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Matt Schofield at Huntingdon Hall, Worcester 26/11

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Matt Schofield comes to stage with an impressive pedigree, the first guitarist to be invited to the British Blues Hall Of Fame, following awards in 2010,2011 and 2012. He stands up their with all the greats of blues, Hendrix and Vaughan come to mind, Matt stands firmly in the echelon of today’s guitarists like Robert Cray and Robben Ford.

His demeanour on stage is relaxed, appearing with just bass and drums, ably executed by Carl Stanbridge, who brings a little funk to the evening, and Jamie Little, a Birmingham based session drummer, favoured by many visiting Blues men. Relaxed Matt may have been, but he was also suffering a little from the cool air of the venue, fast moving fingers, do not respond well to cooler atmospheres, with his Fender’s also needing occasional tweaks to keep them on tune.

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Straight into his Far As I Can See tour album, Matt brought us in ‘from Far Away’, his honey toned guitar registering its intent alongside Matt’s vocals. Long passages of exemplary guitar solo’s, with the underlying bass and sympathetic drums, mapped out the way the evening would run. We were being invited to watch and listen to a master-class of electric blues, Matt’s Stratocaster was doing the talking, the crying and lamenting. His fingers working every millimetre of the strings from headstock down to bridge, nothing is left unexplored.

An absolutely superb rendition of ‘The Day You Left’, a lovely slow burning blues, soulful lyrics,with a great platform being provided by Carl and Jamie. OK, I am biased, but this track really stands out for me on the new album, live, it exceeds every expectation, perhaps only lacking the touches of Jonny Henderson’s piano. A funky, ‘Sifting through The Ashes’ took us back to Matt’s 2007 album, before we took a break, and a chance for all to warm up a little!

Back on stage, Matt has dipped into his last album, and worked his way through to ‘Where Do I Stand’. Stripping the song back to nuts and bolts, to the slow throb of base and pulse of the drum, reassembling and restructuring the complex sound and rhythm. The build up continues and plays out extensively, in times of old, it would taken up the side of an LP, absolutely engaging. Matt changed direction for a brief excursion to Elmore James for a great take on ‘Stranger Blues’.

Those bass and drums start up the funky rhythm, with distinctly latin, Carlos Santana overtones, ‘Dreaming’, turned to a full on jam between the three musicians, closing an evening of rare quality with ‘Oakville Shuffle’.

A bubbly happy go lucky instrumental, played with considerable style.

Words and photos Graham Munn

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I shouldn’t have to introduce either of these bands to you (the loyal reader), James have been mainstays on the indie rock scene for numerous years (first forming way back in 82), releasing intelligent, infectious and passionate albums throughout their career, from the early spiky, new wave inspired years to this year’s mature widescreen model (added trumpet and violin) as heard on the stunning new album La Petit Morte. As for Starsailor, they possess one of the best voices in the world of indie in the shape of James Walsh and released one of the most memorable albums of the noughties, Silence Is Easy.

My expectations for this one hit an all new fever pitch, here were two bands I’ve listened to for years on one bill, I’d not seen either group live before, so here was a chance I wasn’t going to miss. For me this was a must see, a chance to see those worshipped groups up close and in the flesh.

Starsailor took to the stage accompanied by a huge roar of approval from the crowd, the band drew from the audiences energetic response and delivered a spellbinding set, drawn from the band’s four albums to date, the band proceeded to produce a stunning masterclass of mesmeric indie rock. Frontman James Walsh tour into his guitar, whilst deliver those soaring vocals that he’s become known for, the likes of Poor Misguided Fool, Lullaby and Tell Me It’s Not Over all peppered by those lush keyboards and spiraling crescendos were lapped up gleefully by the masses, whilst the likes of Alcoholic and Silence Is Easy were hollered back to the band with more muster than most headline acts receive. James left the stage with his guitar still ringing out, whilst the rest of the band laid waste to rest of the audience with a tight finale, leaving blown minds and screams for more.

Few bands could follow the engaging spectacle of Starsailor, but then few bands can draw on thirty plus years of experience and less bands can boast a frontman like Tim Booth.

Now I know I said I was excited by the proposition of seeing James for the first time, but nothing could have prepared me for the exuberance, the energy and delivery of both the band and particularly Tim, I’m not really sure what I was expecting, I knew Tim possessed an incredible, moving vocal range, I knew that about his songwriting ability, a talent unequalled by any of the band’s peers, but what I didn’t expect was his movement, Tim jerks and moves around the stage like he’s been electrocuted, his movement is unique and compelling and he doesn’t stop, the band launch into an instrumental break and Tim’s off convulsing adding to an already bewitching spectacle. By the third or fourth song he’s dropped into the welcoming arms of his audience, carried aloft my the welcoming masses whilst still delivering his passionate lament, never have I seen a frontman embraced with the enthusiasm shown by the NIA crowd.

