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A Divine Davina Softens An Iron Road 15/04

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This was a gig that I had long awaited, a must see, Davina And The Vagabonds, had appeared on Jools Holland the preceding evening, had it been the preceding week, I doubt I would have squeezed through the door. That’s a shame, because she is a fabulous artist, worthy of any stage, and I’m sure the media exposure will feed in massively for a return to the UK.

As it was, there were some who had travelled from London and South Wales, purely on the grounds of one song on Jools show, and they loved every second of the Evesham gig. I count myself fortunate in having seen Davina on previous UK tours, and I would have sold my soul to the devil to assure a ticket. ( That devil did make an appearance on the night, more later) The band consists of Davina on keys and a brief encounter with a uke, Connor on drums and some vocals, Dan on trumpet, Ben on trombone, and Greg on, what is now a must have for travelling bassists, a custom folding double bass. Both Dan and Ben, like Connor, have their own moments of vocal lead. That’s the structure, the style is one of New Orleans, jazz fused with some swing from the roaring 20’s, the soulful blues of the 50’s and early 60’s and the delivery of a circus showgirl, quite simply, fabulous, with no apologies for repeating that.

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A song from the great ‘King Of The Jukebox’, Louis Jordan, opened the show, straight into that fusion of swing and blues, but songs were plucked randomly from her own album’s Black Cloud and Sunshine. ‘Sunshine’ is exactly that, a bright, joyous, ‘pop’ song that dances along like Davina’s fingers over the ivories. A song that sadly, an Amy Winehouse, could never find, though her voice cried out for it. I mention Amy, because many similarities in the vocal qualities of both, even though divided by the Atlantic. ‘Louisiana Fairytale’, would not have be out of place in a ‘Speak-easy’ lock in, maybe why Bill Bailey won’t come home. ‘River’, from Black Cloud, is one of those soulful blues songs that Davina sings with an empathy that is mesmerising, truly beautiful. A bit of vaudeville fun came from a mutton chopped Connor, ‘I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate’, helped along by the brass of Dan and Ben. Davina hits the keys and takes us into a cha cha rhythm, chopped up with tango like strikes as she ‘Tries To Be Good’, lovely fun from Sunshine. Picking up her uke, a ‘Bee Sting’, is delivered in a relaxed country blues style, must have been honey filled, we were ready to be stung. We’re nearing a well earned break, The band have been playing an hour, time for a classic, ‘St James Infirmary Blues’ makes fine use of the twin horns and double bass, Ben takes vocal lead, as the band chorus, ‘got no pants on’, as his lost love lies on the cold slab.

The show continues, with Vagabond originals, interspersed by a selection of fitting songs. ‘Fizzle Out’, played with a lovely, light touch, straight off the Sunshine album. Another classic, this time form the Etta James stable, ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’, packaged in Davina’s own distinctive way, but no less, deeply passionate. Lovin Spoonfull and John Sebastion sourced ‘Daydream’, heavily rubbed over with brass. St Michael now faces up to that Devil, a must for any Davina gig, and we were not to be disappointed, the tale is narrated by Davina, at her expressive best, she fences with the band in a voice, V instrument, joust, or should it be Faust. Greg pulled out his rosin soaked bow to get some low and dirty notes that only the Devil could make. Delicious! I had pencilled in a couple of songs I really wanted to see the band perform, that was one crossed off the list. Back to Sunshine to find ‘Red Shoes’, and a little jazzy swing, and yes she ‘was rocking this house tonight’. A slower, soulful ‘Sugar Moon’ followed, and a step closer to the second cross off. Written by Fats Waller, heavily jazz tilted, and in Davina’s hands, way out there, a glorious showcase for the bands musicianship, ‘You Must Be Losing Your Mind’. The piano notes tinkle the opening as Connor brings in the brushes, for that swinging rhythm. Davina is attacking notes in an apparent random fashion, but with pinpoint, venomous accuracy, Ben’s trombone fills the air, and takes lead, with his sink plunger mute. Dan takes over with trumpet, the pitch, high, played through a copper vase like mute, its time for Greg to bend and pick those heavy strings of the base, he crouches into the instrument and attacks feverishly. That only leaves the big man with the whiskers to work those drums over, and its an absolute joy to hear him tease every nuance form those tight skins. The whole band strikes up to close the piece, Davina calls it, we must be losing our collective minds, not so, its memorable. For me, its the cherry, on top of the icing, on top of the cake.

The sands are rapidly passing through the timer, its turned 11.30, but there was a bit more to come, a real blast from the 20’s and led again by Ben, for a Louisiana Aye Yi, a manic roller coaster of swing, closed the show. It had been stupendous, start to finish, Davina is an incredible artist, she wears her passion and humour on her face, performs with the precision of a concert pianist, dropped onto a vaudeville stage. She is surrounded by a band that shares her sense of fun in delivering their music to our ears. The Iron Road has done us proud in bringing us Davina And The Vagabonds, straight from Jools studio, given the response, I am confident this bunch of vagabonds will be coming back.

