had written: “Overflowing with talent and bursting with bravado, Rick Estrin & The Nightcats have created one of the blues’ most instantly recognizable sounds and no-holds-barred styles. With the world-class talents of harmonica master, songwriter and vocalist Rick Estrin, guitar wunderkind Chris “Kid” Andersen, keyboard wizard Lorenzo Farrell and dynamic drummer Alex Pettersen, Rick Estrin & The Nightcats serve up sharp and incisive original blues and gritty roadhouse rock ‘n’ roll.”
So there was much to look forward to, and a lot to live up to. The room was packed and buzzing with anticipation. The crowd were royally entertained by local singer/ songwriter Joe Hicks (always good value for money), and suitably warmed up. Finally, after what seemed a longer gap than usual, the band took to the stage and belted out the first number.
Estrin himself cut an impressive figure at the front – smartly dressed and coiffed, leaning into the mike, and delivering a high-energy performance. Within minutes there was the trademark howling harmonica, backed by driving keyboards and rhythm section. The band were always tight and well-drilled when the songs needed it, but not afraid to cut loose in the breaks either. Think growling, witty, street-smart vocals – often reduced to almost a gravelly whisper, occasionally a haunting drawl – then lashing back out into a full-force vocal delivery. The band itself dropped the sound back at times allowing Estrin to strut his stuff and to paint his pictures, but then returned in full force, producing a wonderful dirty, muddy noise of driving California blues. Yet this was far from being a one-dimensional blues band – we had some great jazzy/ improve passages, and a longish monologue from Estrin himself at one point. Technically impressive, laid-back, grooving and absolutely whip-smart stuff.
And the crowd – not surprisingly – absolutely loved it. As did I – another great night at Long Street Blues. If I had one minor criticism it was that the set was (compared to many bands I’ve seen at the venue) relatively short – just over the hour. I think we could all have done with a bit more!
The band’s latest album is Groovin’ In Greaseland, which I think I’ll be checking out shortly. https://rickestrin.com/
I’ll come clean, resisting the urge to write a piece for Devizine for the past few days, being toothache is depressing me and fear if I do start writing I’m going to take my stress out on the subject. Had some awesome new music to review recently from our local heroes, been so positive, because it’s been thoroughly deserved. Much as I’d like to break that chain, yearn to be overly critical and lambast some poor soul for little reason, I unwittingly refrained. If you’ve nothing nice to say Worrow; no sorry, doesn’t wash with me.
Then, Devizes numero uno and worldwide blues legend, Jon Amor, only goes and pings over the highly anticipated album, Colour in the Sky. Released digitally tomorrow (28th Nov) on his website, and he hopes on iTunes, Jon signs off his message: “good luck at the dentist!” Grrr, I’m gonna listen to this right now! Oh…. why can’t teeth be more like Mr Amor; there’s zilch to be critical about here, and certainly no pain inflicted?
From blast off, Colour in the Sky confirms what all local musicians state; he’s Captain Numero Uno alright. Though opening tune, Faith Reborn is a rocket, it’s quite what I expected, definitive frenetic electric blues. However, the missile proceeds into something else, something which scales Mount Marvellous and shoots high into the orangey glow of tremendous troposphere, and the pain killers haven’t even kicked in yet.
Diversity ensues, while Elephant slides equably into the room, up-tempo Illuminous Girl reminds me of the catchy, amusing teaser we had of this album last month, with Elvis-Costello-fashioned, Red Telephone, which, chronologically, you’ll wait until closer to the end for, but this is funkier, even more potent.
The rocket blasts over Andalusia, with a flamenco, Latino track, reminiscent of Santana at his coolest, across the Southern States with rolling rhythm and blues, to New Orleans, with a smooth, big band jazz number to make Nina Simone blush, and crash-lands up my path, banging on my front door. I’m left gobsmacked by track seven, only halfway through this twelve-track musical marathon, darn it’s uplifting; toothache, what toothache?
