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If anyone was to ask me what kind of music I like, my simple answer would be music that moves me, despite genre and classification, if the music has emotion, style doesn’t come into the equation. So with that in an invitation to see classical music/vocal harmonies three-piece, Blake intrigued, could a band known for performances on the likes of This Morning and Loose Women (and the royal wedding between William and Kate!!!) speak to me, a hardened music critic?

The group are currently on tour in support of the soon to be released new album, In Harmony (Nov 3rd) performing at numerous intimate theaters across the UK, enabling their fans to catch their heroes up close and personal. The Artrix is a perfect venue for such a performance, the sound is always crystal clear, the seating intimate but more than comfortable and the staff are second to none.

As you can imagine the Blake and  took to the stage to a full auditorium and instantly seduced the audience with a stunning rendition of Bridge Over Troubled Water, setting the mood for an evening of soaring vocals, gorgeous harmonies and classic songs lifted from the world’s of pop, classical, opera and beyond. Having taken my seat in trepidation (always cynical about a band that could be described as housewives choice), I have to say that opening number blew me away, I knew the trio could sing but the blended voices of Stephan, Humphrey and Ollie sounded sensational ringing around the venue.

From such beginnings the close knit group delivered a tender version of To Love Somebody (lifted from the new album) before really letting those operatic voices of the leash with a breathtaking take on the Morricone themed Nella Fantasia, with each of their voices reaching a beautiful crescendo, almost lifting the roof from the Artrix.

Showcasing the diversity of influences Blake then offered up a very impressive and inventive, reconstructed version of Chasing Cars that perhaps manage to up the emotional ante of even the original and certainly rained on all the sub-standard x-factor versions we’ve had to endure in recent years. Fellow opera singer Camilla Kerslake then took over the stage for a couple of numbers as well assisting a version of surprisingly stirring, You Raise Me Up (that also featured the Beat Breast Cancer Choir via video back-up), before the boys took over for a mesmeric acapella version of Cohen’s Hallelujah and the evergreen opera classic Nessum Dorma, closing the first set on an incredible high.

During the interval the band and Camilla, took to the bar area to sign anything that was thrust upon them, a welcoming sigh, showing their appreciation to their fans.

The second set began much as the first with the boys delivering beautiful vocal takes on the likes of, Love Lifts You Up Where You Belong, Love Me Tender (featuring a ukulele no less) and a wonderful touching take, on the Les Miserables classic Bring Him Home. In fact the only song I can really pick fault with was a less than satisfying With Or Without You (U2), which perhaps lacked the necessary punch, musically, to really do the song justice.

Camilla returned to the stage for a few numbers before joining in for a rousing and standing finale of Time To Say Goodbye and (Songs of Praise favourite) Jerusalem, leaving the gathered baying for more and this reviewer as something of a covert to their cause.

Like I alluded to at the opening of this review I want music to emotionally pull the listener in and I have to say Blake do just that, whether you like the classical/opera/pop crossover that the group do is neither here nor there, the trio’s vocals yank at the strings and at times leave your hairs standing to attention.

Rhythm & Booze Rating 8

www.blakeofficial.com

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Mellow Peaches on the menu at The Gardeners Arms

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Mellow Peaches are a 2 piece band from the West Midlands, who practice the art of fusing blues and folk in a, well, pretty mellow way. Rich tickles up his mandolin, occasionally breathing through a harmonica. Amit, picks his way through the string jungle of his guitar, stamps out a beat through his stomp box, vocalises quite a lot, and has an odd toot on a kazoo. Sounds all fairly straight forward, and to them, it probably is, but they produce a fine mix of lively, self penned songs, from soft country blues, like the glowing embers of a log fire to the crackling spit of flame as the songs take on a hotter pace. Amit’s guitar playing is exemplary, his long fingers making light work of the frets as he busily finger picks.

‘Aint No Grave’ to hold my body down, is a lovely spiritual blues, plenty for Amit to get his fingers around, and that mandolin of Rich’s is kept busy. The pace is picked up for ‘Canary’, a fast moving instrumental, and some extraordinary guitar work as the bird flutters wildly, rides the breeze, then bursts into frenzied activity.

A nautical twist is taken as more songs are extracted from the recent Mellow Peaches album, formed in an empty unit of The Custard Factory.

