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Jo Harman @ The Artrix 06/02

Support Tom Gee

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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.

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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

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Matt Woosey @ POW Ledbury 08/02/15

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We have been very fortunate over the months, to have seen a stream of top quality blues performers at this cracking little venue tucked away in Ledbury, this day saw the return of highly acclaimed local man, Matt Woosey.

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Confessing to a bit of a hangover, from a party with old Uni pals, Matt struck a chord with ‘Hook Line And Sinker’, a hard hitting song featured on both a recent EP and the subsequent album, Wildest Dreams. Valley floors and soaring heights, charted the Woo powered, ‘Give Me All Your Love’, before revisiting an old favourite, to ‘Walk Away These Blues’, its still late afternoon, and Matt has the appearance of a Jeff Bridges playing Rooster Cockburn, blues with true grit! There is no Dave Small lending a bit of percussion here today, so its provided the heel of Matt’s his hand, slapping into the hollow body, the thin skin around the sound hole is visibly hollowed and in danger of wearing through. The Taylor acoustic has been faithfully at his side for near ten years, I’m not sure it will stand 10 more years of being played with such venom.

A lighter note as he searches for his ‘Elsie May’, precedes a song taken from his inspirational roots, Huddy Ledbetter and later, Rory Gallagher, ‘Out On The Western Plain’, a range riding lament to a bunch of cowboys. Take a look at video footage of Rory, and you will see where Matt takes his guitar playing style from, but I firmly believe, (no doubt be controversially) that Matt brings more gravitas to his vocals. The cowboy song has drifted out to some Led Zepp licks, the night before, has been truly shaken off, time to switch in a bit of reverb. ‘Wildest Dreams’, it signposts the expansive style of music Matt is now producing, beautifully written, and presented this day. A chrome slide is conjured up, for an ever recurring blues dilemma, ‘Woke Up This Morning’, maybe to a ‘Cruel Disposition’. This song is rightly reprised at most of Matt’s gigs, appealing for divine intervention, it also happens to be a hard hitting song, where strings are attacked with malice aforethought, as the lyrics are spat out. Time for a more jovial drinkers song to close the first set, ‘Too Much Alcohol’, this Sonny Boy Williamson song has been reprised by many over the years, Rory included, its a fun bit of blues to close the first set, and find the bar!

‘Nowhere Is Home To Me’, restarts the gig, we are now listening to songs from Wildest Dreams, the deliciously dark, touching on erotic, ‘Don’t You Tell Nobody’ is here, including the missing verse, a murderous threat, followed quickly by the superb ‘I’ve Seen The Bottom’, perhaps an ode to many dedicated performers on the road, trying to earn a living. The guitar, does Exactly As It Pleases, as Matt sheds a string, how did it get this far into the set? A couple of old favourites to finish on, Willie Dixon’s ‘Lil’ Red Rooster’, nothing more needs to be said, and Matt’s storming finale, ‘Black Smoke Rising’. An exceptional evening, spent in the company of an exceptional talent, and a highly appreciative audience, cosily wrapped in the confines of The Prince Wales.

 

Words, Photos And Video Graham Munn

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Marcus Bonfanti, Sardine Time In The Prince Of Wales. Feb 1st

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To say it was packed is an understatement, there were of course all the usual faces, they love the venue and the Sunday blues session, added to that already full crowd, were all those Bonfanti devotees within driving range. The atmosphere was electric, Marcus has had a widely acclaimed album ‘Shake The Walls‘, and was also carrying a 6 track acoustic EP, ‘Borrowed Times‘ only available at a gig. Much of what was to be heard came from these two discs, tracks from the full album, would be solo, with a different arrangement.

I will say right up front, I prefer Marcus in acoustic mode, that’s not to decry the full band, how can I argue with the rave reviews, its just my taste, founded in 2012, at an acoustic session at Upton Blues.

Apart from exceptional guitar skills, his voice is outstanding, rich 99% pure chocolate, with fiery ginger grated over the surface, resulting in a raw edged deep, dark, timbre. Ignoring his stringed weapons, Marcus demonstrated that vocal power with harmonica to hand, ‘God Only Knows’, was a stunning start to the evening. The guitar speaks, Marcus asks, ‘Is Your Life better Now I’m Gone’, apparently she said yes, but it gave him the tale to tell. Ripped straight from the EP, his very own ‘Layla’, and his take on that old tale of ‘John Henry’, finger picking into the lyrics we are so familiar with. He’s having a good time, an appreciative audience, the POW had done him proud, fed him, served him fine malt, and as much ale as he needed for the evening, now he was in his element. The gentle ‘Bittersweet’, rooted in a previous acoustic EP, preceded a hard hitting blues ‘Messin Round No More’ to close the first set, an opportunity, if you wanted, to fight your way to the bar. Crowd surfing would have been in order, but for the low ceilings.