When The Weather Turns Cold, (as it has) has a stirring country riff, February Tree mellows agreeably, aforementioned Red Telephone is quirky pop-rock, Scandinavia stalwarts fans, and the finale Sentiels is lovably sentimental, concluding my pondering; even the toughest-to-please Jon Amor fan will be blown off their feet with Colour in the Sky.
So, short of time, as it’s released tomorrow, I’ve taken a long scan over this album, and it’s expectedly a keeper. Some months ago I was standing outside the Devizes Sports Club my first unofficial meeting with Jon, when he supported Beaux Gris Gris & The Apocalypse, he promised me a preview of this and I’ve admit I’ve hyped it up in my mind since; it does not disappoint.
I just hope the dentist tomorrow is equally professional, but I doubt it.
Your creative sorts usually appreciate music, but, stereotypically, entertainment for “sporty-types” would rather be waving fists and hurling abuse at a team projected to them via a widescreen TV, seemingly oblivious; television is a one-way communication devise. It’s not until someone puts “Eye of the Tiger,” on a jukebox, or Bonnie Tyler croaks she’s holding out for a hero, that they get all sweaty, and start flexing biceps in a dance comprising of getting friends in a headlock and rubbing knuckles atop their cranium.
It couldn’t be further from the truth for the Devizes Sports Club, and anyway, my generalising just a witticism in hope the lady’s rugby team might fulfil my daydream and chase me down the street! The Sports Club, enthusiastic for the remaining month before their Saddleback Festival, are serious about presenting the town with an exciting and professionally organised festival.
It’s the music festival’s second innings, after the sun-drenched blues event last year, and they’re determined to up their game…..not a lot, no point in running before they can walk, but enough to make this, in my opinion, our most anticipated event of the year.
For starters, they’ve dropped the “blues” tag from its title, making it less specialised. While the concentration on blues music still sturdy, it’ll be joined predominantly with rock, acoustic and folk.
Certain other moves are to be introduced, I’m at the British Lion, having a pint with organiser, Mirko Pangrazzi, to find out what they might be.
I suggest they could drop the “music” label too, add a comedy tent, or possibly street theatre. Mirko considers, but stops at the idea of a “dance” tent. Their chosen genres equate to a family-styled event. A mass of fledgling “ravers” descending brings its own issues.
There’s an air about the conversation which leads me to believe the organisers value quality over quantity, with no intentions of expanding to Glasto proportions. We laugh as Mirko recalls people last year leaving, only to return with chairs in which they would switch the angle of to face their chosen stage; that is sooo Devizes and surely associates this family ethos.
Mirko is keen to show me a list of activities they’ve organised for children; a fun bus, inflatables, face painting, a bungee run, Striker game, slot machines and of course, a sweet stall, to name but a few. Plus, it goes without saying it’s at a sports club with abundant space to kick a football till you drop.
For here’s a thing, I’m convinced no one is to get fleeced at Saddleback, the food stalls enter freely, organisers only asking for a donation to chosen charities; Julia’s House, Wiltshire Air Ambulance and others, while punters get value with a wealth of talented acts for a reasonable twenty-five quid, and their kids under 13, well, they get in for FREE and for 13-17 it’s just a fiver.
Mirko introduces me to John, a newcomer to the committee but with a wealth of experience on the festival scene. What John doesn’t know about coordinating a festival could be written on the back of a matchbox, with diagrams, pie charts and a few dirty doodles on the bottom.
Having worked on littler-known events like, say, Glastonbury and Boomtown, John is a welcomed asset to provide a fully professional team, determined to make this work wonders. There’s more than meets the eye to arranging such an event, a note others need take heed of in these cliché days of any Tom, Dick, Harry, or Harry’s pet dog attempting to hold one. They’re delighted to have halted construction plans for a new pipeline running through the site, due bang on the 14th July when Saddleback takes place. For when music promoter Mirko and Sports Club owner Rick get going on a project, they’re the sort who work tirelessly to make it the very best they can.
It didn’t matter of the success of last year’s, though Mirko was pleased with the result, they’ve assigned themselves to this ongoing project and intend to make it an annual event.
