Dr Feelgood at The Assemblies, Leamington Spa 14/11
Double Header With 9 Below Zero
A first visit to the restored Art Deco Assembly Rooms at Leamington, along with the many others who had turned out for this double header. 9 Below Zero are a blues band with a touch of punk, fronted by guitarist and vocalist Dennis Greaves, alongside ace harp player Mark Feltham, looking like he had been hauled straight from a film set of The Green Hornet, with his brimmed hat casting a distinct mask over his eyes. It did not affect his stunning harmonica play however. The band is featured elsewhere for the same tour, so I will concentrate on the good Dr.
The band had its roots planted way back in 1971, though today’s line up differs completely from those times, the band still has serious pedigree, and retains that smack in the face performance that has always been their trademark. Drummer and bassist, Kevin Morris and Phil Mitchell (no not from East Enders) joined in ’83, guitarist Steve Walwyn, in ’89, and vocalist front man Robert Kane in ’99. The performance is electric, it grips from the first notes, as Steve strangles his Fender, Rob must be one of the best, full on, front men around, he bursts into the opening song ‘Through The City’. A splendid ‘Who Do You Love’, is rattled out like a machine gun, hard hitting, taking no prisoners. Its not long before arguably their greatest song is growled out, it has to be, ‘Milk & Alcohol’, simply fabulous, we all want more of this nectar. What can be better than this, well a punchy punkticious ‘Roxette’, comes pretty damned close, the band can do no wrong, and there is plenty more in the back catalogue to throw to the baying crowd. As original front man Lee Brilleaux is quoted as saying, People don’t talk about an orchestra and say, ‘Oh. Are ya still playing that f*****g old Beethoven stuff?’ Why should they say the same to us?’\so sticking in that mid 70’s vein ‘Down By The Jetty’ was duly delivered. Steve Walwyn, never shy in coming forward, especially so close to his home town, gave a scintillating, neck bending, fret threatening performance, whether on his Telecasters or the brutish looking steel plate sandwich, that gets the slide treatment. He personifies the whole ethic of the Dr Feelgood band and its history, Wilko may be missed, but Walwyn more than makes up. We cannot see the evening off without a couple more crowd pleaser’s, of course it has to be ‘Down At The Doctors’, and we are ecstatic to be there, ready to take ‘One More Shot’, to speed us on our journeys home. Brilliant, like all great bands, they leave you wanting more.
words and photos Graham Munn
Notorious Brothers @ POW Ledbury 09/11
Yes, I’m there again, back at my favourite Sunday afternoon haunt, this time to see the outrageous Notorious Brothers, perform, and watch the facial contortions as the glorious tones issue forth from Melvyn Hancox’s Gibson guitars. We were taken to the psychedelic home of Melvyn’s imagination, a bit of peace and love, before finding the path to a fabulous ‘Whiskey In The Jar’, and a cuttingly gritty, ‘bad To The Bone’. Melvyn had brought along an ‘apprentice’, in the form of Greg Blackburn, who was invited to take the mic along with his Strat and perform an excellent ‘Pride & Joy’. Greg may have appeared a little quiet and shy, (Melvyn makes up for any shortfall!) but he can certainly play that Fender, Joining in later, for a duelling guitar session that left us all spellbound. Some tub thumping, cymbal smashing, drum beats emanating from Richard Rivett, adding to the vocals on some songs, he sits behind his monstrous set, with a smile on his face. Mark Harris on base seems equally amused, as Melvyn continues in his court jester role, whilst somehow playing sublime weeping guitar notes. A brilliant bit of Zep follows soon enough, ‘Whole Lot Of Love’, seems to fit the bands ethos like a sharp suit, way down inside, what more do you need! Mark’s base starts an instantly recognised pulsating rhythm, joined by Rich on the cymbals, its Albatross, and Melvyn is in his element, wings spread, riding the thermals. A partly consumed glass of ale, comes into play for some slide, would you expect anything else!
Mark plays on into the evening, a broken E, and no replacement, forces a quick retuning down to a 3 string base, I cease to note what is being played, the atmosphere is euphoric, the ‘girls’, are filling every inch of floor space, we have to be careful not to spill our beer. The clock seems to race on, nobody cares, nobody leaves. Its been an an excellent evening of entertainment, from the Notbros boys, who just love to play; added to that the bonus of a youthful Greg Blackburn, it had become a guitarfest not to be missed.