 

Words & Photos Graham Munn

 

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The Gardeners Arms, take in a Notorious Melvin Hancox

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Melvin Hancox made a welcome return to this Droitwich home of live music (and fine food), inside a good number awaited to hear Melvin’s performance, though a few more could have been squeezed in. Inside this small bar, the general guide has been solo acoustic settings, Melvin’s take on that is 2 amps, a PA, pair of speakers, lights, pedal board, and 4 guitars. Those guitars are naturally all immaculate, a 12 string Gretsch, 2 Gibson Les Paul’s, and a Gibson acoustic, all demonstrate their distinctive qualities in the hands of master guitarist, Melvin. We are treated to an opening with Melvin putting slide to the acoustic Gibson, straight off, you realise you are in the presence of a rather unsung maestro. Blues with slide, definitely a case of less is more, laced with ‘Preachin Blues’, great Son House lyrics, and the glorious sound of brass on steel strings. Those gathered, responded warmly, this had the feel of a start of a great evening, am I biased? of course I am, blues has become a passion. Melvin picked up his gold anniversary Les Paul next, it was not long before one of Melvin’s influences was aired, Peter Green, and that air was electric, ‘Oh Well’, suitably embellished by the rapidly dancing fingers, forcing the Gibson to weep, chords bent to extract that superb sound. Magic.

Another change of weapon, and the polished black Custom, took us ‘All Along The Watchtower’, with its rich mind stretching sound. We are all lost in Melvin’s world of Karmic perfection. Melvin is without doubt, an exceptional guitarist, but he would probably be the first to admit, that he is not quite up there vocally. There is however, plenty of passion and power, and I’ve never heard any one complaining, we attend to hear him play guitar, and that’s a joy. This is his second visit to the Gardeners Arms, and interestingly, he introduced more loops and effects on the previous visit, I think I prefer this ‘straight’ set, it showcases his qualities, and brings out the subtleties of the different instruments. So, onto the 4th change, and it is of course the beautiful 12 string Gretsch, if the Sirens had been equipped with these, then Odysseus, would truly have been lost, what a sensuous, mesmerising sound. ‘Tambourine Man’ was the messenger, a wonderful, ‘Low Budget’, stolen from The Kinks, brought the break.

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All those select guitars were exercised again, throughout the second set, so I will give a flavour to the music played. Notables included, were, from Beggars Banquet, ‘Factory Girl’ and ‘Streetfighting Man’. Melvin made the most of ‘The Sabre Dance’, a thrilling, charge of the light brigade ride, on a Golden Gibson. A foot stomping, tribal driven Cherokee Dance, led to a Canned Heat medley, yeah, lets work together! The songs rolled out, Melvin on fire, drawing on our telepathic minds, Lois Lane failed to materialise, time to pass round some ‘Whiskey In The jar’, a fabulous beverage. We’re all drunk on the sound, the end is nigh, there’s an Albatross on the horizon, and some feathers have fallen out, you don’t know what you missed, an excellent evening.

 

Words & Photos Graham Munn

 

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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

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Taking the ‘The Blue Road’ @ POW Ledbury 29/03

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My usual Sunday haunt, and a new band for me, The Blue Road is guitarist and vocalist Brian Caves, bassist Andy Partridge and Stewart Manley, tucked behind an immaculate set of Premier drums. Brian’s weapons of choice, are not the usual Fender or Gibson, but arguably more exotic, Music man, PRS and some older Godin’s.

They are a blues band, so what better than to start with a classic that BB King made his own, ‘Thrill Has Gone’, a lovely starter, but we are soon thrown off track by some soul, though not as you would recognise it, ‘Can’t Get Next To You’, the heavy riff seems fine as the song becomes born again blues! Brian’s very own ‘What You See Aint What You Get’, is demonstrated, we’re in rock territory here, and Brian puts the PRS to good use. The faithful gathering are in the groove, and the band feed on the applaud.

For me, it was not quite all rosy, The Blue Road turned to a Eurythmics hit, naturally reformed, in this case with tinges of jazz in the blues/rock blend. Sorry boys but, leave ‘Here Comes The Rain Again’, to Annie, she can do no wrong. A quick recovery as Brian’s Texas tainted rock number blows us away, ‘Addicted to You’, restores their standing. Time for a beer.

Aynsley Lister’s ‘Everything I need’, rocks off the restart, and then, a bit of a gem, the band take on Bonamassa’s ‘Mountain Time’, well Joe is Joe, but the band made a nice job of it, no to be fair it was excellent, Brian worked his guitar nicely as the song moved from the meadows and streams, to the soaring heights.

The Blue Road, certainly pick out some lovely songs, not to mention the genre work overs, we are retailed of the films that made this song famous, 9 ½, ‘You Can leave Your Hat On’, Stewart enjoyed thumping this one out. We’re all on a roll, a bit of funk keeps us going, before someone calls for Hendrix, well who wouldn’t. The band oblige, ‘All Along The Watchtower’, blast out.

Time for another Blue Road original, ‘My Kind Of Girl’ fits the bill, rock on. Another genre shift, but I had no problem with this, maybe not royalty, but some very nice, refreshing, ‘Purple Rain’, came pouring down. The evening is rushing by, but nobody is moving away, more is demanded, so thats what we get, Gary Moore, to be precise, the superb, up beat, funky ‘Since I Met You Baby’. The Blue Road, had entertained us well, nobody present had seen or heard them before, coming from the East side of the Midlands, this was new territory. Brian, Andy and Stewart, had brought their own slant on some unexpected songs, as well as a selection of their own music. The Rock and Blues classics had been performed well, lovely guitar riffs, subtle bass and solid drumming produced a satisfying evening at this Ledbury landmark.

 

Words & Photos Graham Munn

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Time For A Marrs Bar, ‘While The Cats Away’

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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.

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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.

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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

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