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
King Pleasure & The Biscuit Boys, at The Artrix 03/01/15
For many of you out there, there is no need for me to introduce this remarkable band. They have been delivering their signature swing to audiences all over the UK, and Europe for nearly 30 years. They are, dare I suggest, ‘an institution’, forged in and around Birmingham, when ‘Made In Birmingham’ still meant something. King Pleasure himself, along with ‘Big John’, are the powerhouse horn blowers of the outfit, John Battrum, the uncrowned king, on his sax. KP adds to the ‘hot’ air, but his ‘lounge lizard’ crooning, energy, and enthusiasm are the driving forces behind their unique style. Add to that, Bullmoose ‘K’ Shirley on his lovely country style Gibson, Matt Foundling on the ivories, Gary Barber, tucked behind, on ‘skins’, and the unmissable clown prince of Bass, Shark Van Schtoop, producing swing with touches of jazz, some blues and rock & roll, for good measure. So, ‘This Is It’, all adding up to abandoned seats, there is the undeniable urge to get up and move, we just ‘Can’t Get Enough Of Your Stuff’. The Artrix has the ability to ‘flatten’ half the floor, for times like this. ‘Shake Rattle & Roll, KP is down in the audience, weaving through the movers and groovers, the band ‘jams’ on, Matt strikes up some serious boogie woogie on the keys. The King is back up, ‘I Got A Gal That Lives Upon The Hill’, he reverts quickly to an old favourite ‘Barracuda’, vocalised in his own lounge style. Jackie Wilson is shaken out, a bit more rock & roll. ‘I Ain’t Mad At You, Don’t You Be Mad At Me’, because its blues time with BB Kings, ‘You Upsets Me baby’. Slip in a bit of Ray Charles, why not? before getting back to full on swing.
The Shark is hiding behind his double bass, fingers still bending those heavy strings, deep in the shadows, Gary may not be seen too well, but he is certainly heard, the two push along that rhythm, ‘Well Alright, OK You Win’, what can I do? another boogie solo off Matt, keeps the momentum going. KP has disappeared for a breather, as the band play an extended ‘Tequila’, all take a turn to lead, the audience is provoked into responding to the calls, its Tequila all round, doubles probably, with ice, as the King returns to close it off.
‘Bona Serra’, gives hint to nearing the close, a relaxed swing, the pendulum easing down, but the fans are having none of that, and demand more.
A short breath, Dean Martin would be hard pressed to ‘Sway’, better than this, ‘Party Time’ is over, but not before a boastful ‘I’m the King Of The Swingers’, and who are we to argue. King Pleasure And The Biscuit Boys have royally entertained us, at what is becoming an annual date at The Artrix, roll on next year.
Wods & Photos Graham Munn
Monday 20th October 2014
Box Office: www.artrix.co.uk / 01372 742555
Brit-Award winners BLAKE are back and better than ever, with a refined new sound, new songs and their biggest UK tour yet. Re-inspired by the enduring trio harmonies of The Three Tenors, The Bee Gees, The Lettermen & Boyz-II-Men, BLAKE’s latest concert show entitled ‘In Harmony’ sees them combining classic songs from their first four award winning albums, with exclusive new songs from their upcoming 5th album ‘In Harmony’ released 20th October. Musicals, pop and classical songs collide in the groups’ most eclectic stage spectacular yet, accompanied by great musicians and impressive video projections!
Returning from summer tours to the United States, Russia, Eastern Europe, South Africa & Asia, we expect their famous and hilarious rat-pack banter with the audience to feature some fascinating new stories! Supporting this tour as special guest artist will be the beautiful Brit-Award-nominated soprano Camilla Kerslake, performing her own spellbinding songs and joining the boys for some breath-taking duets throughout the evening. Camilla has previously toured with classical superstar Andrea Bocelli and she also joined with BLAKE to headline the Brit Awards at the Royal Albert Hall.
Following on from previous years, BLAKE are once again searching the UK for talented local choirs to join them on stage as part of their ‘In Harmony’ tour. Over the last 5 years the group have been joined by more than 250 local choirs around the UK and overseas, in venues as far apart as Manchester, Moscow and Manila. Humphrey Berney says “We three guys got our musical starts in life through performing in choirs, so it’s been inspirational to see so many UK groups sending us their YouTube clips for consideration over the years. We look forward to welcoming 20 more talented groups of singers to our shows this Autumn”. Choirs simply need to email their latest videos to the BLAKE website and the chosen groups will perform alongside BLAKE on five big ensemble songs, as well as present their own solo song to the audience. Performers in past guest choirs for BLAKE’s shows have recently been seen attaining places at prestigious London music colleges and even taking star roles in West End shows. Ollie Baines says “We’re delighted that our campaign to get local choirs on professional stages results in new solo stars being found. Singing within a choir is the best way to build confidence as a vocalist. The UK should be proud of its choral heritage.”