‘Honey’, I seem to recall, also featured in that EP a couple of years ago, and had returned in full band mode, on the album, but here we were treated to a full bodied, thick set, acoustic nectar, it certainly had the crowd buzzing.

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Switching to a more traditional blues riff, ‘Jezebel’, an edgy rock blues on the album, retains that punch, stalling half way as Jezebel is called for, before the guitar moves the song on. ‘Baby Don’t Dance’, she doesn’t rock & roll either in Marcus’s song, the bulk of the set come from Marcus’s well crafted pen. There are some fine songs with traditional blues themes, women found, women loved and women lost, death, but you have to add some spirit, and this spirit is ‘Cheap Whiskey’, it tells of the demon drink, and the fall out that comes with it. What made this more memorable, was a guest pulled from the masses in the packed bar, one Trevor Steger, from Babajack, Marcus did not need to pick up his harp again this evening, he was about to pass the baton onto Trevor. Trevor pushed through and stood by Marcus, ‘Cheap Whisky’, was never more tasty, a fine vintage, distilled for the occasion. Next came a particular favourite of mine, a gospel styled, ‘Run Long’, I had heard this back at Upton, the acoustic stage being run by Babajack. Here, that voice seems unbelievably stronger, within the confines of this tight little Inn, Trevor joined in with his precious Danneker harp, watching carefully, the fingers working the frets, I could not resist switching to video, as I had back in the summer of 2012, to record the moment. A fabulous and unforgettable experience.

As the numbers thinned, I took the opportunity to buy the EP, Marcus had delivered a great gig, here for his first time, at the POW, he will return, and I for one will be there.

Words & Visuals Graham Munn

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Its All Sweet At The Café Rene Gloucester 28/01

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Back in the autumn of 2014, I was at The Hare & Hound, in Birmingham, to see Wille & The Bandits. Supporting them was a young acoustic blues musician from Exeter, Adam Sweet. He made a good impression on acoustic guitar and a stomp box, performing much of his own material. So a trip down to Gloucester, to the bottle lined vaults of Café Rene for Adam, seemed in order. Its the butt end of January, cold with pockets empty, and the usually bustle of this bar seemed a bit thin, in what is a stretched out cavern of a venue. Adam was set up, a song taken from Free, and subsequently performed by Bonamassa started the ball rolling, ‘Walk In My Shadow’, the deep pulse of the stomp box gives the song gravity, as Adam’s voice accompanies his guitar, a good start to the evening. ‘At Times Like This’, establishes Adam’s taste for the blues, its from his album Small Town Thinking and is a hint at his song-writing ability. ‘Doing Alright’, also from his CD, brings that pulse down a bit, but its just a forestalling of a shift to some rock classics, that re-energize the pace.

Thin Lizzy’s, ‘Don’t Believe A Word’, in acoustic sounds ok to me, Pink Floyd’s ‘Money’, was excellent, and certainly grabbed a bit of attention as more people dropped into the bar. Back to the blues, and if your putting in a few stalwart songs, you could not go wrong with some Robert Johnson, ‘Crossroads’, in its original form, simple story telling at its best. Adam closed the first set with another from his CD, a dark warning of foreign travel and suspicious characters, ‘Santarosa Street’, swings along at a pace, and left all on a high, awaiting a second set.

Adam showcases his influences as we restart, the early years of Fleetwood Mac and Peter Green brought us ‘Oh Well’, stretching out and morphing into ‘Green Manalishi’, I cannot recall hearing that in acoustic form before, but it was pretty good, and that stomp box keeps punching out that beat, drawing us in. ‘Pride And Joy’, from the pen of Stevie Ray Vaughan, kept that tempo moving, all great pieces of music, beautifully reworked on acoustic guitar, as Adam’s voice filled the vault. Back to his own songbook, and an appropriate lyric for a solo performance, ‘I Work Alone’, its a raw, punchy bit of blues, Sweet with a sharp tang. Robben Ford provided the next song, providing plenty for Adam to get stuck into, with ‘Talk To Your Daughter’, nicely done. Nearing time for Adam to think of the long drive back South, but still time for one more, ‘borrowed’ and reformed from Steve Black, this was more country styled, but played hard, as Adam attacked the strings with venom, the box thumping out its base, producing a superbly sharp cutting edge to ‘You Think Your Lonely’, and the close. The weather had not made for an inviting evening out, but it was well worth the trip, not to mention the closed M5 on our return, to see Adam Sweet perform again, he will undoubtedly establish his presence on the UK blues scene, both for his musicianship and his song writing, I look forward to the next session.

Words & Photo Graham Munn

 

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Mines A Triple G & T 25/01/15

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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.

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‘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.

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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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