Forty Blues Toes @ Prince Of Wales Ledbury 24/08
Did not know much about this band, apart from Tony and Stretch the base & drums, used to play with The Bluestribe. They were also performing in The Little Muggery at Upton Blues, where I grabbed a few quick frames by hanging through the window, I could not get through the door for the crowd. So it was time to see them, and it was at the Sunday eve session at The POW, which has become a favourite haunt.
The band were about ready as I arrived and Tony, (the joker in the pack) on cringingly good form. They do not appear to have their own material, but what they ‘cover’ they do very well, good solid blues classics, a bit of rock and a nod to Elvis and Chuck.
Sharing the space with Tony and Stretch, were Mal on guitar & vocals alongside Sean Griffin on guitar, and what a guitar, an unexpected pleasure. A good thumping bass as ‘Walking By Myself’ opened up, not long before some classic Cream, and teenage memories, with ‘Strange Brew’. Some great tones coming from Sean’s, Patrick Eggle, vintage guitar, T Bone’s ‘Stormy Monday’ led to a bit more Cream, can you have too much? and on to some ‘Beatles’, a superb version of ‘Come Together’, where those Liverpool boys really did get it together, and a chance for Sean to show off with Harrison’s, ‘while My Guitar Gently Weeps’, lovely, played with a true passion. The bullet mike and harp came out for some Canned heat before a bit of a curved ball at the close of the first set. Jean Genie, nothing wrong with that, we all joined in, this was becoming a very enjoyable gig.
A short break at the cask ale bar, and we were standing at the ‘Crossroads’, for another Cream decorated set. Mal was really getting into his stride on vocals, whilst trying to constrain the politically suspect drift of Tony’s one liners. Tony ‘accidentally’ kicking the ‘smoke’ release lever, the space quickly filling, with Stretch disappearing into the thick fog. More opportunity for Sean with ‘Hey Joe’, before finding their way through to an excellent ‘Bad To The Bone’ and a bit bit more harp, which morphed into ‘Stone Fox Chase’ (Old grey Whistle Test) and on into a gritty ‘Down At The Doctors’. Almost time to move on, but not before a serious look down the ‘Wishing Well’, to find a bit of rock and roll with Elvis and Chuck giving way to the final encore of Steppenwolf’s ‘Born To Be Wild’, a brilliant finish to what had been a fabulous afternoons entertainment. Forty Blues Toes may not be high flyers on the circuit, but seek them out, your guaranteed an unforgettable ride. Share the wonderful collection of songs we cannot be without, played with skill, empathy, and a dose of humour. You may even find me hanging through that window next year in Upton.
Starting a with a song I found way back in my teens listening to Cream, Crossroads, good solid stuff, and then Sean took over for his piece, superb, and so it went on, throughout the late afternoon and into the evening. That is not to demean the other band members, it takes a full band to squeeze out the best from any song. Bit more of Cream with ‘Sunshine Of My Love’, and not long before that lovely Patrick Eggle Berlin Pro cried again in ‘Hey Joe’, a distinct sound.
Words And Photos Graham Munn
Sunjay Brayne at the Gardeners Arms Droitwich 14/08
19 year old Sunjay is staking his claim well and truly in the folk, country and country blues world, with a style not dissimilar to Ralph Mctell. He is an exceptional finger picker of the acoustic guitar, watching him play at The Gardeners, I would say, faultless.
With a voice that is ideal for folk and country, it probably lacks the grit and fire demanded by many blues songs, but he is able to grab you attention and shake it a bit, which is exactly what he did when he kicked off with Chris Smithers, ‘Love You Like A Man’. Close on its heels was a song made famous by John Lee Hooker, ‘One Scotch One Bourbon One Beer’, not sure Sunjay has tried that experience yet, John Lee’s certainly has a bit more venom, but Sunjay gave it more of a country feel, probably nearer to Amos Milburn’s version. A bit of Elmore James for ‘Dust My Broom’, in Sunjays own finger picking style, followed up with a true country blues favourite, ‘Sitting On Top Of The World’.
A short break, gave time to visit the bar, and to have a chat with Sunjay who was here with his father, mentor and chauffeur, Roger. Sunjay is at Worcester Music festival on the 30th of August, with a string of bookings throughout September and October, across the country at numerous folk clubs and festivals. Roger started Sunjay on guitar at 4 years old, emulating his first love, Buddy Holly. He does not seem to be old enough to play with such maturity, but realising he has played from when he was big enough to hold a guitar, with the natural talent that he had been born with, it sort of makes sense.
Back to the ‘stage’, and a second session, which included, ‘Sleepy’ John Estes ‘Drop Down Mama’, and Bob Seger’s ‘Ain’t Got No Money’. Not far behind was the excellent James Taylor ‘Steamroller Blues’, taylor made for Sunjay’s style. Pretty well at the end of the evening, and an encore is demanded for ‘No Regrets’, which he had reprised earlier in the evening, Sunjay obliged, but I doubt there are many regrets in his 19 years.
