The Iron Road is quickly building a reputation as one of the best live music venues in Worcestershire, rising, phoenix like from the ashes of The Railway, the place has had a massive overhaul, a lick of paint, a new sound system and a manager with a mission to bring the best in live music to the area.
Having already established it’s rock credentials with the bookings of the likes of The Quireboys, Uli John Roth and Kory Clarke (Warrior Soul) among others, the venue is now in the process of becoming a hotbed for the best in blues, already inviting the likes of Mike Zito, Ben Poole, Jo Harman and Mud Morganfield to tread the boards in the future and who better to launch the newly found night than blues young musician of the year and one the best guitar slingers in the business Mr Laurence Jones.
Now I’ve seen Laurence a number of times in the past, first stumbling in on a set taking place in an Upton pub courtyard and even back then he had star quality, in the few years since then he’s ascended towards the top of the blues tree, performing and recording with friends and heroes alike (including the aforementioned Mike Zito and the Walter Trout among others), but I have to say his set at the hot, sticky Iron Road was jaw dropping. Watching Laurence give his all at such close quarters was akin to was like watching a masterclass in delivery and performance.
From the opening number (and new album title track), What It’s Gonna Be, Laurence and his band (bassist Roger Inniss and drummer Miri Miettinen) had the audience eating out of their palms, with smiles permently welded on their faces the three-piece proved exactly why they are so highly regarded, solos were peled off with effortless ease, whilst the rhythm section delivered a tight and often funky accompaniment.
The band’s set continued with stunning, invigorating originals such as Thunder In The Sky, Temptation and Soul Swamp River as well as mesmeric renditions of Leadbelly’s Good Morning Blues and All Along The Watchtower (which may have even surpassed the Hendrix version for both style and substance). One of the obvious highlights (and slight change of pace) of the set, was the emotive slow blues of Whisper In The Wind, a song that begins tenderly with Laurence passionately crooning as his guitar rang out, before the band rejoin him to bring the song home.
Laurence and the boys completed their contagious set with the frenzied one-two knockout combo of Stop Moving The House and Bullfrog Blues, somehow mustering the energy (after such a high octane set) for a rousing and frantic finale leaving the audience baying for more.
Prior to the rip-roaring Laurence Jones set, local Evesham rockers Heavy Oil warmed up the audience with a tight set of originals, delivering a competent set, with the band making up for any lack of originality with their obvious desire to perform. With a few more hooks and a little more diversity the band could be one’s to look out for in the future.
This was my first visit to the Iron Road, but it sure won’t be my last, I’ve pencilled in a number of must sees into the diary already, with more seemingly being confirmed by the day, if you like music you’re going to love the Iron Road. As for Laurence, well his never ending tour is rumbling on to a town near you and if you’ve not caught him live yet, I highly recommend you rectify that in the very near future.
Words Will Munn
Photos Graham Munn
Time For A Marrs Bar, ‘While The Cats Away’
Matt Woosey launched his latest CD, While The Cats Away at Marrs on this evening, a good crowd had assembled, with a real buzz in the air. Supporting Matt, in full plumage, Malvern band White Feather Collective, also had a distinct, youthful following, present.
This band plays a fascinating form of rock, which seems embedded in an early 70’s groove, having said that, they warmed up with a distinctly Mersey side sounding ‘Fireball’ of an instrumental, thumping drums and bass from Chris and bearded Roo. ‘Crosstown’, takes on a Doors feel, with Josh’s voice ‘stolen’ from Morrison, and I’m not talking supermarkets. The lyrics seem to fit the bill too, we slip back to the Mersey sound for ‘Yearning’, William’s Strat guitar leading strongly, but still that drum and bass coming through. Back into Doors mode for ‘Writing A Novel’, Josh in fine voice, before a more frenetic, ‘Shake It Up’, superb, with Josh filling in with some harmonica, and William, head down, buried in his guitar. When I saw this band 6 months ago, at The Cube, I was impressed, given their recent formation, I remain impressed, they produce an excellent sound, with fine instrumentation and lyrics. There are samples on Bandcamp, but being a bit of a dinosaur, I wait for a recording session and something to take home, switch on, volume up, walls shaking, and relive some great rock years.