Mayflower, has more nimble finger work with explosive highs, running rapids and flowing surges, a more folk tilted song. On to the title track and ‘I’ll Go Down With This Ship’, a much more gentle example of a folk song.

Next up came Charleston, an eyeballs out rag time instrumental, with a kazoo thrown in for good measure. A very enjoyable good time tune evoking speak-easy days of Chicago. Amit changed to lap guitar and slide for the excellent bluesy ’65 Years Of Soul’, taken from the Biscuits And Cobblers album. We were nearing the end of the session, Rich picked up his harp, Amit his banjo, and they blasted there way through Red Goose, apparently based on an old ’20’s nursery rhyme, not sure about red goose, more a good old red neck ho-down.

The evening had been a display of superb musicianship throughout, with Amit’s voice being put to the test and coming up trumps. Rich bringing some lovely mandolin, jousting with the well worked guitar of Amit, but his harp trumping the kazoo, though maybe not on the smile factor. With few exceptions, the music was all theirs, and fully deserving the plaudits earned for their current album.

Make a note in your diary for next month, Thursday November 13th, at The Gardeners, Rodney ‘2 guitars’ Brannigan is appearing. If you have yet to see him play, make the effort, you will not be disappointed, a gifted musician with a difference!

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The Pewke Band follows Sunday lunch at Prince Of Wales, Ledbury

The Pewke Band, as many will know, is a long established local band that essentially perform ‘covers’ from a variety of musical styles. The rockers who make up the band have interesting and diverse backgrounds, but they let, what ever hair they have left, down, and have fun.

Paul, a sound journal editor, plays lead with vocals; Alan, a BBC film editor, is on bass and vocals; Uni professor, Tony, tickles the keyboard and plays guitar; whilst a retiring Keith, beats the drum.

The band cover a lot of classic pop, rock and blues, stepping back to the ’60’s starting with Spencer Davis’s, Gimme Some Lovin’, and straight in to Neil Young’s ‘Cinnamon Girl’. A bit of Free and The Stones from those early rock years before catapulting forward for a bit of ‘Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll’. Tony takes to the Strat with a bit of slide for some Dr. Feelgood, and some grungy ’70’s blues. Hovering in the final years of that era, a nice bit of Pink Floyd, with Paul taking up a glass ‘bottleneck’ for the fabulous ‘Comfortably Numb’. ‘Is there anybody out there’, well yes, there were quite a number of us, basking in the ancient timber of the Prince Of Wales, with our memories and a glass of fine ale. A short break, before the band restart and Paul takes to his home made Gibson Les Paul Junior copy, fashioned from an old mahogany wardrobe, looking suitably stressed but with a rounded, warm sound. Plenty more from the Stones, maybe we all have a bit of ‘Sympathy For The Devil’, and painting everything black. The good Dr. was not far away either, dispensing his ‘Milk And Alchohol’. Its a non stop rock and roll-over into the early evening. The Pewke band certainly entertain, there repertoire is wide enough to keep all happy, and the band certainly enjoy themselves in the process. If they had perhaps, a full on lead vocalist, they could be dangerous. All in all, an early evening, with live music at a great pub, and ageless classics (and that’s just the clientèle) beats the hell out of ‘Flog It’, ‘Songs Of Praise’ and ‘All Stars Family Fortunes’!

 

Words and photos Graham Munn

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Mark Harrison @ Fleece Bretforton

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The Fleece is an ancient Inn belonging to the National Trust, it has an equally aged barn in the courtyard, which is used to host a variety of music and arts. Sunday evening was designated Blues In The Barn with Mark Harrison performing with a ’34 National resonator guitar, a 12 string guitar, and to help him, percussionist Ed Hopwood, alongside Charles Benfield on double bass. Mark started off the evening in a relaxed, country blues style, a ‘Panic Attack’, was linked to a film, with Mark as source material, and shown in Cannes Film festival. ‘Mississippi’ is inspired by old ’20’s blues, performed on dusty porches in the cotton fields of the deep South.

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Mark’s songs are written about life experiences, both his own and those from the past that have moved him to express his feelings in word and through his guitars. The old National itself had a bit of heritage, having belonged to Eric Bibb, who Mark tells us, promises to drop bye one day to reacquaint himself to the old ‘woodie’. There are plenty of other asides and anecdotes, most of them creaking with a dry humour, it adds to the evening and links the music nicely.