Words & Photos By Graham Munn
Blues at The Jinney Ring, Hanbury 02/08/14
The 6th year of this blues and beer festival held at the picturesque craft centre, The Jinney Ring, near Bromsgrove. Visitors could camp or park up overnight in their VW ‘splittie’ and ex WD tents. Well not quite that any more, but there were plenty of pitches in use, as the day travellers rolled in, and 400+ gathered around the grounds. Plenty of good food, 21 beers and ciders, and 6 bands to entertain all over from early afternoon till late evening.
Jack Blackman, opened the stage, with his acoustic Mississippi Delta style blues, he is building a strong following for his accomplished finger picking and slide work along with vocals that show a real feel for those blues. Performing country blues, like the frothy ‘Patch Up That Hole’, the lament that is ‘Charley Walton Blues’, through to fast fingering songs like his ‘Police Dog Blues’, 19 year old Jack’s talents were there for all to hear.
Closing with a railroading, fast moving, demo of Delta slide for ‘Hognose Gin’, excellent.
Jack gave way for the light hearted, rootsy Mumbo Jumbo, with Oliver, Chris and, on piano, Fred Skidmore, who added some nice touches of boogie woogie to the set. ‘Three Cool Cats’ seems to sum up this comfortable, laid back, entertaining session. Bass gave way to uke in the hands of Chris, Oliver trumpeting his green credentials on washboard and cajon, with Fred providing the jam filling that glued it all together. A wooden kazoo is produced for ‘Regret It’, ‘Nice Work’, if you can get it!
Retrovibe, were up next, though mainly guitar based covers, this band performed well, with a personable and powerful vocalist in Rea Lewis. ‘Pride & joy’, ‘Bright Lights’, and a nice side step as Rea sipped the beautiful jazz tinged, ‘Black Coffee’. Some nice harp off Jake Thomas for ‘I’m Ready’, before Rae upped the tempo, for the dancing fans, with, Jailhouse Rock, and ‘Johnny Be Goode’. Rae and Retrovibe had certainly stirred up the action.
To follow we were treated to the funk and blues of guitar gurning band Brothers Groove. This Birmingham band, has not put a foot wrong since forming, rapidly moving from a support roll to headlining. Their strong following now producing national radio airplay and award nominations.
Guitarist Shaun Hill, is not only a joy to hear, but also to watch, he wears his musical emotion firmly on his expressional face. With Nige Mellor and Deano Bass, the guitar combination is pure class. ‘What’s The Deal’ and ‘Play the Game’ came straight off their album of the same name released last year. The band finished to all round applause and a blues guitar take on Stevie Wonders ‘Superstition’, an exceptional faultless set, for us all to join in that groove. Following swiftly on, we moved from the award nominated Brothers, to a European Blues award winning artist in Franck Ash. Franck has supported such legends as Robert Cray and Taj Mahal and now he had brought his band to Jinney Ring for another faultless guitar led performance. That is not to diminish his vocal presence, he is a full on live performer, with plenty of that funk and soul guaranteed to please this gathering of blues fans. ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ and ‘Well Alright’ was certainly alright here.
So how do we follow up this guitar genus that has cut its groove over the evening, well it was time for everyone to get up and move to the world of The fabulous Boogie Boys and Sarah Warren. Sarah returns from last year, we all know what to expect from this powerful singer, but she likes her fun too and this is a fun session from those red coated Boogie Boys. Front man Chris Dawe, poses and struts alongside Sarah, they ‘Shake Rattle and Roll’, throughout the set. Everything is thrown in from ‘Aint Nobody Here But Us Chickens’, (plenty of ducks though) through to ‘See You Later Alligator’, this is what the the Fabulous Boogie Boys are made for, giving all a great evening and send off to this established little festival, in the beautiful setting of The Jinney Ring.
Words & Photos By Graham Munn
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Gloucester Blues Bytes 2014
Sampling what is on offer during the last week of July and into August, finds me at Café Rene for a Mike Sanchez solo. Waiting is his battered gig weary keyboard, more gaffer tape than body, but it seems to work for him. Mike is a travelling jukebox box of Rhythm & Blues, Do Wap, Boogie, Blues, Ballads and Rock & roll, taken from the world of wine women and song. A non stop whirling dervish of a show, someone had loaded a fiver in a 5p slot Wurlitzer, and Mike is the stylus. Café Rene was full, and song titles were tossed in the air to be caught and played, set list? never heard of them! Mike remonstrated his inability to play Louis Jordan’s, ‘Ain’t Nobody here But Us Chickens’, and then proceeded to sing it ‘a capella’ style. A fun evening to end Mike’s current UK visit, and the launch of his biography.
I returned to Gloucester for a Friday night double, Steve Ajao & The BluesGiants, with King Pleasure & The Biscuit Boys, following them on to the open stage in Eastgate. A damp evening, with fine rain making for a reluctant gathering, venturing out from the covered areas. Though eventually, with no doubt a little fortification from the bar, KP managed to entice movement onto the green around the stage.