Time for Matt, seated centre stage, guitar in hand, he started with a solo session, switch in some reverb, and a long instrumental feed in to ‘Love Is The Strangest Thing’. Matt looking fully warmed up it was time for a bit of fun, with the influential Rory Gallagher’s ‘Too Much Alcohol’, Matt seems to squeeze one more drop out of the bottle, every time he performs this song. The slide comes out for ‘Little Red Rooster’, before taking 99 and one half days before Matt is joined on stage by The Funksters, with electric guitar, drum and the unmistakeable presence of a Hammond Organ. Alex, Ryan and Simon, slot into the Woosey groove, subtle, but with tangible presence. ‘We Do Exactly As We Please’, brought in some nice organ licks as Matt looked toward Simon for a filling. ‘Hook Line And Sinker’, brought in the effective guitar chords from Alex, with Ryan tinkering on the high hats, as Matt casts out the lines. ‘Same Old Blues’, which Matt terms as a collection of mutterings, was turned into a full on thrash, a lovely heavily fruited, jam from the assembled band. The evening was rolling along nicely, Matt threw the dice and played I’ve Seen The Bottom’, a song he would not normally do solo, but here? The Funksters did not let him down, the bottom was not so lonely tonight, vision may be murky, but the sound was brilliant.
Now a real first for me, something was happening, that I have never previously witnessed. Matt stood, put aside his guitar, adjusted the microphone, and gave us a soulful old American gospel song, ‘Wayfaring Stranger’, some real spiritual blues, laid out in fine style. ‘Wade In The Water’, took us to the edge, as the evening was closing in. It had been outstanding, the air filled to the sound of applause and calls for more, there was more. Matt re-united with his guitar, called for the White Feather boys, it was going to be a new Collective, as the Funksters held their place, 2 drum sets, 2 leads, a Hammond, bass and 2 acoustic guitars, what could go wrong. Absolutely nothing, Matt led them into ‘Bad Moon Rising’, joined by Josh at the microphone. The girls danced around the floor, as the super band played out the night, it had been a fabulously entertaining evening, and Matt’s CD, When The Cats Away was well and truly launched.
Words & Photos Graham Munn
Neil Ivison Live @ The Gardeners Arms, Droitwich 12/3/15
The Gardeners Arms is fast becoming the place to be over in Droitwich, with regular nights of musical merriment being the order of the day. In recent months we’ve seen the likes of Hattie Briggs, Sunjay and Melvin Hancox and continuing the rich pickings, tonight’s entertainment was provided by Neil Ivison (of the Misers).
The pub was moderately populated, but those that did attend were treated to an infectious set lifted from across the hallowed songbooks of rock n roll and beyond, as Neil delivered a set littered with timeless classics, requests and a handful of originals thrown in for good measure.
From the opening rendition of Tom Petty’s Won’t Back Down, the sheer enjoyment of just performing was etched on Neil’s face, his gravelly vocals rang out, as he fingered the chords masterfully. The first request came in and Ring Of Fire by Johnny Cash was expertly despatched, Neil’s vocals mirroring those of the country legend perfectly, whilst the patrons around the bar mouthed along contently.
Neil’s set continued with takes on U2 (Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, With or Without You), The Beatles (Ticket To Ride), The Boss (Dancing In The Dark), The Eagles and beyond.
As the set continued I found myself humming along to near enough each and every song, a passionate take on Heard it Through The Grapevine and a mass sing-a-long to Don’t Look Back In Anger provided early second set highlights. Before the audience requested a few originals, Bantam Weight, Get Up For Love and a fantastic stripped down (and personal favourite) Lord, Shuffle My Feet were delivered, each of the songs sitting comfortably alongside the well known covers and appreciated in equal measure, proving Neil’s songwriting and delivery credentials.
Neil finished up his second set with a slice of Queen, leaving the audience with a collective grin on their faces and a song in their hearts, having seen a performer at very much the top of his game, whether playing his own or other folks material.
The numerous occasions I’ve seen Neil (and the Misers) I’ve never failed to enjoy the night, if you want a fantastic, fun night out and a good old sing-a-long, I highly recommend catching Mr Ivison, when he hits your local.
Video And Photo Taken @ Prince Of Wales in Ledbury by Graham Munn
Jo Harman @ The Artrix 06/02
Support Tom Gee
Jo Harman has been on my ‘must see’ list for a while, voted Best Female Vocalist and runner up for the song writing award in the 2014 British Blues Awards, she is definitely a star in the ascendancy.