A nod to the likes of Muddy Waters, people with no paper trail, no definitive origins, like many of Afro American descendants born in an indifferent America, ‘Next Of Kin’, played with finger-picking, style tells the story. Time to loose your inhibitions getting ‘Reckless’, before waking up to a superb ‘Crematorium Blues’. Ed, empathetic to Mark’s lead, stroked his stripped down drumset, mainly with brushes, but sticks, mallets and even a cowbell, were never far from reach. More tales and songs relating to temperance, the demise of workers and loss of livelihood to mechanisation, an oddly named Chicken Sandwich Train from that era with ‘Changes Coming Here’. We are hearing a brief history of the roots of blues before Chicago and electric had its influence.

Mark has written 3 albums over a 4 year period, the songs he performs are taken from across the 3. ‘Pearly Gates’, is from Crooked Smile, and seemed apt a title to lead into ‘your Second Line’ which relates to the musicians following the funeral cortège in New Orleans.

We are nearing the end of what has been an entertaining evening, some background stories, well written songs and fine musicianship, in the lovely old timbered barn of The Fleece Inn. Time to give a bit of freedom to Ed and Charles, as they grasp their moment to ‘Shake The House’

Words And Photos Graham Munn

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Blues Night 10th, Anniversary at Monroes Cellar Bar

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A descent into the darkened cellerage at Monroes For the 10th anniversary of ‘Poor’ Bob’s Blues Nights, has dragged me out from a quite evening at home catching up on a busy week or two. BUT these things have to be done, hell that’s the blues, and it shouldn’t be comfortable, or you wont find them!

Bob Jones holds court alongside Rod Jones, on harp, this could get confusing, for some easy country blues and old standards, from the likes of Robert Johnson, and Son house. Easing us into the evening as the listed performers gathered alongside the ardent supporters.

Dave Bristow took the chair, continuing the country blues style, finger picking guitar and nicely crafted lyrics tell of everyday life. Lazing at home, Meat and Potato pies, vie with disillusioned working mens blues, and waiting for a train that never comes. ‘I don’t want that trouble no more’, nods to the railtrack rhythm of Mississippi blues.

Dead Cat Bone fill the vaulted space, for the harder face of blues, ‘Death Don’t Have No Mercy In This Land’, was quite an opener, some real passion on display from vocalist, Barry. Some fine guitar work at the hands of Stewart, as the thumping bass notes and drums, from away in the shadows, told of John and Phil laying the foundations for some good gritty songs. Barry’s harp and bullet mic, were brought into play, as Black Cat Bone, mixed some Taj Mahal, with Cab Calloway’s, Minnie The Moocher, and a bit of Ray Charles. An enjoyable mini-set, giving way to men from the hills.

John Denton and Colin Warren, from Malvern, were joined by Rod Jones and Phil, who could not escape from behind the drumset. John is an exceptional vocalist, I did not believe that ‘The Thrill Is Gone’, His lightly smoked tones and heartfelt delivery, tell a different story. Different was the arrangement for that well trodden path to the ‘Crossroads’, John passed on through to find Robert Cray’s ‘Phone Booth’, waiting to send us a message, I must make a point of seeking out John again, it will be well worth the effort.

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The hills are alive to the sound of music, as Malvern passes the baton to the ‘Running Man’ and Babajack. Running Man was pipped at the start, by Son House’s ‘Death Letter Blues’, now fully owned by Becky and Trevor, it doesn’t get better than this. A new song ‘Religion’, inspired by Ledbelly, with a hint at a live album to come in the near future. Finishing with a thrashingly good ‘Skin & Bone’, back in their duo form, Babajack are a wonderful example of how a 10 year association with Bob Jones Blues Night can see a band rise to the top in today’s blues scene.

The night was moving quickly on, but I had to leave, so could not see The Players, or ‘Poor’ Bob and his band perform. It had been a fascinating evening, seeing and meeting all the performers that have been nurtured and exposed, under the Bob Jones banner over the ten years to date. Undoubtedly many have become established artists in the area, some have moved on, becoming professional musicians, with rapidly ascending careers.

Barry Scott of Black Cat Bone, put it as ‘organic’, a gathering point on the 3rd Tuesday each month, for the web of blues practitioners in and around Worcester. Long May it run, thanks Bob.

‘We should all start to live before we get too old’, Marilyn Monroe

 

Words & Photos Graham Munn

 

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