Steve Ajao, had opened with some good solid blues, as you would expect from this top notch Birmingham band, ‘Pride and Joy’, ‘Boogie Chillun’, and, ‘Travelling Man’, slip out easily, with bits of Hendrix, Whittaker and Clarence Carter, thrown in. Sadly the vocal mike did not seem well set to relate anything Steve talked about between these classic songs, a shame, as he does have a nice dry humour to bring to his gigs. KP and the lads, drew in the reluctant, sheltering crowd with plenty of rhythm and blues, swing, and even a bit of BB King for the occasion. ‘Everyday I Have the Blues’, crooned out to the revellers, in a full on blues style, reverting to lounge swing for such songs as ‘Oh Marie’. KP, with ‘Big John’, at his side, surrounded by one of the best R&B/swing bands around, can’t go wrong, a good way to unwind into the weekend.
Sunday, and some nice delta blues from Damon T, based in Gloucester, he is undoubtedly broadening his base with various festival spots throughout the summer. He ended on a Blind Willie Johnson song ‘Soul Of A Man’, played with soul by Damon T. A timing mix up meant a delayed start for Steve Morrison, so why not a bit more Damon to fill in, no one complained. The small hooded stage was reset for another, perhaps grittier blues man, Matt Woosey and his band. Matt , All the way from the Heights of Malvern is a well established acoustic blues artist, either solo or with his band. He grabbed attention with the lovely ‘Hook Line & Sinker’, the title track from his last album, but he could not get away from his claimed nemesis ‘Cruel Disposition’ a hard hitting Woosey favourite, fully fired up and certain to leave an impression.
Steve Morrison had found his way and was ready to go, a softer, approach after Matt, but an excellent performance that was much appreciated by the now crowded green. His well worn Fender teased us with superb finger picking and slide from the opening ‘After Midnight’ in the style of EC through to ‘Alberta’.
The Keith Thompson Band introduced a bit more rock as they played their Chicago and Mid America style blues, with the odd curved balls served up, like ‘Money’, the only cover on their Catch The Fire album. A nice bit of Hendrix in ‘Little Wing’ followed fast on the heels of Pink Floyd, the band gave a distinct change of style from the afternoon sessions.
Spikedrivers were to follow, they had won over many new fans at Upton a week before, with their roots style of Americana and blues, played out on scullery instruments by Constance and Maurice alongside the age worn acoustic guitars of Ben. Unfortunately, I was not able to see Connie Lush, much I would have loved to have, she is an iconic blues singer, with great presence and a killer voice. Overall, the week had been full of wonderful music in a variety of venues around Gloucester City centre, culminating in the weekend extravaganza behind Café Rene, the nucleus of the festival. It has established a firm hold on the week following Upton Blues just 15 miles up the road, often attracting many of the artists that have featured there. There is room for improvement, the stage is small and limited, the sound, probably not the best, but its certainly worth the visit, you will get to see some great bands, and be able to sample all that the Café Rene has on offer.
Words And photos Graham Munn
Robin Swallows Bellowhead 19/08
We had planned to see the eclectic folk rock gang of eleven musicians that is Bellowhead, perform at the Robin. Various diversions conspired to make me a little later than planned. No problem, this was a Tuesday evening, and no doubt the band would draw in a good following of fans, but it would not be a problem to park and find space to grab some pictures and make a few notes. Perhaps a chance to see the band at the end and bring home a signed copy of ‘Revival’ their current release. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
In reality, the car park was packed, (a warning sign) we had to be shoe horned through the doors, with John Boden’s voice clearly audible and the stage lit and active, as the band had already started.
The Robin was at capacity, with 700 devoted fans competing for space, oddly, no pirates in sight. The lighting on stage was some of the best I have seen at The Robin, the sound, excellent, Bellowhead, as theatrical and entertaining as this moderate stage would allow. Plenty of dancing from the brass section, jigging from the strings, and Benji, astride the speaker cabs at the back, all orchestrated by the ringmaster Boden. John Spiers squeezed every drop from hism melodian as Rachel stepped up from Cello to fiddle and Paul from Fiddle to Oboe. Ed coming into view occasionally with his head and shoulders firmly stuck in the deathly grip of the Helicon, perhaps biting its tail would release him. Massed strings fed into the glorious ‘Haul Away’, 4 fiddles and the accordian adding fuel to the inferno of sound.
The songs literally come reeling out, ‘Gosport Nancy’, ‘Greenwood Side’ and ‘Roll Alabama’ from Revival. How could they not play ‘Lillibulero’ from Broadside, dancing was compulsory, but no room for that, so all sang along for the chorus.
A fine demonstration of Irish jig from Paul Sartin and Sam Sweeney, as they found space on the apron of the stage for ‘Sloe Gin Set’. It was nearing the end of the evening, the atmosphere, at a peak, so close all swayed together and a cheer for ‘Roll the Woodpile Down’ arguably the best known of Bellowhead’s extensive repertoire, having received much airplay on mainstream radio, with the release of Broadside in 2012.
I confess, I am not a Bellowhead fan, not on disc anyway, but live, that’s another story, they are one of the most entertaining, engaging bands around, this Robin had really rocked. If this all seems a bit manic and jumbled, that’s because it was, its a Bellowhead gig, what else would you expect. A fabulous evening.
Words & Photos Graham Munn
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