But first a few words about her support, Tom Gee, who was in acoustic mode, leaving behind the 7 musicians, that make up the Tom Gee Band. His only accompaniment was his 6 string, and a dry Yorkshire wit, the rapport with the audience, was measurable, and the response warm. ‘Dead In The Morning’, is more about clearing the fog of sleep than a TV vampire diary. Well written and well performed, it features on the full bands album Swapping Stories, a bit of soul with a splash of funk. A bit more banter and a song pointing to past girlfriends, ‘Listen To Yourself’, the genre of the full band is funked up Northern Soul meets contemporary blues, without the brass and percussion, the songs become much more personal. Tom has serious writing credibility, the band perform in festivals across the country, Cheltenham Jazz to Hebden Bridge Blues. Closing the set, again from the album, ‘Thinking About You’, needs no explanation, suffice to say, from interval chatter, Tom’s set was well liked, one commented to say if this had been a stand alone gig, it would have been well worth the ticket purchase.
Now Jo has been ‘claimed’ by the Blues fraternity, and can be found appearing in Blues sessions and festivals everywhere, but, she really sits in that orbiting moon that broke away and produced the great divas of Soul. We are talking from the Jazz and Blues roots of the likes of Billy Holliday through to Nina Simone, along with all the wonderful female singers that emerged throughout the 50’s and early 60’s. Fundamentally Jo has a stunning voice, rich and dark like a Yucatan honey that’s been lightly ‘smoked’, and as if that is not enough, she has also been recognised for her writing talents. Jo opened with a gospel laden soul classic ‘I Shall Not Be Moved’, people have been recording this from way back in Charley Patton’s day, changed to ‘we’ for the civil rights movement, Jo presented it superbly. The tempo was switched up for ‘Heartstring’, sharp edged percussion, gives way to some funky, jazz orientated keys from Steve Watts. Those keys keep Jo solo company for a gentle soulful ‘This Is My Amnesty’, then on to an exceptional ‘Aint No Love In The Heart Of The City, simply memorable.
A full on hard rock edged, ‘Through The Night’, driven along by the drums of Martin ‘Magic’ Johnson, Jo’s hair fanned over her head as she lost herself to the rhythm. Another of Jo’s songs followed closely behind, ‘Cold Heart’, borrows some lyrics from bygone classics, but the whole is distinctly Jo’s work, slow and heartfelt, lovely. A complete change of direction as the massively popular Pharrell Williams, ‘Happy’, lifted the auditorium, though we were all happy where Jo had taken us, it was a bit of fun and the band obviously enjoyed themselves. Its time for the guitars to be put to work, Dave Ital has his moment to demonstrate his skills, ably supported by some solid funky bass from stand in Yolanda Charles (she has played alongside the likes of Adele, Jagger and Weller, quite an accolade) for ‘Underneath The River’. This is rock blues, a song from Jo’s pen, that allows her to give full range to her voice, and that range is indeed wide, the keyboard kicks in then the guitars take full control. Brilliant.
We are not quite finished yet,
A truly beautiful ‘prayer’ is about to be heard, Jo wrote this in memory of her father, she sings it with all her heart and soul, it would not feel out of place in any house of God.
How do you follow such a song, the show has to close, Jo dips into the classic soul bag, and pulls out, ‘I can’t Stand The Rain’, I can honestly say, I have never heard better, performed live, an absolutely fabulous close to an evening in the company of an exceptional artist.
Words & Photos Graham Munn
Mines A Triple G & T 25/01/15
Sunday the 25th and it was going to be an interesting day, 3 Gigs and Travel between each, such is the heady life of an unpaid, unemployed reviewer; sadly as I sit behind the wheel, the other G&T has to wait.
On the menu was The Prince Of Wales in Ledbury for Maz Mitrenko, the lovely Chantel McGregor in The Tythe Barn, Bishops Cleeve, and finally, the relaxed atmosphere in the company of Mumbo Jumbo, appearing in the barn at The Fleece Inn, Bretforton.
I new of Maz Mitrenko, but had never caught one of his gigs, the opportunity to join the blues crowd at that mecca of music and bread making, The Prince Of Wales, could not be missed. Maz along with Phil Brittle on skins and Pete Vickers on base, were about ready to start as we eased in. The first chord struck, like a very short fuse to a stick of dynamite, striking up a bit of Freddy King and ‘Going Down’. Straight off, you know you are in for an electric blues set, passionately played by artists of the highest calibre. This is territory, that, had the Mississippi flowed North to the great lakes, and through Chicago, it would have been the perfect marriage. I like and appreciate the roots from the Delta, the extremities of hedonistic rock guitar tugging at the blues, I’m not so sure about. Maz and his band, hit the right note, with songs from Rory Gallagher, and of course, Hendrix. Taking his guitar riffs far enough, but leaving room to appreciate the base rhythm from Pete and the beat of Phil’s timpani to come over. Phil Brittle has been around awhile, a journeyman drummer? No, he’s a bit more than that, a gypsy, dancing across the skins as he tickles and crashes the cymbals, absorbing to watch; the music etched into his facial expression.