Alongside their upcoming national tour, BLAKE are due to release their 5th studio album, also entitled ‘In Harmony’ on 20thOctober. Celebrating the unique mix of music enjoyed in the bands live shows, this CD draws from the worlds of classical, musicals and pop music, linked together with stunning trio harmony and lush acoustic backing. Three guest artists appear on this album, including Brit-Award nominee Camilla Kerslake, rising classical soprano Rebecca Newman and Filipino superstar Rachelle Ann Go, who is currently starring in the new production of Miss Saigon on the West-End in London.
This album is BLAKE’s second to utilise the unique PledgeMusic system, which allows new and existing fans not only to pre-order a signed copy of the album but also to pledge for VIP experiences with the band, including backstage passes (with champagne in the interval with the singers), album recording studio days & even baking classes with BLAKE at a top London baking school. More details can be found on the PledgeMusic website where fans can also get updates on the album making process. Ahead of their 5th album release on October 23rd, the group have just launched an Extended Edition of their current album ‘Start Over’, featuring 6 previously unreleased tracks & US only songs.
Over the last seven years BLAKE have performed three times for the Queen, stunned audiences at the Royal Albert Hall, Wembley Stadium and Wimbledon Centre court, along with performing to half a billion people live on Chinese television. They already have extensive overseas tours confirmed for 2015, including festivals in Barbados, Russia, China and South Korea; don’t miss out on seeing them at a theatre near you in their final UK dates of this year.
Watch the 2014 BLAKE epk Video…
Watch BLAKE performing ‘Hallelujah’ live in concert…
Blake – ‘In Harmony’ 2014 Tour
Wed 17th City Varieties Music Hall, Leeds www.cityvarieties.co.uk
Fri 19th Gala Theatre, Durham www.galadurham.co.uk
Tues 23rd Wycombe Swan, High Wycombe www.wycombeswan.co.uk
Wed 24th Ashcroft Theatre, Croydon www.www.fairfield.co.uk
Thurs 25th Venue, Cymru www.venuecymru.co.uk
Sun 28th Octagon Theatre, Yeovil www.octagon-theatre.co.uk
Thurs 2nd The St Albans Arena, St Albans www.alban-arena.co.uk
Fri 3rd Grand Hall, Scarborough www.scarboroughspa.co.uk
Wed 8th Towngate Theatre, Basildon www.towngatetheatre.co.uk
Fri 10th Corn Exchange, Kings Lynn www.kingslynncornexchange.co.uk
Tues 14th Palace Theatre, Southend www.southendtheatres.org.uk
Fri 17th Playhouse, Epsom www.epsomplayhouse.co.uk
Sun 19th Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury www.theatresevern.co.uk
Mon 20th Artrix, Bromsgrove www.artrix.co.uk
Wed 22nd Apex, Bury St Edmunds www.theapex.co.uk
Thurs 23rd The Lighthouse Theatre, Kettering www. lighthousetheatre.co.uk
Sat 25th Solihull Arts Complex, Solihull www.solihullartscomplex.co.uk
Sat 22nd Union Chapel, London www.unionchapel.org.uk
Thurs 27th Tivoli Theatre, Wimborne www.tivoliwimborne.co.uk
Sat 29th Playhouse, Harlow www.playhouseharlow.com
Blake’s new album ‘In Harmony’ will be released on 20th October. For more information and tour dates visitwww.blakeofficial.com
Blues band At The Artrix, Bromsgrove 20/09
The Artrix theatre was a sell out for the return of The Blues Band, Paul Jones addressed the fans with an introduction to an old video from 1980, Live At Rockfest,from the bands fledgling days, apparently distributed widely throughout Europe, only Scotland missing out!!!! ‘Come Into My Kitchen’ was an invite to Dave Kelly taking lead and some lovely slide with ‘Talk To My baby’. Son House’s, ‘Death Letter’ follows, as with all Blues Band gigs, the baton is passed around, Paul, Dave, Tom McGuinness, with an occasional song from Gary Fletcher, the bassist. That’s not to overlook the significance of Rob Townsend on drums, silent vocally, but very much heard. Each ‘sample’ their own albums from past and present, its the hard sell; with tongue placed firmly in cheek, a problem for harmonica players perhaps? You also get a potted history of the blues from both Paul and Dave. A very nice ‘San Francisco Bay Blues’, in EC style, then Tom was ‘Heading For A Breakdown’ before a superb ‘Dust My Broom’, from Dave, sighting the time he paid 12’6p to see Howling Wolf and Elmore James on the same bill! Gary Fletcher drops in his one and only, to date, album and growls through ‘I Am The Doctor’, but at last, a Blues Band joint effort, takes us to the break with, ‘Suddenly I Like It’.
