Doc Bowling & His Blues Professors/Sunjay/Final Measure Live @ St Georges Hall, Bewdley
Bewdley, quaint but hardly renowned as a musical mecca, sure a few pubs put on regular music nights, but it’s not high on the list of places to play, but all that could be about to change, if the years first music at the hall gig is anything to judge by, a packed out venue of music fans of all ages just waiting to be entertained.
The hall itself ticked all the right boxes, decent stage, lighting and sound, well organised and just about the right size to have a dance and still feel intimate for those who wanted to remain seated.
By the time local band, Final Measure took to the stage the hall was already full of expectant music lovers and the young four-piece were not to disappoint. The four piece (expanded to six with guest singer and saxophonist) paid tribute to 60’s British Blues with a set littered with John Mayall covers and for a band of such tender years, it was remarkable how well they paid homage. As a four-piece the band performed muscular instrumentals before singer, Roxxi joined for a sterling rendition of Feeling Good (Nina Simone), the rest of the band’s set was lapped up gleefully by the assembled masses and they left to rapturous applause.
Tonight’s blues performance was all about showcasing the various variations of the blues and the evenings second performer, Sunjay did just that, armed with just an acoustic guitar for company, his set moved from acoustic blues to folk and everything inbetween. Over the past year or so the likes of Radio Two (Sunjay was nominated for the young folk musician of the year award) and R2 Magazine have been clambering to sing Sunjay’s praises and with the likes of the stunning bluesy set opener, I Love You Like A Man it easy to see why this young musician is held in such high regard. During Sunjay’s set he regaled us with tall tales and a set of stripped down perfection, whether performing originals such as London Road or impassioned covers such as the brilliant encore rendition of Bo Diddley’s Who Do You Love?. If you have even a passing interest in roots, folk or blues, I highly recommend catching Sunjay somewhere down the road, you won’t be disappointed.
Tonight Doc Bowling & His Blues Professors were launching their new album Black Country Boy (reviewed elsewhere) and after watching the band I can only go to imagine how many of the audience left with the disc in their grubby mitts. The ever expandable band played their socks off and the audience soaked up the group’s infectious energy and responded in kind. From the opening number Let The Good Tines Roll, the gravelly voiced Doc grabbed the crowd in the palm of his hand, half way through the first number and the first dancers hit the floor, by the time the band ran through Shake Your Money Maker (Elmore James) the floor became a mass of jutting bodies.
As Doc Bowling & The Blues Professors continued their set they moved from hard hitting blues complete with wailing harmonica to the fiddle led country blues of Look Into My Heart, from gravelly holler to heartfelt croon the versatile band effortlessly moved through the gears. A mesmeric run through blues standard St James Infirmary Blues saw violin, harmonica, saxophone and guitar flurries lifting the often performed blues staple to a new level, whilst Way Down In A Hole (Tom Waits theme music to The Wire) suited the good Doc’s vocals down to the ground.
The band played into the night and still people shook and whooped in delight, until the very last chord. Bewdley had never witnessed anything like Doc Bowling & The Blues Professors before.
As an opening night of what promises to be a monthly regular music night at St George’s Hall, the organisers have set their standards at an incredibly high standard, it’ll be fun to see where they go from here.
Rhythm & Booze Rating 9
A wise man once said “there are only two types of music good or bad” and I guess my wide ranging music collection echoes that ethos, spreading over genres and time encompassing everything from the blackest metal to traditional folk via hip-hop, jazz, world and beyond, but in recent times I find myself turning to the more stripped down roots end of the musical spectrum, fueled by a desire to hear a story rendered in it’s purest musical form.
With this in mind The Carrivick Sisters were always going to be right up my alley, an acoustic duo that weave compelling and majestic tales with a handful of stringed instruments (guitar, banjo, fiddle) and bewitching vocal harmonies, straddling between folk and country whilst occasionally dipping into a bluegrass direction, to bring their stories alive.
Although Huntington Hall was only half full, those that were in attendance were captivated right from the opening, jaw-dropping acappella number, to the very last wrung note, the unique bond between the two was evident from the off, with both their vocals entwining beautifully whilst their deft sawing, picking and plucking complimenting each tale wonderfully.
Highlights came thick and fast with the likes of the stunning harmony drenched Over The Edge proving to be an early highlight along with the likes of originals such as Garden Girl, and Bird, whilst the duo showcased their influences on spirited renditions of the traditional roots ballad Darlin’ Corey, Sweet Baby James, (James Taylor) and Gillian Welch’s Americana tinged Dear Someone among others.
The audience were suitably engaged throughout with not only the sisters set but also the evocative back stories to each song and the sisterly banter about among other things banjo competitions and tea, giving the gig a warm intimacy fail to deliver. Understandably, not wanting the night of rootsy goodness to end we all beckoned the sisters back for one last song before heading into the night, leaving us with a collective song in our hearts and a hope that The Carrivick Sisters return our way soon.
Rhythm & Booze Rating 9
Jo Harman @ The Artrix 06/02
Support Tom Gee
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.
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
Matt Woosey @ POW Ledbury 08/02/15
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.
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
Marcus Bonfanti, Sardine Time In The Prince Of Wales. Feb 1st
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.
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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