‘Hold Onto Your Blues’, seems very appropriate, and its pure Maz, loud and raw, a slice of Rory grit, the sandwich is completed by the slow, beautifully presented, ‘Darkness’……at the heart of the blues, superb guitar, soulful base from Pete, and Phil is lost in that inky blue sky. BBKing’s ‘Thrill Has Gone’, so switche over to more Rory, and another from Maz, with ‘Drifter’. The band close for a break; but not before a stunning ‘Hey Joe’, rarely bettered I suspect.
The show continued, bits of Rory and Hendrix, were again interspersed with songs from Maz himself, then a quick turn up country for a fabulous, ‘Copperhead Road’. Maz continued with his own, ‘Misty Mountain Blue’, dripping with the honeyed notes from his guitar. We neared the end, more stunning stuff, Robin Trowers, ‘Bridge Of Sighs’, and just as I was racing away for Chantel, ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, followed me down the street. Without doubt, I will be looking out for Maz again in the near future.
Hit the road, and a race (all at legal speeds!) down the M50, through Tewkesbury and to the lovely setting of The Tythe Barn, a gem, hidden away in Bishops Cleeve. Sweet talking my way through, I found Chantel in her dressing room, not long before the stage would beckon, its true the band and my wife were also there, but what the hell. Chantel was Miss February in my music calendar, and I exchanged a copy for her signature across mine. I would have loved to have stayed for the show, its a truly unique setting and the stage looked great, but duty called, and I had promised to be at The Fleece, so back to the road.
The Fleece Inn is unusual, in that it is owned by The National Trust, but functions as the ancient hostelry of yore. Some great ales and excellent food are part of the package, and their Halloumi and Mushroom Burger, is arguably the best around. So, having grabbed my one allotted ½ pint, a dark porter, and ordered a burger, it was into the cosy barn to find Mumbo Jumbo, already into their stride.
Stride is the wrong word, they sit, at ease, with their set of comfortable ‘folk’ songs, and country blues. Its all a rather cosy, happy go lucky, gig which suits the surroundings admirably. Plenty of humour accompanies songs, mostly taken, from ‘The Life Of Riley’, you could imagine George Formby grabbing his uke and joining in. Stepping through the door, ‘Your Gonna Regret It’, struck up, a portent of things to come? not really. The sound was set nicely, Chris sat with an acoustic bass guitar, across his knees, Oliver, colourfully dressed as ever, sat astride a cajon, trumpet to hand, a wash board at his feet, thimbles and kazoo would not be far away. Phil, is behind his keyboard, looking a little sombre, but you know there’s a smile there somewhere, waiting to come out. Phil’s next on vocals, and a wonderful bit of old Bessie Smith blues, ‘Send Me To The Electric Chair’, a bit grim to be a crowd pleaser, but hell it was good! Oliver at his gritty best, gave us, ‘Those Frail Few’, inspired by the veterans of D Day and launched back on Remembrance Day itself. A break was called, but not before Chris, in cheery mode, started looking for a ‘Bald Spot’, Phil, picked up the ending and echoed it through to a fade out, I wonder why?
Oliver opened after the break, in full ‘Joe Cocker’ (r.i.p.) mode, ‘The Letter’, superbly performed as ever. Another ‘new song slipped in, after a bit of debate, ‘Later Some How’, the consensus was, it worked ok, nobody left the building, ‘Nice Work If You Can Get It’! All together for ‘Three Cool Cats’, made to measure, and delightfully delivered, in a cool way of course. Time was moving on, Billy Joe Shaver’s ‘Black Rose’, was heard, but the devil made them do it. The uke was in Chris’s hands, Oliver clutched his kazoo, Phil, still hovered over his keyboard, the result was a glorious, ‘Mary Don’t You Weep’, a rousing, foot stomping, crowd pleasing finish to the evening; but not quite. The ‘Rocket’, song was taken out and dusted off, the boys, threw themselves in and lit the touch paper, which sort of takes me back full circle to Maz striking up.
It has been an interesting evening from the raw electric blues of Maz Mitrenko right round to the soft padded, eclectic cell, of Mumbo Jumbo, they had nicely brought me down, as they rocketed off, for my late drive home,. I have not forgotten Chantel, signed & sealed, thanks.
Words & Photos Graham Munn
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