Words and photos Graham Munn
John Mayall at Birmingham Symphony Hall 05/11
+ King King
John Mayall has returned to the UK from his Canadian home, to tour in his 80th year, that’s quite a mission, and you would be excused in thinking that this may be a tour too many. Yes, he is no doubt, a little less able, he uses notes to prompt his lyrics, he probably does not play guitar like he used to either, but then he always had a Clapton or a Green to lead. He does however, still perform on keyboards, and harp well enough, in fact, plays extensive harp led songs, his voice may have lost its strength, but its still distinctly Mayall, and he is remains sprightly even as an octogenarian.
He is importantly, supported by some very able musicians, also from over the water.
Not unlike many performers, the start was steady, ‘Big Town Playboys’, mixing piano with some harp, and a poignant ‘Give Me One More Day’, which saw John with a short guitar solo. A funky keyboard lead, told us John was ‘Not At Home’, but he was back for an excellent harp solo on ‘One Life To Live’. ‘Early In The Morning’, brought together, John on guitar and Rocky Athas working his Strat with a passion. The one thing that has always stayed with me from the early 60’s is John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, ‘Broken Wing’, it still remains in my mind as a superb, understated, song, I was only too pleased to hear it performed live this evening. In ‘California’, John throws in everything, a long harp solo, some piano, and guitar, all to the rumbling distant thunder of Greg Rzab’s base, all pinned together by Jay Davenport on drums. Rocky and the boys have given us a great performance all evening, enabling John, to sometimes go perhaps a little astray, breathing space occasionally to check his song book, but also to let us all into the world of John Mayall, legendary blues man, who introduced us to some of the UK greatest guitarists, Eric, Peter, and Mick Taylor. Tribute was given to the late Jack Bruce, who, along with Eric was ‘stolen’ from the band by the irascible Ginger Baker, the rest as they say, is history. The Mayall bio reads like a who’s who of blues, it would take too much space to list all the ‘significant players’ that have passed through his Bluesbreakers. I may not have seen him at his best, but I am very pleased to be able to say, I have seen him perform live on stage.
Supporting John, was the high rolling, multi award winning, Glasgow based, blues band King King. Fronted by Alan Nimmo, this band brings a rawness and energy to stage that reflects their standing. A kilted Nimmo, joked about his upbringing, next door to a cake shop, between delivering some powerful songs, accompanied by Lindsay Coulson on bass, Wayne Procter on drums and Bob Fridzema on keys. Taken from their 2013 award winning album (yes more accolades) Take My Hand, ‘More Than I Can Take’, blasted out. Their new album, Standing In The Shadows, sourced the superb, slow burning, soulful, ‘Jealousy’. The band may not have a huge library of albums behind them, but there’s not a dull or mediocre song in the catalogue to choose from, so the whole set flows through picking off songs from the 2 releases. All helped along by a wry grin and that bit of a sparkle that easily ignites Alan, launching him into a wee homily. The band finish to a song scribed by Eric Clapton and Robert Cray, ‘Old Love’, beautifully performed, with Alan taking his guitar down to just audible ‘power off’ notes, before bringing it back up to a glorious ending. With support like this, you could argue, who needs a headline, but it was, after all, a legend.
Words and photos Graham Munn
For the past couple of weeks, it would seem that my typical day is wake up, drink too much caffeine, go to work, race home, cook and either sit front of the computer updating this very site or jumping back in the car to hit the various venues of the Midlands, it might not be glamourous, but to paraphrase a certain Mr Jagger, “it’s only rock ‘n’ roll, but I like it”
Talking of all things rock ‘n’ roll Nine Below Zero have been busy treading the boards for the last thirty-five plus years delivering a striking combination of ballsy blues and high octane rock. The four-piece deliver razor sharp riffs, powerhouse drums, rumbling bass and fiery bursts of harmonica to create a potent and engaging take on a well-worn style drawing a loyal fanbase who like their music weathered, spiky and above all fun.