So, the second major change is camping. People will be able to set up a tent this year, from Friday to Sunday, for a tenner, or just fifteen smackers to bring their campervan on site. This will add an extra dimension to the ambience, with visitors able to mingle with locals. Add this to the real ale and cider bars, prosecco, Pimms, wines, soft drinks, and craft beer from Devitera, merge it with a wide assortment of food stalls, such as Happy Hog Catering, Asian cuisine, obligatory barbeque and a tea/coffee and crepe bus, I think they’re building the perfect recipe for a blinding day which will go down in Devizes history and will firmly put our town on the festival map.
Notwithstanding an unforgettable line-up, with blues singer, songwriter and guitarist, Marcus Bonfanti, rockers Bad Touch, ballad-esque pop-rockette, Mollie Marriott, daughter of Small Faces and Humble Pie singer and guitarist Steve Marriott, Devizes-own blues/alternate rock deities The Jon Amor Band, Bradford’s legendary John Verity, Blues/Rock guitarist Innes Sibun and Avebury’s own George Wilding.
If you need further proof of the authenticity of my recommendation, bear in mind it was a great thing when George Wilding won his place at the festival at the Battle of the Bands earlier this year and said he’d do it, if the other contestants could have the opportunity to play too. But it’s an even greater thing when Rick and Mirko took heed, and before we knew what was what, a third “acoustic” stage was added, introducing local heroes and heroines Mike Barham, Jamie R Hawkins, Alex Cash, Sally Dobson and Clare, who was coincidently serving at the British Lion at the time!
She smiled when we chatted, not realising who I was she said, “but I’ve known you for years!” That is what’s special about Devizes, that is what Saddleback will adhere, and that is also what’ll make Saddleback a knockout.
So, don’t miss out, leave a comment on a local Facebook group, giving it, “whats that wonderful music I can hear from my garden?” – there’s tickets on the gate, or in advance, here.
Deadlier than the male, The Female of the Species is an amalgamation of female musicians from various local bands who team up to host charity gigs; what’s not to like?
Nicky Davis from Warminster based People Like Us and The Reason, Glastonbury’s Julia Greenland from Soulville Express & Delta Swing, Frome’s Claire Perry from Big Mamma & The Misfitz, solo artist Charmaigne Andrews from Melksham, and Julie Moreton from Trowbridge’s Train to Skaville and Jules & The Odd Men, form the supergroup again for “Live on the Night,” at the Melksham Assembly Rooms on Saturday 30th September.
Seriously not to be missed; Beginning by showcasing two young performers; James Dempsey and Laura Jane Burt, giving them stage time and experience. The show then continues with People Like Us. The finale, Female of the Species sure to be the icing on the cake. Blending their influences in a mash-up of reggae and ska, soul and Motown, blues and rock, how on Earth do they govern what genre is coming next?
I thought I’d hassle Jules of Train to Skaville for an answer. “Each of the girls chooses three or four songs from their band’s set list,” explained the self-confessed rude-girl, “and then we add in the stuff we sing together.”
The Female of the Species first formed for a one-off gig at the Civic Hall, Trowbridge in 2014 for the Hope Centre in Southwick, a charity for adults with learning difficulties, “but it was so successful,” Jules continued, “we had no choice but to do it all again….and again.”
This news nugget keeps getting better though, as this year they’re fund-raising for the Wiltshire Air Ambulance. The previous appearance at the Assembly Hall in Melksham, back in 2015 raised £2,920 in aid of WILTSHIRE M.I.N.D Mental Health Charity. The founding gig at The Hope Nature Centre in Southwick in 2014 I previously mentioned, raised an amazing £3,395.
While the next Train to Skaville is boarding from the White Swan, Trowbridge, Big Mama and the Misfitz only coming as close to us as The Fox and Hounds in Colerne on 4th November and the next People Like Us gig being a longer bus journey to Bath, at the Westgate on 22nd, here’s something in easy reach and all for the greatest cause. Tickets at just a tenner can be snatched from the Assembly Rooms or online here.