Now, what I do appreciate is the band comes straight into the foyer, and yes, they flog their individual CD’s, (whilst their ‘agent’ takes care of the Band recordings); BUT, they also mix and chat to their admiring fans. It does not matter whether you are buying or not, they give you a little time, sadly not all bands remain so grounded, after all, its the fans that create the stage for any performer.
Back to the stage, the band are on full flow, a bit of fun from Mr Kelly, ‘I Can’t Get My Ass In Gear, Too Much Wine And Too Much Beer’, sounds OK to me. BB King’s ‘Stepping Out’, and straight into ‘These Shoes’ with some excellent harp from Paul. A quick step ‘Outside My Head’, from Gary with mandolin, and Paul moves to demonstrate why he rightly has his place in the ‘Hall Of Fame’, launching into ‘Flat Foot Sam’ and a stretched out, superlative solo. Tom has his Fender behind his head, for a bit of shake rattle and roll, as we head toward the end, but not quite yet. The Blues Band gave us ‘Aint Gonna Work On Maggie s Farm No More’, their one and only chart success. It had been an entertaining evening, plenty of chorusing and lively banter, its The Blues Band, you would expect nothing less.
Words and photo Graham Munn
Official Receivers at The Artrix 06/09
I was looking forward to a night of soulful music from one of the premier bands in the country, who not only play the part, but look the business as well. Not so fast, first we have to give consideration to an excellent support band, whom I would not have minded seeing in their own right. Not soul this time, but plenty of rock and blues, coming from Slowburner.
They have a 27 year pedigree, and have supported some influential blues and rock bands over that time. Slowburner is fronted by the charismatic vocalist Paul Bridgewater, Mike Bannister, looking serious on a mean guitar, Rob Newell, thumping out those base notes and just for the night, a drumfest performance from Dave Small stand in Denny Connolly. It must be said, Paul has an outstanding voice, purpose built for this style of electric blues, and certainly looks the part, bringing to mind Paul Rogers and Free. From ‘King Bee’ to ‘Bullfrog Blues’, via JJ Cale, Free, and Muddy Waters, this band play a smorgasbord of blues looking back across the last 50 years. That’s not to dismiss many of their own songs squeezed in to the roller-coaster rock show. Thoroughly enjoyable, those soul boys would have to work hard to better this.
Whilst not at capacity, there was a good crowd awaiting the Receivers, the cheer went up as they entered the arena. Slickly turned out and loaded with brass, the band strike up, front man Lenny enters,the open floor of the Artrix, tense with expectation, breaks into a writhing mass of born again teenagers, as ‘Soul Finger’, melds into ’25 Miles From Home’. Edwin Starr, Sam & Dave, Otis Redding and Booker T, are pitched at the auditorium. Whether your a Soul Man or not, you can’t help moving to these classics, helpless against the tide of songs washing over us, ‘How sweet It Is’, to be within the magnetic field of this dynamic, highly charged, band. They are a brass driven 8-piece, towering over the tuneful tubes is Chris on Tenor Sax, with Paul on trumpet, and a second Tenor, sitting squarely on Phil. Tucked behind are the building blocks of funk, Dave on bass, and Tony on drums. Only stalling for Lenny to mop his brow, the soul train rides on, ‘Geno’ almost enticed me to risk my well worn back, but I’m a pro, I had a job to do, sod it! ‘Mustang Sally’ caught me unawares, another week on Tramadol! Venturing up into the galleries, I found a similar picture, abandoned seats, floor space at a premium, you cannot sit still to this stuff. Rick gets carried away on a guitar solo, hinting at some serious rock demons, Simon throws in some nifty keyboard moves, Lenny needs an oxygen mask, time to Show A Bit of Tenderness. The evening is winding up, far too many wild eyed, middle-aged teenagers were about to be released into the Bromsgrove night, looking for more action. It had been a fabulous evening, intoxicating stuff, a superb Slowburner put light to the fuse, and the controlled explosion as the Official Receivers, drew us all in and released the force.
Do you like good music, yeah, yeah, oh yeah
Words & photos Graham Munn
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