But before I wax lyrical about the merits of Nine Below Zero, I must mention support act, Peoples Republic Of Mercia, a local Midlands based four-piece band that again take the rock n roll ethos and add a little pinch of punk or garage attitude to the mix. The band gave it their all with the likes of Coast and Suicide Song, finding favour with the night’s early birds, who responded accordingly with a smattering of applause and polite nodding as the band plied their wares. The band’s sound is far from original and in truth they could do with a few more hooks, however they all can all play well enough, the energy can’t be knocked and musically they complimented the headliners set nicely, without ever reaching the same high’s that Nine Below Zero managed to muster.
And so to the headliners, Nine Below Zero, as you would imagine, from such a lengthy history produced a memorable set of firm fan favourites full of vim and vigour that belies the groups collective years. the make of the four-piece band allows individuals to shine whilst still creating a cohesive whole, at the front you have Dennis Greaves on guitar and lead vocals, his voice suits the gritty rock n roll, whilst his guitar work might not be flashy but works brilliantly within the context of the band’s sound, sharing the spotlight is harmonica player, Mark Feltham, a performer who blows up a storm with his expressive and passionate bursts, often used as a lead instrument, the harmonica really helps the band stand head and shoulders above their contemporaries. The rhythm section of Brendan O’Neill and Brian Bethall underpin the hurricane battering their instruments into submission as the two leads battle it out.
Nine Below Zero deliver the likes of Don’t Point Your Finger, Back In The Doghouse and Johnny Weekend to a rapt audience, the band feeding on the crowds enthusiasm, growing in statue as their set progressed, a spiky I Can’t Do My Homework Anymore was hollered back to the band by the enthralled masses, whilst blues standard Got My Mojo Working was welcomed as the classic it is.
The band even had time to showcase a more laid-back soulful edge with a tasty homage to the pop harmony groups of yesterday with a tasty rendition of Sugar By Honey Bunch before rounding the evening off with a spirited encore of Stop Your Naggin’ and Wooly Bully, leaving an exhilarated audience baying for more.
As I alluded to at the beginning of this review Nine Below Zero play rock n roll and I like……no scratch that I love it.
Rhythm & Booze Rating 9
Photos Graham Munn
Albert Hall Bluesfest 2014, tales from a daytime stroller.
I arrived at the Hall late afternoon on Wednesday, for a quick recce, it being my first visit to this iconic venue. I managed a quick word with Mike Sanchez as he cleared his set, he was ‘boogieing’ those keys all week long, and was looking in need of a long drink. Falling straight off the tree and onto the vacant Verdi stage, fell The Bad Apples, and it was an absolute blast. The core of the band is extracted from the Manfreds, serious musicians who had formed to play the music they love.
Paul Rogers like vocals from Robert Hart, the twin guitars of Mick Moody and Mick Rogers, some funky bass from Ian Jennings and some primeval drumming from Jimmy Copley, tore into ‘I Don’t Need No Doctor’, Robert’s voice ripping through the room. A bit of fun with Mick Moody’s ‘Get Off My Back’, and a bit of guitar ‘chatter’, as Mick Roger’s leads into a blues must, ‘A Taste For Bourbon’. All good stuff, but then an excellent soulful Robert, in Cockeresque mode, sang a brilliant, ‘Someone To Watch Over Me’. A well appreciated set, enjoyed by an enthusiastic crowd, definitely a band to look out for.
Thursday, took me to the Elgar room, and Dr Feelgood, Marcus Bonfanti, and Mud Morganfield, it was going to be a good day.
Another Robert up front, with serious in your face attitude, he is the real deal. The room was packed as Rob Kane sound checked in a’capela, ‘My Babe’, before the band fired in. The set is energetic, the room alive, barely room to breath. Steve Walwyn squeezing out the riffs, Kevin and Phil setting out the bottom line. With an enviable play list to draw from, the boys blast through many old favourites, ‘Who Do You Love’, the fabulous ‘Milk And Alcohol’. Some serious slide on Steve’s ‘scrap iron’ guitar with ‘Rollin & Tumblin’, Phil sets up the bass for Roxette, Rob is having some serious fun as he accosts the enthusiastic mob of fans. We could not miss out on ‘Down At The Doctors’, and all waited to ‘Gimme One More Shot’, but the clock does not allow for overrun for daytime strollers. Times are tight, and Marcus Bonfanti was waiting in the wings.