Of course the theatrics and Tim’s expressive vocals still wouldn’t mean a thing if the rest of James couldn’t back it up, but right from the opening duo of Sound and Walk Like You, the far reaching mix of trumpet, keyboards and of course guitar shape, each and every lament, whilst the rhythm section drive each number on. Lifting material from every corner of the band’s career, the audience welcomed each song like a long lost friend, with both the likes of golden oldies such as Laid and newbies such as Frozen Britain both hitting the mark as the band captivated the audience with a varied and always compelling set-list, obvious highlights included the mesmeric and poignant Moving On and a raucous main set closer Gone Baby Gone to name but a handful.

The audience naturally hollered for more and eventually a spotlight hit the balcony on the far side settling on trumpet player Andy Diagram in the audience introducing Born Of Frustration with a jazzy flourish and then another spotlight, this time our side, right above me and there in all his glory is frontman Tim Booth, embracing his audience, somehow hitting every note as a melee forms to hug him as he makes his way across the balcony.

With both Andy and Tim safely back on stage the band conclude their epic set with a frenzied Interrogation and a final flourish of fan favourite, Sometimes to a euphoric cries of adulation as the band depart the stage for the last time, knowing their job here is well and truly done and no one is leaving unsatisfied.

Rhythm & Booze Rating 10

 

 

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Babajack at The Cube, Malvern 22/11

+ The White Feather Collective

This was to have been an evening with Babajack and special guests, Lloyd Grossman’s New Forbidden, however Lloyd was ill so unable to bring his band. Local new boys, The White feather Collective, were duly called up for duty, a band with only 6 months behind them, the big stage awaited. The line up was Josh Lambe on an acoustic guitar and vocals, Will Turner, electric guitar, Roo Macphee on bass, and Chris Reynolds on drums.

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Their style is really planted well and truly in the early raw rock/blues era of the 60’s, and that is reflected in the sound, which is raw and edgy, helped by the use of valve amps and analogue equipment. A nice blues riff going on with ‘Writing A Novel’, with Josh changing his guitar for a harp, before finishing with a restructured and renamed song ‘Keith’, played in the manner of some bloke who used to be in a band called the Stones!

An excellent start, and I’m not sure Lloyd was missed too much, though he may have been peaking through the key hole to see how they managed. One thing is certain, we will be hearing more from this Collective.

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Babajack, have certainly evolved over the years I have been watching them, a duo sometime trio, with their own brand of roots music, has become an established ‘main stage’ band, gaining drums and bass, not to mention a very strong following. They have collected numerous awards on this journey, but retained that unique touch to their form of blues. Tosh Murase’s right fist, smashed down on his Floor Tom, booming out the start of ‘Running Man’, and away they went, Becky in full flow, freed from the roll of sole percussion, Trevor, as ever, testing his wine box guitars to the limit. Slipping in to the group for the evening, Julia Palmer-Price, brings her cello to stage, as she did in the recording studio for the album. Bassist Adam Bertenshaw along with Tosh, lay the foundations for Becky and Trevor to weave their web through to the fabulous ‘Falling Hard’, before the boys take a break. Trevor’s slide and harp are kept busy, as Becky writes her ‘Death Letter’, their take on a song they have made their own, but crafted by Son House. They continued into one of (for me) the choice songs from their ‘Running Man’ album, Trevor on harp, accompanying Becky, as she sings the lovely ‘Hammer And Tongs’, great vocals and superb harp, it does not get better than this.

The band rejoin, and the music rolls on, examining Babajack’s catalogue of songs, slipping in the yet to be recorded, ‘Back Door’. Aired on Paul Jones R2 show, and taken from the live sessions at The Albert Hall recently, now presented to us.

Julia is giving everything on her Cello, enjoying the evening, teasing Trevor as he works his strings, Tosh is hitting those big drums like never before, and Becky is on fire, auburn hair flying, as the evening reaches its crescendo. Gallows Pole, a well used old folk song, is a a portent to the musical explosion that is ‘Skin and Bone’, Trevor resonating like a tuning fork, teetering on the edge of his seat, Becky, slapping her cahon, that hair tossing back and forth. BUT, there is only one way to finish a Babajack gig, the false end, the audience participation, it is of course, ‘Black Betty’, ‘nough said’.

Words And Photos Graham Munn

 

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Dr Feelgood at The Assemblies, Leamington Spa 14/11

Double Header With 9 Below Zero

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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

 

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Notorious Brothers @ POW Ledbury 09/11

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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

 

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