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Claude Bourbon at The Fleece, Bretforton 30/11

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Claude Bourbon is an enigma, he is a classically trained musician, who fuses every conceivable genre of acoustic guitar music into a master-class of a stage performance. There are Latin, Spanish, Gypsy, Jazz and Delta Blues influences throughout, and often within one seamless stream of perfection. If I had to be critical of any weakness, to an admittedly untrained ear, it is in his vocals, not the fact that they have a distinct Gallic touch, but more that Claude’s soulful voice cannot hope to match his dexterity on his well travelled Gibson acoustic guitar.

He started with a long, distinctly Spanish sound of water babbling over a rocky shallow bed, before opening to lush rolling hills, yes you can hear all this, even me! Somewhere along the way it slipped into ‘If You Go Away’, from Flemish writer Jaques Brel and lyricist Rod McKuen, an appropriately cross channel success.

Next, a nice bit of blues, ‘Did Somebody Make A Fool Of You’, probably many times, but not this evening, it was a good call! Also rather fitting, given the extensive, European and US tour, that is finally nearing its end after 170 gigs, another exceptional song from his repertoire, ‘The Road Is Long’, just a little further, back home to Portsmouth. A softly sung, but dark folk song in ‘Twelve Red Roses’ talks of a return to a lost love, and perhaps lost soul. Back to the blues with a aptly named ‘How to Stretch It’, and for sure, it was stretched and played wonderfully, Claude’s right thumb, plucking out a solid base line on the heavy top string, as his fingers sought out the intricate train of notes below, superb and I would have been happy for it to have carried on beyond this marathon stretch. I did not check my watch, its not the first thing you consider! But, I know by past reports, it can be 15 minutes long, and that’s not ‘stretching’ imagination, no part of the guitar is ignored, even flexing the body to bend those notes. JJ Cale was slipped in with ‘A Drifters Life’, before Claude needed to ease his fingers and take a short break.

What came next I find hard to describe, an almost endless amalgam of different influences, melting into each other as we moved from classical openings, across a whole continent of cultural roots, from the Balearic’s to the Balkans, and then across to the Mississippi Delta, and shoehorned into all that was music that would not have been amiss in the courts of emperors and kings.In all of that, I must give mention to a beautiful rendition of Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’, there are of course, many interpretations out there, but this is up with there with the best. Its not easy to begin to describe the breadth or mastery of the music you will hear if fortunate to catch one of Claude’s gigs, he sort of finished ‘Sitting On A Cliff’, but of course its not that simple, its a sort of sensory experience, those of you who have seen him will know. Do look out for a return, you will be richer for the experience.

Words & Photos Graham Munn

 

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Sons Of The Delta at Prince Of Wales Ledbury 23/11

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Back at my Sunday haunt, The Sons Of The Delta appeared in duo form, Mark Cole, powerful vocalist, harp player, and sometime guitarist! and Rick Edwards, guitarist and sometime vocalist. Their music is an eclectic selection of blues, finely crafted classics, sit alongside original music. There is also the odd dip into related genre, bluegrass, and Americana.

Here on a Sunday evening, the blues is coming over strongly, Mark is in fine voice, ‘Key To The Highway’, starts us rolling. Not too far down the road, we slide nicely into a bit of Booker White, with prison song, ‘When Can I Change My Clothes’, obviously not recorded in Booker’s teenage years! We are not going to progress much further without a bit of a nod to the great Howling Wolf, the boys delivered an excellent ‘Smokestack Lightning’. Both pick up a slide, to use with some old ‘mail order’ guitars, earning their keep, a lovely old Teiso in the hands of Mark, with Rick selecting an even more nondescript, but tuneful hollow bodied guitar.

A Jimmy Rogers inspired song suggests of drinking muddy water, but wisely I stuck to the ale, before an unusual bit of gospelling. Written by Tom Waites, and given air more recently by Beth Hart, Mark tucked into a ‘Chocolate Jesus’, interspersed with some nice harp touches and a bit more slide from Rick. Superb, its a wonderfully quirky song, again presented very much in their own style.

Another unusual choice from the Chuck Berry song book, ’13 Questions’, not sure about the answers, because it led to a folk song and turn toward Americana before switching back into blues mode. Tampa Red this time, and ‘It Hurts Me Too’. I thought we were going for a Pink Panther riff, but those opening bars took us into one of their own songs, ‘Its Me’. A quick bit of jump jive blues, ‘Skin ‘n Bone’, was squeezed in before more Americana, with Mark taking to his sweet sounding mandolin, and Rick picking up his acoustic Martin guitar. All climbed aboard for a harp simulated train ride, is their any instrument more suited to that sound? I doubt it. While back in first carriage, Curtis Mayfield implored all us ‘People Get Ready’, there was more to come. This pub is a music lovers haunt, and the gathered crowd was not going to let these boys leave easily, a few more songs were extracted before they could desert their seats.

From their first CD, ‘I’m Going Out’, seemed the only suitable way for the Sons Of The Delta to be allowed to leave. An excellent evening of entertainment, rumour has it, the full band will return in the near future, I will be their for that.

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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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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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