I have not seen Marcus for a couple of years, and never with his band, so I was keen to catch up with this talented, award winning, performer. Marcus is another energy infused guitarist, he never stands still, only hovering at the microphone for the lyrics, before rocking and sliding, hair flying, using the space. Great blues voice and superb guitar skills are his hallmark, he opened with ‘Alley Cats’, the slide coming straight into play on his resonator guitar. Some great thumping drums from Craig Conett, bring ‘Honey’ to our ears, but a total contrast to the more country tilt to ‘Blind Alley’. Stepping back to his earlier album for the glorious ‘Devil Girl’, punched out to us all, ‘Cheap Whiskey’ not far behind. Also on stage with Marcus and Craig, was Matt Waer on bass, who brought to stage a little glam rock that would have fitted just as well in the early Bowie years. Marcus, ended with another song from Shake The Walls, looking suitably drained after his efforts, closing his session with ‘My Baby Wont Dance’. I look forward to seeing him on his solo tour just a few months away when he comes to Ledbury and The Prince Of Wales.
Last Daytime session was going to be Mud Morganfield, another first for me, he was here with a great band around him. Ian Jennings, this time on double bass, Steve Weston a humdinger of a harp player, Ronnie Boysen on a mean guitar, Mike Hellier on drums and guest pianist Eric Ranzoni.
What can I say, Mud glorious Mud, the man has pedigree and it oozes out of every pore, he delivered ‘Blow Wind’ with passionate ease, and there is no doubt at all that he has ‘Blues In My Shoes’. All that requires a good band with you and in these boys, he certainly had that in spades, all at the top of their game. There were superb solos on harp and guitar, Eric’s piano coming in as well, but they all had a chance to take lead before the set ended, brilliant. Those show boating solos came as an extended Mud having his ‘Mojo Working’. The man has blues blood, and his band, are his courtiers!
Friday, and I could not resist another session of Mud wallowing, Thursday his jacket and shoes glistened in the lights, with colours of rainbow trout. Today was the Halloween collection, a bright orange suit complete with hat that would not have disgraced a dodge city gambling den. Another dazzling show, Chicago blues at its finest.
The Excitement took stage, a slick suited soul band from Barcelona, fronted by a diminutive girl, Koko-Jean Davis, with endless, explosive energy, almost matched by the bass player Daniel Segura. Two sax, two guitars and drums, in attendance, they poured out soul in the style of James Brown. Dare I say, it almost became too tiring to watch, but there were plenty of people grooving along, and being mesmerised by Koko-Jean, who certainly knew how to capture her audience. Resplendent in a little pink flapper dress, she strutted and posed, teasing the onlookers.
The final session of the week went to someone I consider to be one of the finest, yet underrated female vocalists around, she plays a pretty good guitar too. That lady is Nell Bryden, she sits nearer to folk and country music, but sings with an absolute passion and surprising power, maybe not on the lines of Beth Hart, but I believe, she has a more melodic, and wider range. I have seen her performing solo with just her aged acoustic guitar, with a total grasp of her audience, she is a joy to watch and hear. Here she had her band, Al on keys, James beating the drum and Ash on a dayglo guitar, leaping around, not so much ants in his pants as termites maybe, he was entertaining, and more than equal to his task. ‘What Does It Take’, a lovely song to open with, using the full range of her strong emotive voice, it also happened to be the song that found the airwaves on BBC Radio 2 some 7 years ago. A grittier ‘Mercy On Me’ was taken from her second album Shake The Tree. Outstanding were Nell’s beautiful solo’s, first accompanied by Al on keyboards, ‘All You Had’ and not long after, Nell unaccompanied, sang the hauntingly lovely ‘Wolves’, from her latest Wayfarer album. She finished in full rip roaring style (despite being very expectant) with ‘Second Time Around’. Maybe not blues, but a fantastic performance from a genuinely talented lady.
Words & Photos Graham Munn
- Stuart Woolfenden-Are You Vulnerable Or Just Insane?
- Dr Feelgood Live @ The Assembly Rooms, Leamington, 14/11/14
- Notorious Brothers Live @ The Prince of Wales, Ledbury, 9/11/14
- John Mayall/King King Live @ The Birmingham Symphony Hall 5/11/14
- Virgil And The Accelerators Live @ Robin 2, Bilston 12/11/14
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